This post is long (long) overdue! A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the 2010 mHealth Conference that was held in Washington, DC this year. While I initially registered as a blogger, the conference upgraded my registration to a full press pass when I signed in. I was pleasantly surprised (elated actually)!
Conversations during the Independent Sector Conference definitely pushed thoughts about diversity and inclusion to the forefront of my mind. Since then conversations have pushed my thoughts to the “so what” factor. What does it all mean? While substantive discussion is for another day and another post, I will say thoughts on diversity have slowly shifted to thoughts about equity and justice, my answer to “so what?” With that in mind, I was interested to see these elements would manifest themselves during the mHealth Summit.
…and was I pleasantly surprised!
The first session I attended was a plenary session focusing on the future of the mobile health programs, particularly in relation to communications, data collection and analysis, the underlying theme of each panelists’ comments revolved around innovation and access.
Before I share with you some of my reactions, let me share with you the key players:
Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran, Healthcare Correspondent, The Economist
Robert Tapia-Conyer, Ph.D., President and CEO, Carlos Slim Health Institute
Nils Daulaire, M.D., M.P.H., Director, Department of Health and Human Services Office of Global Health Affairs
Donald J. Jones, Vice President, Health and Life Sciences, Qualcomm, Inc.
Rafael Anta, Lead Specialist, Inter-American Development Bank
Deborah Estrin, Ph.D., Professor and Center Director, UCLA Center for Embedded Networked Sensing
Julian Schweitzer, Ph.D., Principal, Results for Development
What is Mobile Health?
As someone who definitely isn’t an insider to the health care industry, I often have to navigate a pretty steep learning curve. While I definitely understand the ideological and practical implications of mobile and emergency health more today than I did three or four years ago, there still remains a natural knowledge gap since this actually isn’t my profession.
I am going to assume that you are want to know what mobile health is. In the most basic terms, mobile health refers to innovation and technology that allows health practitioners to bring medical technology and access to those who need it.
Mobile Health is so much more then that. Mobile health is a movement that is revolutionizing health care. It is revolutionizing research, access to information and services and innovation, new ways of thinking about health and “doing” health care.
Mobile Health is Innovation
Mobile Health is Access
Mobile Health is Consumer Driven
Mobile Health is a MOVEMENT
The primary question Vaitheeswaran challenged panelists and the audience to consider – what is the place of mobile technology in health research and access, especially in communities that continue to function on the margins of access to quality information and services to make better health-related decisions?
….ok, questions – what role does medical technology and innovation play in improving access? What are the sustainable models, and what are the inter-sector possibilities for impact?
Rafael Anta underscored that the future of the mobile health sector will depend on how the sector faces certain challenges: strengthening public health management and including targeted innovation. Interestingly he steered away from defining innovation solely in terms of technology, but rather as a tool for better organization, how health is delivered and new business and funding models.
Nils Daulaire emphasized the need for more targeted information gathering to drive innovation. “If we don’t know the right questions to ask, we don’t know the right direction to go in.” The mobile health industry needs to allow customers to drive innovation and that customer-drive initiatives are sustainable. Specifically, Daulaire pointed towards the urban and rural poor, that understanding their realities, needs and barriers (such as literacy) as integral to sustainable mobile health.
Innovation for a Cause
So, do we innovate for innovations sake, or is there a greater purpose? While pointing out that one of the key benefits to technological innovation is the collapse of time and space, parameters are still important. The reality is that faster monitoring must lead to faster interventions and access to therapies. For Donald Jones the most powerful impact of innovation lies in access – to information and resources, empowering patients by providing real opportunities for self-management. We all self-manage to some degree, right?
To varying degrees we decide whether the flu-like symptoms we are experiencing warrant a dose of TheraFlu and a good night’s rest or whether professional medical services are necessary. Jones underscores that the necessary goal is creating proactive self-managers, as in providing patients access to the tools necessary to take more ownership over their personal health. In pragmatic terms, discussions of ownership and empowerment lead to a more nuanced discussion of compliance. What do patients do with this new access to information and services?
Human Capital, the Key to Access
Central to this discussion of access to information and resources is the growing shortage of resources, as there currently exists a shortage of 2-4 million health care workers throughout the world. Julian Schweitzer pointed out that even though facilities exist that can train health care workers, this does not address the actual shortage of workers entering and remaining in the field. Dr. Schweitzer raised the concern that until mHealth can overcome this shortage, it won’t be able to overcome many of the major barriers to actually delivering health services, particularly in isolated areas that lack any qualified health workers to begin with.
Consumer Focused Models
Whether it’s for access to information and services, or bringing health resources to areas and communities on the margins of health access, all panelists agreed that innovation needs to happen to develop sustainable business models to address the most pressing health issues; two that kept resurfacing were infectious diseases and maternity and childhood. In addressing these issues, the models must provide access to health information and services in a simpler and faster way, reaching those populations beyond the present reach of health services.
Making It Happen
The World Health Organization and QualComm have joined forces to develop and provide fetal monitoring kits for high risk pregnancies. Trials have begun in Mexico to address high fetal mortality due to women not being able to reach hospitals in adequate time. [link]
There remain several missing pieces to this puzzle, pieces that required inter-sector partnership:
- sustainable funding models
- public private partnerships for philanthropy
- …..did I mention funding?
More dialogue has to happen around who is currently funding innovation within the sector and who is actually making money. Many current initiatives are subsidized in various ways which isn’t conducive to long-term sustainability. The private sector already gets the importance of this and has produced sustainable models. Question is, how can the private sector partner with the health sector to replicate these models to provide sustainable medical solutions to communities that have previously been forgotten or left behind?
Making It Happen
Nike is making money in building sustainable funding models around community building. Nike as build a successful global social network system, connecting more than 2 million customers. The question is, how can mobile health technology initiatives tap into that model to transcend subsidized models?
What I find most interesting is that these conversations – innovation, access, sustainable models, inter-sector partnerships – are conversations that are happening across sectors. While inter-sector dialogue is an increasingly common phenomenon, the breathe and depth of dialogue is missing from industry-specific conferences. Conference platforms are still dominated by niche-specific thought leaders.
Where are you seeing public inter-sector dialogue that is impacting the ways in which sectors collaborate to develop sustainable models for delivering their products and services? Where do you see need for improvement? What models have worked in your communities?