MWC19 Theme Report: Digital Wellness


Technology holds an immense power to transform and enhance people’s physical and mental wellbeing. Whether that be through AI and analytics increasing medical efficiency, facilitating remote surgery over superfast networks, providing access to information for those in remote and underserved areas, engineering advanced synthetic organs, or transporting patients to virtual worlds for therapy and rehabilitation. Intelligent connectivity lies at the heart of each of these solutions, offering opportunities for mobile operators to develop new services, partnerships and revenues. There is also a huge opportunity to better the lives of millions on our planet and work towards achieving the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals, including access to good health.

A report published last year by the University of California, Berkeley and Qualcomm says that 5G will be a “substantial enabler” of a new era of personalised healthcare, providing the ability to leverage large amounts of patient-specific data they can use to develop predictive analytics.

Realising this potential has huge challenges to overcome, when you consider that more than 97% of hospital data goes unanalysed, according to GE Healthcare. This data challenge could soon be solved by AI, which has the potential to decode information and at the 2018 Google I/O conference, Sundar Pichai also shared a vision of AI solving many health and wellbeing challenges.

The future human body could seem like a concept straight out of a sci-fi film, but it’s not as far away as you may think. Scientists are already successfully developing fully functioning bionic eyes and ears, artificial kidneys, thought-controlled robotic legs, all with sensory feedback. Advances in printables are astonishing and implantables are allowing us to engineer extra senses.

When you look at the impact of technology, there is also a darker side to these advancements, a side that is increasingly coming out of the shadows and moving into the spotlight of consumer and regulatory scrutiny. As connected technology becomes ever-more pervasive, how do we balance tech in our daily lives and avoid addiction, negative impacts on mental health, increased social anxiety and a negative sense of self. Countless studies have been carried out into the negative impact of technology on our wellbeing, which begs the question – what is the responsibility of tech companies to ensure consumer wellbeing, and promote a healthy balance and lifestyle? What happens when we lose sight of this balance and ultimately who is to blame?


Digital Wellness
Digital Wellness is a relatively new concept that examines our relationship with the online world and its effect on our physical and mental wellbeing. A world where devices and connectivity are almost ubiquitous allows us access to a host of services and information at a level that was previously imaginable. But it also has significant implications for our mental and physical health.

Apps are designed to grab and keep our attention, causing us to check our phones up to 200 times per day and a recent survey found that 46% of us “could not live without our smartphones.” Children and teenagers are even more susceptible to device addiction, as well as the potentially harmful impacts of social media.

Digital Health
The concept of digital health is a convergence of digital technologies with health, care and treatment. This can be empowering and allows individuals to be at the centre of their health, providing greater access and a more personalised approach to healthcare.

Source: Deloitte

Industry Impact and Evolution

As the world is set to hit a population of 9.6 billion by 2050 (United Nations) with a current average life expectancy of 72 (WHO), this puts unprecedented levels of strain on medical systems and access to care. Mobile technology is an obvious solution in many ways and whilst it may not be a replacement for face-to-face care from a practitioner, it can provide access to services, information and remote care for many who would otherwise go without.

We are about to witness a huge transformation in healthcare innovation, when it comes to how we prevent, diagnose and cure disease. Futurists and experts agree that we will see a shift away from treatment to more of a preventative approach of sustaining wellness.

“We spend too much effort treating diseases, not preventing them…” Dr. Krishna Yeshwant, Health Investor, Google Ventures

I’ve compiled some statistics from researching this topic that will help to give context:

  • Growth in the digital healthcare market will reach $536.6 billion between now and 2025, with major investments in medical devices and infrastructure. – Health Standards
  • Digital health startups globally raised $11.5 billion in 2017 – HIT Consultant
  • At least half the world’s population is unable to access essential health services and many others are forced into extreme poverty by paying for healthcare they cannot afford -World Health Organization & World Bank
  • We check our phones 221 times per day -Tech Mark
  • 52% of Millennials think technology has improved their relationships and 91% say they have a healthy relationship with tech. -Qualtrics
  • We’ve known since 2011 that text messages, social media posts and emails all contribute to the release of dopamine in the human brain. It’s the same neurotransmitter that rewards you for accomplishing a goal. “Dopamine makes you addicted to seeking information in an endless loop” -Dr. Susan Weinschenk
  • By 2022, IDC expects smartwatch sales to have increased two-fold to 94.3 million units – the top reason for people purchasing a wearable device is health.
  • The average hospital creates 50 petabytes of data per year – equivalent to 13.3 years of HD-TV video. More than 97% of it goes unanalysed or unused. -GE Healthcare

Digital Wellness Sessions

Striking a Balance in the Age of Digital Distraction
Monday 16:00 -16:45
Technology may well be responsible for negatively impacting mental health, with social media causing anxiety and depression and people suffering from device addiction, with children and teenagers being particularly susceptible. Some device manufacturers and social media platforms have recently taken steps to help users monitor and curb usage – does this go far enough and are they really addressing the issue? Have we lost sight of connecting with people in a meaningful way?

Unlocking the Value of Data in Healthcare
Wednesday 13:30 – 14:30
Wearables manufacturers, tech companies and healthcare providers all have the ability to collect and analyse more personal data than ever before – this can be an incredibly powerful tool, bringing with it new opportunities through the use of advanced analytics and insights, but also creating a need for digital governance. Data, security and sustainability are the building blocks of future healthcare.

Partnering for Impact: Health-Tech Innovation Showcase
Wednesday 14:45 – 15:45
Intelligent connectivity and mobile technology are key enablers for accessing a range of life-enhancing services such as mobile health – 1 billion subscribers used mobile to access health services in 2017 alone. Mobile phones are being used to provide a range of essential healthcare services, providing effective and affordable solutions to addressing healthcare needs in developing markets. There are a number of start-ups and partnerships with operators, that point to scalable, sustainable and commercially viable use cases for digital health and wellbeing. This session will showcase some of the projects that are bettering people’s lives and working towards achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals, including universal access to good health.

Immersive Healthcare: A Virtual Revolution?
Wednesday 16:00 – 17:00
The rising cost of care, a lack doctors and other skilled workers and increases in aging populations are making traditional healthcare models increasingly unsustainable. Immersive and virtual services have the potential to deliver specialised care to those most in need and also offer access to those in rural areas. Accenture estimates an economic value of approximately $10 billion annually to the U.S. health system alone through the use of virtual healthcare tools.

The Future of Digital Humanitarian Response: Partnership & Innovation
Thursday 11:15 – 12:15
Unfortunately, we live in a time where natural disasters, crises and the mass movement of people is commonplace. The world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record with the UN estimating that more than 134 million people across the world are in need of humanitarian assistance. Mobile is uniquely positioned to offer solutions to help people affected by crisis, for example, through mobile money or digital identity solutions. Crowdsourcing and a host of volunteers globally are also changing the face of humanitarian response.

Battle of the Health Apps
Thursday 12:30 – 13:30
There has been an explosion in health and wellness apps, as well as investment into the digital health space. Global digital health VC funding reached a record $8 Billion in the first nine months of 2018 (Mercom Capital) and in the first quarter of 2018, the top 10 grossing self-care apps in the U.S. earned $27 million in combined iOS and Android revenue worldwide (Sensor Tower).

Further Reading