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mHealth – Potentially Valuable, But Not Ready For Primetime

mHealth – otherwise known as mobile healthcare – sounds like just what the doctor ordered to help make healthcare delivery cheaper and more effective. And since the Internet today essentially resides in everybody’s pocket, it would seem as though it’s ready to be implemented. But we have what amounts to a “last-three-feet” problem. So I’m not sure mHealth is ready for primetime, mostly because I don’t think our conventional healthcare system is ready or capable of embracing it.

The goal is to have patients wirelessly send appropriate clinical information to their healthcare providers in a timely manner. This would save time-consuming trips to the doctor on their part and, for doctors, ultimately make it easier to retrieve key patient clinical data. Such a system could detect events just before they happen and allow early critical intervention. The problem is that at this point this is just a goal, not reality.

I have looked at a half dozen startups in this space but haven’t made a commitment to fund any of them. In many cases, their technology looks promising, but it isn’t clear how the company would actually generate consistent revenue. Would the healthcare system reimburse mHealth? Would the doctor know how to interpret the flood of real-time data? Would our system drown under a deluge of alerts, many of which resolve naturally? There is a wealth of questions around these issues.

And this is just the start of the challenges. Unfortunately, the human body doesn’t have a USB port. Low power, rugged sensors would have to be developed to monitor the body for medically actionable information, a non-trivial task. And while the infrastructure is in place to transmit the data to the doctor, the technology doesn’t really exit to massage it in a form he can readily see and interpret in his office, let alone on his smart phone.

Even if all the obstacles are surmounted, the question remains whether doctors would actually use this technology. My doctor, for example, uses a state-of-the-art electronic record-keeping and patient management system and is relatively sophisticated, but he is just getting used to working with a computer terminal. He doesn’t quite know how he would, for example, use a mobile application that monitored heart rates. It’s almost as if a new generation of medical school graduates is needed to recognize the value of this technology.

I believe mHealth is part of a larger revolution in healthcare delivery, one that is real-time, personalized, autonomously monitored, and potentially much more cost-effective. Today, our nation is trying to figure out how to convert everyone to an electronic medical record (EMR). The hope is that when every patient is linked to their EMR, then every doctor that sees that patient has full access to their medical history and can make better and more cost-effective decisions regarding individual care. mHealth takes this one step further because it is a source of real-time medical data monitoring a patient’s health and prognosis. It knows almost everything about an individual’s body and can help his doctor deliver much better and more personalized health care.

This mHealth revolution may well happen. Some would say it is inevitable. The timing, however, will rely on our healthcare system capable of meeting the challenge of surmounting substantial change.

Ted Driscoll, PhD, is a Technology Partner at Claremont Creek Ventures. He is also an active angel investor in the Life Science Angels and a founding director of the Sand Hill Angels. Ted holds 40+ granted US and foreign patents in image-related fields.

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Peter EgglestonUC TelemedMoms of Mobile Healthcare - American Community Health@cascadiaVol. 40 March 1, 2011 Health Care Reform: Politics, Computers, and the Individual « HUB's LIST of medical fun facts Recent comment authors
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Peter Eggleston
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mHealth is absolutely ready for prime time and is. Just walk into any hospital and watch doctors using their phones, iPad and other connected devices. Also, I’m currently sitting in a hospital bed, looking up at my IV pump and guess what? It is a mobile unit with a broadband connection broadcasting data back to the nurses station. All that is needed to be truely mobile is an app to rebroadcast alarms to the nurses cell phones (or in the case of the hospital I am in, to their SpectraLink devices). Also, a tremendous number of consumers are using mHealth… Read more »

UC Telemed
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UC Telemed

Just want to add that I totally agree with your conclusion starting at, “It’s almost as if a new generation of medical school graduates…”

UC Telemed
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UC Telemed

“And while the infrastructure is in place to transmit the data to the doctor, the technology doesn’t really exit to massage it in a form he can readily see and interpret in his office, let alone on his smart phone.” Not a true statement. The technology does exist and is being used. “I have looked at a half dozen startups in this space but haven’t made a commitment to fund any of them. In many cases, their technology looks promising, but it isn’t clear how the company would actually generate consistent revenue.” You are looking in the wrong sector, for… Read more »

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[…] A truly powerful combination. Is the health care industry ready for this jump… not likely. mHealth – Potentially Valuable, But Not Ready For Primetime I believe mHealth– otherwise known as mobile healthcare –  is part of a larger revolution in […]

@cascadia
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If you view mHealth as an adjunct or the last couple of feet of our existing failed medical system you are probably right. If however you look to places like Africa where mHealth has seen tremendous results and none of the people or the providers have EMR’s , PHRs’ or in many cases internet connections or computers then you realize just how disruptive this technology can be. In Malawi for example – 2 doctors, 60 health educators are taking care of a catchment area of over 1.2 million people (AIDS and TB). Rather then hand carrying the information back and… Read more »

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[…] EHR, EMR, mHEALTH, and HITECH are all computerized medical information terms, or are part of the sequel song to […]

David Doherty
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Not ready for primetime?

It already is primetime becuase it’s actually key to the uptake of mobile – the fastest adopted technology in the history of mankind!

http://3gdoctor.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/mhealth-potentially-valuable-but-not-ready-for-primetime/

Gangadhar
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Interesting analysis. The main objection listed here is that the doctors and the healthcare system (since it relies on doctors) will be deluged with data. I agree with this assessment. But mhealth is also about patients taking control of their own health and understanding their health using mhealth tools. This will actually reduce the load on the healthcare system instead of increasing it. Doctors and Healthcare system should encourage this trend.

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[…] This article was originally published February 21, 2011 in the The Health Care Blog […]

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[…] of the Sand Hill Angels. Ted holds 40+ granted US andforeign patents in image-related fields. Tweet this Share on FacebookThe Health CareBlog Tags: mHealth, Potentially, Primetime, Ready, […]

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[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by HealthWarehouse.com, Hospital for openERP and Andrea Page, IRW-HealthClinic. IRW-HealthClinic said: mHealth – Potentially Valuable, But Not Ready For Primetime: By TED DRISCOLL, PHD mHealth – otherwise known as m… http://bit.ly/gD0n03 […]