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.