Don't forget, mobile is but a tool in the wider effort to improve healthcare

By Neil Versel

Neil_Versel_LargeWhat follows are some controversial remarks from last week's 4th annual World Congress Leadership Summit on mHealth in Boston, where I represented MobiHealthNews as a panel moderator.

In the final, sparsely attended session on Friday afternoon, after many registrants had headed to the airport, Paul Meyer, chairman and president of Voxiva, the company behind Text4Baby and other mobile health coaching programs, dropped this bombshell: "I honestly think there shouldn't be a fifth annual conference," he said. Mobile health is not a field. Mobile health is a tool."

Meyer, a former speechwriter in the Clinton White House who started Voxiva to help monitor disease outbreaks in developing countries, further said he would rather have been in Louisiana that day at a conference on diabetes prevention. He then added, "I think we're done talking about the widget. Mobile health is a widget."

For me, this recalled a similar eye-opener at a larger, higher-profile event put on by the same company, Woburn, Mass.-based World Congress. Five years ago at the World Health Care Congress in Washington, D.C., then-Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen let out his frustration with the slow pace of progress in health IT. "Enough with the grants, enough with the conferences, enough with the pilot programs," he said, while sharing conference stage with people who give out grants and sponsor pilot programs.

I mentioned this last year when the struggling Mobile Health Expo announced plans to start up a policy organization called the Mobile Health Association, which it did soon after. The association has touted a "tour" of 33 events with a total of more than 730,000 attendees this year, but it really only means that it has booth space and an educational program at massive conferences like the American College of Cardiology's annual meeting and the huge Medica show in Germany.

Already we've seen the demise of the mHealth Initiative and the largest mobile health event, the mHealth Summit become a HIMSS property. The Wireless Health group on LinkedIn has morphed into the Digital Health group.

What this tells me is that mobile and wireless health do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of the wider fields of health IT, medical devices and health informatics.

While I think there definitely is room for a fifth annual Leadership Summit on mHealth and other small-scale meetings – just as there is plenty of reason for mobile health to be part of bigger events like HIMSS and Medica and there is huge demand for news in publications like this one – Meyer is spot on. Mobile health is not a field. It's a tool, just like any other technology.

Sometimes we focus too much on labels when we should be concentrating on making healthcare safer, more efficient and more affordable. When I'm a patient, I don't care how that happens. But it needs to happen.