WASHINGTON — The trade association representing the wireless industry is ramping up its mHealth campaign to raise awareness of the potential of mobile devices to improve the nation’s health care system.
CTIA this morning hosted a policy forum featuring medical experts and government officials touting the promise of mobile health applications to drive down costs and improve the quality of care.
At stake in the short term is a piece of the $19 billion Congress appropriated for health IT initiatives in the economic stimulus package.
By statute, that money is to be allocated to projects that meet a “meaningful use” criterion, a slippery term that Congress left to the Department of Health and Human Services to define.
HHS currently has an open proceeding to develop a definition, and it is unclear what existing or emerging wireless technologies will qualify. However, an official from the department today offered a bullish forecast for the potential of remote-monitoring devices to improve health care.
“It’s going to be absolutely essential in a reformed health system,” said Jay Bernhardt, director of the Center for National Health Marketing at the Centers for Disease Control. “We really think that there is no more important channel or platform than mobile health.”
Much of the discussion about health IT has focused on digitizing medical records, but advocates of mobile health care are highlighting more dynamic applications that could automate the process of providing care.
These applications, most powered by sensors, run the gamut from cardiac-monitoring devices to smart pills that notify a medical facility when they have been ingested.
“The sky is the limit as to where these technologies can go,” said Daniel Ballon senior policy fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. “The good news is that the revolution has already started, and that we’re becoming peripherally aware of it.”
In Apple’s iPhone app store alone, there are more than 1,500 health applications. Intel GE, two companies playing in the space, have projected that home health care monitoring will grow to a $7.7 billion market by 2012.
Much of the promise of wireless health IT centers on removing the human element from mundane tasks like recording the data that diabetes patients are supposed to enter in diaries each time they take a glucose reading. If the device were connected to a network, the readings would be transmitted instantly and automatically, which would improve the quality of data doctors receive.
“We know that most of those diaries that people are asked to fill out get filled out in the doctor’s waiting room,” said Jonathan Javitt, CEO of Telcare, a Bethesda, Md.-based biotech startup.
Medical experts also look to wireless health IT to improve patients’ compliance with the instructions they receive from their doctors. Something as simple as a text message alert to remind patients when it’s time to take their medication could yield significant improvements in health outcomes.
As excited as wireless health care enthusiasts are about its potential in the United States, they see an even more transformative effect in developing nations, where cell phones for many are the primary device for communicating and accessing the Internet.
The mHealth campaign has a receptive audience in the White House.
“The administration is very excited about mobile health technologies,” said Dan Fletcher, a fellow in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Fletcher said the administration looks to mobile health IT as a path toward its twin goals of providing universal health care coverage and applying technological solutions to the some of the most challenging policy issues, ranging from energy efficiency to diplomacy.
CTIA presumably will advocate for wireless provisions as Congress and the administration move forward with health care reform, though a spokeswoman told InternetNews.com that the group has not set a policy agenda on the issue.
In addition to more incentives for caregivers to adopt wireless technologies, the health care revamp could include additional funding for research and development of new devices for remote monitoring.