One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Be 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. (more…)
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mHealth: Seemingly Stuck in Neutral
As many readers know, Chilmark Research has been a strong proponent of mHealth for several years. Despite this enthusiasm, we sometimes come away from a conference, such as this week’s mHealth Summit, with the feeling that the only ones making a living with mHealth are conference organizers. Maybe it was the format of this particular conference – too many presentations that were not well vetted for relevance and content. Maybe it was the lack of exhibitors – where is the rest of the legacy HIT market who are all claiming to be bringing mHealth solutions to market? Maybe it was hearing too many mHealth vendors with weak value propositions asking the Feds to step in and jump start this market. Or maybe it was the over reliance on government presentations and an ill-fated alliance with HIMSS, who sponsored less than visionary sessions. Hard to point to any single thing that contributed to this ho hum feeling, so let’s just chalk it up to all the above.
That being said, however, the mHealth Summit, now in its third year, is the best conference one can attend in the US if one wants to get the global pulse on all things mHealth.
From its humble beginnings where the first conference was quickly over-subscribed and held in a small DC amphitheater, this year’s event drew over 3,000 attendees to the massive Gaylord Resort outside of Washington DC for three days of countless sessions running concurrently covering every aspect of mHealth one could imagine. While most sessions were structured as panels with several short presentations, one was thankful that presentations were indeed short for few had substance. But nearly every session had one stellar presentation that kept one hopeful. Those were the gems of this event and like any event, the networking that occurs in the halls.
And then there were those sessions that took a close look at mHealth adoption in developing countries. This is the current market for mHealth (albeit almost all nonprofit) for these countries have real health needs having to deliver healthcare to a highly distributed and often rural population with too few doctors and lack a robust land-line network (no Internet cafes here folks). But what they do have are cell phones – lots of them and they are not tied to legacy systems and associated processes. Even among some of the poorest countries, the rapid adoption of cellphones by the populace is staggering (e.g., India alone now represents 20% of all cellphones in use worldwide). Combine the need with very little in the way of legacy HIT infrastructure and the ubiquitous nature of cellphones and you have a ripe opportunity to redefine care delivery models. Look overseas to these developing countries for the real future of mHealth for this is where best practices in mHealth-enabled care delivery will likely develop and later be adopted in more developed countries, US included.
That is not to say they are no advances occurring here in the US. One of the keynote speakers, cardiologist Eric Topol, gave several live demos during his talk of the mHealth tools he is already using including stating that he has not used a stethoscope in two years, instead preferring to use mobisante’s ultrasound wand and iPhone App. Then there was our conversation with WellDoc’s CTO who informed us that they are currently being deployed at a number of institutions and hope to have a host of CPT codes that doctors can bill against in late 2012. And there was the small start-up we spoke with who has done the hard work of first identifying what the value proposition is for all stakeholders in a community (payers, providers and consumers) and then developed an extremely compelling solution (think analytics & automated quality reporting, tied to reimbursement, tied to consumer engagement) that has a lot of promise in a market where physicians’ pay will increasingly be based on outcomes and ability to meet pre-defined quality metrics
Therein lies arguably the biggest take-away from the mHealth Summit. As one individual put it, ‘There was a bit of whining about getting the government to force large corporations to form strategic partnerships with smaller organizations.” But what these start-ups really need is to simply focus on addressing the age old question: ‘What’s in it for me?’ These companies need to stop the whining and do their homework defining the value proposition for not just the consumer, or just the doctor, but think more broadly of the impact their solution may have on the delivery of care, and how each stakeholder may benefit. Unfortunately, as these conference clearly showed, the mHealth market is still heavy on hype and little on substance.
For a slightly different take, check out the post by VC firm Psilos’ Managing Partner Lisa Suennen’s. Well worth the read. And more recently, Charles Huang, formerly of Spark Capital, provides his own view of the mHealth Summit, including a a call that once and for all, we need to kill the term mHealth.
Also, the image used for this story was taken by Joel Selanikio, CEO & co-founder of DataDyne.org an organization focusing on mobile data collection, particularly, the App EpiSurveyor. Thanks Joel.
mHealth: Is it a Market?
mHealth is unlikely to ever become a market in its own right.
Backing up this claim have been the countless projects/products being presented at this event with very few having a model that is scalable across a broad population base. There is also the issue of a lack of clear, repeatable and sustainable business models for mHealth. None have been laid bare for before all to see and learn from in any of the sessions I attended (maybe we are just very early in the evolution/adoption cycle). Likely 90% of the mHealth technologies presented at this conference have been funded by grants that are unsustainable (most often for pilot studies by academic institutions) making one wonder: Where’s the money? Where’s the scale? Where’s the opportunity? Again, circling us back to the title of this post…
Is there really a mHealth market?
This is the wrong question to ask.
The question is not whether or not there is an mHealth market, the question is: How will mobile technologies and devices change care delivery models? Mobile technology is not going away anytime soon and is simply becoming more and more a part of our daily lives, both personal and work related. It is rapidly becoming ubiquitous. Likewise, as I have said many times before, health does not occur when you are sitting in front of a computer, it is mobile, it is with you, it is you.
But the adoption of anything by anyone has to meet a fundamental requirement; it needs to deliver value to the adoptee and that is what events such as this need to spend more time circling back to, and unfortunately this one did not. There is also the issue of how to successfully adopt a technology to fully leverage its capabilities, e.g., how will work-flows change within a hospital if all physicians are using touch-tablets and how do we optimize new work-flow models to improve efficiency and quality of care delivered? Again, not a topic that was addressed at this event to a level of detail that would prove useful although the keynote address this morning by Harvard University’s School of Public Health Dean Dr. Frenk was very insightful and briefly touched upon this topic.
Unfortunately, the content of this event, which was heavily weighted to NGO-type speakers, far too many talking heads and far too few practioners (be they clinicians or consumers), was the likely culprit. Don’t get me wrong, the event was not a complete waste of time as there have been some great panelists and a few interesting presentations, but they were a very small minority. Hopefully by next year we (and the organizers of this event) will have heeded the sage advice of Sangita Reddy, Executive Director of Operations for Indian healthcare powerhouse Apollo Hospitals Group, and not focus so much on the policies and politics of mHealth but the opportunities and operational aspects of mHealth to improve the quality of life for all people.
It is time to roll-up our sleeves and just get to work. But do not leave leadership at the door. As Dr. Frenk pointed out at the end of his talk, strong leadership is needed to insure that mHealth reaches its true potential as it will be a disruptor. And with disruption, opportunity blooms.