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mHealth's business leaders debate the pain points

By Eric Wicklund, Editor, mHIMSS
WASHINGTON – If the mHealth industry is ever to have a positive impact on healthcare delivery in the United States, it'll have to overcome two barriers – the economy and interoperability.

Those points were made during a wide-ranging Super Session 3 at last week's mHealth Summit. The Wednesday morning session, titled "The New Wireless Paradigm in the Medical device Industry," featured a panel of executives from several healthcare companies with significant interest in the mobile health field.

Moderated by Tom Wheeler of Core Capital Partners, the session's two primary take-aways were: (1) an mHealth program might be good, but it won't succeed unless it's sustainable; and (2) mobile device makers and other mHealth companies need to focus on making their devices and/or programs share data and communicate effectively with each other.

'We're actually in information overload," offered Paul Coss of Philips Healthcare. "We need systems that are smarter (and) more interactive."

Coming at the tail end of the three-day conference, the panel discussion brought with it several talking points gleaned during earlier keynotes and sessions, including the idea that the consumer will guide the growth of mHealth by assuming more control over his or her healthcare information. Tom Watlington of Sotera Wireless said that may hold true for the health and wellness side of healthcare, but in clinical situations the consumer is going to have to adapt to an mHealth environment fashioned by physicians.

Coss wondered whether the consumer's demand for health information will clash with the physician's need to control and coordinate the healthcare setting.

"What are consumers willing to give up as they move toward getting the type of care that they want?" he asked.

On the issue of interoperability, the panelists agreed: There are some cool new mHealth apps, devices and programs on the market, but they'll fade into obscurity unless they can exchange data with other devices and providers.

"The traditional IT methodology on a stand-alone basis is not the answer," said Andrew M. Flanagan of SAP.

Interoperability between devices "is even going to be a bigger issue in the future," added Watlington.

Watlington said the integration of mobile medical devices begins in the hospital setting, but will become more important – and complicated – as providers look to track patients after discharge. The industry will look to consumer electronic devices to bridge the gap between hospital care and home-based monitoring, a key factor in cutting back on costly readmissions.

Another factor in the acceptance of mHealth is reimbursement for physicians. Michael Kremliovsky of Medtronic noted that mobile medical devices might prove popular at home with consumers, but they'll ultimately fail unless they're part of an integrated, sound business plan for physicians. People can draw all the data they want from devices, he said, but that data has to be conveyed to providers and turned into actionable clinical results, for which providers can be reimbursed.

"I think the primary challenge is to find the right business model," he said.

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