As many readers know, Chilmark Research has been a strong proponent of mHealth for several years. Despite this enthusiasm, we sometimes come away from a conference, such as this week’s mHealth Summit, with the feeling that the only ones making a living with mHealth are conference organizers. Maybe it was the format of this particular conference – too many presentations that were not well vetted for relevance and content. Maybe it was the lack of exhibitors – where is the rest of the legacy HIT market who are all claiming to be bringing mHealth solutions to market? Maybe it was hearing too many mHealth vendors with weak value propositions asking the Feds to step in and jump start this market. Or maybe it was the over reliance on government presentations and an ill-fated alliance with HIMSS, who sponsored less than visionary sessions. Hard to point to any single thing that contributed to this ho hum feeling, so let’s just chalk it up to all the above.
That being said, however, the mHealth Summit, now in its third year, is the best conference one can attend in the US if one wants to get the global pulse on all things mHealth.
From its humble beginnings where the first conference was quickly over-subscribed and held in a small DC amphitheater, this year’s event drew over 3,000 attendees to the massive Gaylord Resort outside of Washington DC for three days of countless sessions running concurrently covering every aspect of mHealth one could imagine. While most sessions were structured as panels with several short presentations, one was thankful that presentations were indeed short for few had substance. But nearly every session had one stellar presentation that kept one hopeful. Those were the gems of this event and like any event, the networking that occurs in the halls.
And then there were those sessions that took a close look at mHealth adoption in developing countries. This is the current market for mHealth (albeit almost all nonprofit) for these countries have real health needs having to deliver healthcare to a highly distributed and often rural population with too few doctors and lack a robust land-line network (no Internet cafes here folks). But what they do have are cell phones – lots of them and they are not tied to legacy systems and associated processes. Even among some of the poorest countries, the rapid adoption of cellphones by the populace is staggering (e.g., India alone now represents 20% of all cellphones in use worldwide). Combine the need with very little in the way of legacy HIT infrastructure and the ubiquitous nature of cellphones and you have a ripe opportunity to redefine care delivery models. Look overseas to these developing countries for the real future of mHealth for this is where best practices in mHealth-enabled care delivery will likely develop and later be adopted in more developed countries, US included.
That is not to say they are no advances occurring here in the US. One of the keynote speakers, cardiologist Eric Topol, gave several live demos during his talk of the mHealth tools he is already using including stating that he has not used a stethoscope in two years, instead preferring to use mobisante’s ultrasound wand and iPhone App. Then there was our conversation with WellDoc’s CTO who informed us that they are currently being deployed at a number of institutions and hope to have a host of CPT codes that doctors can bill against in late 2012. And there was the small start-up we spoke with who has done the hard work of first identifying what the value proposition is for all stakeholders in a community (payers, providers and consumers) and then developed an extremely compelling solution (think analytics & automated quality reporting, tied to reimbursement, tied to consumer engagement) that has a lot of promise in a market where physicians’ pay will increasingly be based on outcomes and ability to meet pre-defined quality metrics
Therein lies arguably the biggest take-away from the mHealth Summit. As one individual put it, ‘There was a bit of whining about getting the government to force large corporations to form strategic partnerships with smaller organizations.” But what these start-ups really need is to simply focus on addressing the age old question: ‘What’s in it for me?’ These companies need to stop the whining and do their homework defining the value proposition for not just the consumer, or just the doctor, but think more broadly of the impact their solution may have on the delivery of care, and how each stakeholder may benefit. Unfortunately, as these conference clearly showed, the mHealth market is still heavy on hype and little on substance.
For a slightly different take, check out the post by VC firm Psilos’ Managing Partner Lisa Suennen’s. Well worth the read.
Also, the image used for this story was taken by Joel Selanikio, CEO & co-founder of DataDyne.org an organization focusing on mobile data collection, particularly, the App EpiSurveyor. Thanks Joel.
John Moore is an IT Analyst at Chilmark Research, where this post was first published.