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Sebelius, Topol help launch mHealth Summit with a nod to the smartphone

By Eric Wicklund, Editor, mHIMSS
WASHINGTON – The practice of medicine is undergoing a sea change, thanks to the smartphone. That's the gist of the opening keynotes at Monday morning's launch of the mHealth Summit, a three-day conference and exhibition on mobile health technology taking place at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.

The event, which counted 3,600 registered attendees (up from 2,600 last year), kicked off in grand style, with opening remarks from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Eric Topol, vice chairman of the West Wireless Health Institute, among others.

Both Sebelius and Topol focused on the game-changing aspects of mobile health technology to improve clinical outcomes, promote preventive medicine and reduce wasteful spending and healthcare costs. And they issued a call to arms – or minds – to support innovation in the field of mobile medical devices.

"This is an incredible time to be having this conversation," said Sebelius.

Mobile health technology is gaining added significance, Sebelius said, at a time when healthcare is slow to adapt to new things. "Part of our healthcare problem is a lack of information," she said. "Doctors way too often have incomplete information on their patients."

Sebelius highlighted several government initiatives and challenges to foster innovation, including Text4Babies – a text-messaging program for mothers-to-be – and the new SmokeFreeTXT program, targeted at preventing teens from smoking. She also noted the winners of the recent Apps Against Abuse technology challenge: On Watch, an iPhone app that allows the user to transmit critical information by phone, e-mail, text or social media to one's support network, and Circle of 6, an app that allows users to reach a circle of supporters in real time. Both were selected from a pool of more than 30 entries submitted to Challenge.gov and announced in early November.

Sebelius urged her audience to support innovation throughout the healthcare environment, and said the federal government can foster that creativity.

"We can play a critical role as a catalyst," she said.

Topol came to the podium armed with facts, figures, cartoons and apps, all to the theme of "the creative destruction of medicine." He pointed out that the smartphone has already replaced the stethoscope as the "icon of medicine," then used his smartphone to display his ECG and a sonogram of his heart.

"It's going a lot faster than it ought to," he joked.

His point: Smartphone technology has advanced so much that the smartphone should be a required tool for every physician – as well as for every person, since healthcare is moving quite rapidly into an era where the patient has as much responsibility for his or her healthcare as the provider. Together with social media, he said, the smartphone is helping to puncture the so-called medical cocoon, "which is very difficult to penetrate."

Sebelius and Topol were part of an impressive array of speakers brought together to kick off the mHealth Summit. Others adding their welcome included Scott E. Campbell, executive director and CEO of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health; Rosemary Nelson, chairperson of the Health Information and Management Systems Society's (HIMSS) new mHIMSS taskforce; Patricia Mechael, executive director of the mHealth Alliance; and Robert Kaplan, director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research for the National Institutes of Health.

"This is an emergency technology and an emerging area that will have an effect on everybody," said Campbell.

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