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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

by John Moore | December 13, 2012

mHealth12Be careful what you wish for sure did apply to this year’s mHealth Summit, which was held last week in Washington D.C. Of the some 4,000 in attendance, I was one of the 10% or was it even 1% of those present that have attended all four events in succession. It is with that perspective that I came away from this year’s mHealth Summit more disappointed than ever.

At previous mHealth Summits, I often bemoaned the lack of organization of the conference, the often bizarre exhibitors one would find (couple of years back one exhibitor, and I kid you not, was marketing herbal aphrodisiacs) and basic necessities one would find at virtually any event, breaks with coffee, maybe a snack here and there. This disorganized, but charming event was mHealth Alliance Summits of years past.

After an initial partnership last year with the NIH Foundation, the original organizers of the mHealth Summit, HIMSS formerly took over the mHealth event this year. The result, a much more well organized registration process, greater focus on the exhibition area and a definite improvement on basic event logistics.

Unfortunately, HIMSS was less successful in improving the content of the numerous sessions that were held. It seemed that anyone with an idea for a topic was given a stage to stand on, or at least a panel to participate on even if what they had to say had very little to do with the session topic.

The exhibit area, while improving, still lacked a core constituency, HIMSS’s bread n’ butter customer base, the traditional HIT companies that one finds at the national HIMSS conference. This struck me as quite surprising as we are now beginning to see EHR vendors finally release solutions that truly enable physicians to use their tablets for bi-directional interaction with a healthcare facility’s core health information system.

But there were two things I found most disturbing about this year’s event. The first was how HIMSS handled the keynote presentations. From this vantage point, it appeared that each and every one of keynote was simply sold to the highest bidder and since they were sold, the winning bidder felt that their keynote provided them the opportunity to sell the audience on their concept, their product, their platform for mHealth. It was horrid to watch and cheapened this event to a level it has never seen in its short history. Seriously HIMSS, today you have enough clout in the market to not stoop this low so why did you?

Another big omission in the main stage was the lack of clinicians discussing the potential use cases for mHealth, the challenges to adoption, the challenges to link into legacy systems and how they see mHealth evolving in the future to meet their care delivery needs. THere could have been some stunning visionary talks on the topic, but none were to be found at this year’s Summit.

The other disturbing issue relates more to the industry itself and those positioning themselves to be the leaders in the mHealth market. Companies such as Aetna, AT&T, Qualcomm, Verizon, et. al., all spoke about an open platform for mHealth applications. Of course each of them was talking about their own proprietary “open platform” that they are hoping will become the de facto standard in this industry sector. Problem is: none of them have the consumer traction, nor a compelling enough vision to gain a critical mass of developers for their specific platform. There are no “Apples” in this bunch.

The need for a common set of standards that will allow mHealth apps to cross-talk to one another is a serious need in this sector, Without such standards, mHealth will never truly blossom into its full potential and remain the sideshow that it is today. Now, if we could get these big players to all agree that mHealth is far more important than any single one of them, that competing via proprietary platforms is a dead-end, then maybe we will finally get somewhere.

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“As biometric data becomes cheaper and easier to collect through smart sensors, devices, and mobile apps, expect to see more innovations in consumer health.”

-Alicia Vergaras