Much has been said about the need for wireless health technologies and their potential for cost savings and improved patient outcomes. Some barriers for successful implementation involve education of the public, designing attractive business models, and obtaining investor funds for start-ups. However, there have been recent developments on a number of fronts that validate the exuberance of cheerleaders of mHealth.
Governor Jerry Brown of California a few days ago, signed the Telehealth Advancement Act of 2011. It will increase availability of healthcare to rural and underserved areas. It helped increase awareness about the technology, and set off a flurry of discussion about medical licensing and malpractice law issues when telehealth is practiced across state lines. But it increased awareness of the technology immensely.
The investment in wireless technology by companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Qualcomm is impressive. All have wireless health divisions. AT&T has a ‘ForHealth’ division. It has a management service that provides medical images to a provider’s mobile device from the cloud. It has partnered with Zephyr Technology and eCardio Diagnostics. Verizon has recently partnered with Duke University focused on development of mobile health solutions and consumer health education. Qualcomm is a partner with the X PRIZE Foundation in sponsoring a competition for the Tricorder X Prize. The $10M prize is offered for the development of a mobile health solution which will be the equivalent or better than a group of board-certified physicians in diagnostic skill, recommend therapies, and upload the data to the cloud. Medtronic and Ford have partnered to provide wireless health technologies to people in their cars, monitoring such things as diabetes. Medtronic has also had discussions with IBM, Cisco, Apple, Verizon, and Qualcomm about wireless health partnerships. Johnson and Johnson has partnered with the government’s Office on Women’s Health, part of the Department of Health and Human Services in the Text4baby program. This program is a free mobile technology in which text messaging is used focusing on education for the pregnant woman. It is a model for the expansion of other wireless technology health initiatives by the HHS, with recent recommendations made by a committee to the HHS for adoption into policy.
What all the above indicates is that wireless health technology is something that is being taken very seriously by big business and the government. These forays into mHealth are facilitating the laying of a foundation which will enable the widespread use of these products and platforms. Public education needs to be done in parallel so that there is no lag in adoption when the time is right from other standpoints. Why is mHealth not a speaking point in the Presidential election? The cost of healthcare as well as policy certainly is. But technology that is so appealing on many levels is not to be found in the debate. Is it because there is lack of its awareness by the candidates (or their campaign speech writers) or is it because it is not represented strong enough by lobbyists? This healthcare sector will become what its visionaries hope it will, the question is when. The time is getting closer.