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It is a well-known fact in healthcare that countries become healthy before they become wealthy! In the last decade, you may have been inundated with headlines talking about the myriad of opportunities in emerging markets for healthcare.  But what was earlier a trickle at best, is now becoming a stream, and will morph into a flood in the near future!!

Consider the facts – 75% cancer related deaths between now and 2050 will happen in emerging markets. Developing countries account for 80% of global deaths from chronic diseases, according to the International Finance Corp. They suffer from the diseases of both the developed and the developing world, and while they have come to expect the same quality as developed countries, 50% of medical spending in developing countries is private and out-of-pocket expenditure.

The healthcare system in these economies is in a nascent stage, and this state of flux and uncertainty leads to an unprecedented opportunity. Emerging economies are countries with the greatest need, the largest populations and the fewest resources and thus have the ability to become a cost-effective model of care delivery. Healthcare providers are uncovering patterns for delivering value-based care, and leaders across health sectors—public, private, and payers—should take heed. They must challenge the norms of how and where care is offered, and enable connections among people, use technology with business transformation to re-invent delivery, provide right tools and training to the workforce, standardize operating services and procedures, share data across organizations, and optimize costs to deliver value over the long-term.

Healthcare mobility as a disruptive innovation for emerging markets

mHealth is today is where the internet was in the mid-1990s. The confluence of enabling technologies, low-cost to entry and high demand is already there. The wide availability of mobile phones can drive disruptive use of an existing technology. Mexico for example has 90 million phones compared to 20,000 clinics in the country. The lack of brick and mortar access, and the need to have mass reach can be achieved through mHealth, the practice of medicine supported by smart mobile devices. But for emerging countries, it is more than just the devices – it is really the whole ecosystem from the infrastructure and the connectivity to the end to end solutions enabled through them.

Patients in emerging markets are much more likely to use mHealth applications or services than those in developed countries. Similarly, more emerging-market doctors offer mHealth services than colleagues in developed countries, and more payers cover these costs. 59% of patients in emerging markets already use mobile health applications or services (vs. 35% in developed markets). These countries can be the perfect trailblazers for healthcare mobility. The ability of these countries to leap ahead lies in the paucity of existing healthcare: there is greater demand for change and, just as important, there are fewer entrenched interests to impede the adoption of new approaches.

Innovation leading to reverse innovation

Diagnostics developed for resource-challenged low- and middle-income countries are now extensively being used everywhere in the world. An example of reverse innovation in action is the Medtronic approach to chronic disease management in nations without adequate medical school capacity to train specialists in heart disease. 69% of deaths in such nations are due to chronic disease, but the building of medical training programs would have taken decades. Medtronic designed a low-cost, pill-sized pacemaker inside a stent that can be put into the heart instead of the invasive inter cardiac leads used in the U.S. to electrically synchronize the heart. Remote sensors in the pill-sized pacemaker transmit signals via any smartphone to a cloud computing infrastructure. Although this new technology was developed for India, which has 1.2 billion citizens but only 100 electro physiologists, General Electric (GE) embraced this and developed a $1,000 handheld electrocardiogram device for rural India and a $15,000 PC-based portable ultrasound machine for rural China. These devices are much more affordable and rugged than their American counterparts, and they are now being sold around the world.

Healthcare providers will always have something new to learn. They need to be curious about the innovations in poor countries as they are dependent on cost-effective healthcare delivery. It is learning, collaborating, and best practices that will fuel the long-awaited transformation of healthcare to something data-driven, value-based, and personalized.

Learn more about one of SAP for Healthcare’s innovative solutions to support collaborative care delivery at