Mobile Health Expo to launch Mobile Health Association

By Neil Versel
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Neil VerselIn 2007, then-Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen got on stage at the World Health Care Congress in Washington, D.C. and expressed 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 told the audience.

I caught up with him a couple of months ago at the Microsoft Connected Health Conference in Chicago. "There's still a lot of talking going on," he said, for a story that ran in InformationWeek.

Why do I bring this up? I’m in New York City right now for the second Mobile Health Expo, a sparsely attended gathering that seems even smaller in the confines of the Javits Center, Manhattan’s major convention center. The first one was held about eight months ago in Las Vegas. In March, I covered the mHealth Initiative’s third mHealth Networking Conference (another rather small meeting in a hotel near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport), six months after the second one and thirteen months after the first.

Yes, there are lots of conferences on mobile healthcare, possibly too many. Already this year we’ve seen the Mobile Health Summit in Canada; Mobile & Wireless Healthcare 2011 in the U.K.; the Wireless Health Conference in Australia; the Mobile Healthcare Conference in Germany; Mobile Health 2011 in the U.S;, the GSMA-mHA Mobile Health Summit in South Africa, and the Symposium on mHealth Strategy for Latin America in Peru. There are plenty more to come in the second half of 2011. (David Doherty of 3G Doctor in Ireland has probably the definitive list on his mHealth Insight blog.)

One can’t possibly expect to get to all of them, or even all of those in the U.S.—though I sometimes think MobiHealthNews Editor Brian Dolan tries. (He’s not here in New York this week.) At least the content seems to be different. The Mobile Health Expo is vendor-heavy, while the mHealth Networking Conferences have been more provider-centric. The mHealth Summit, put on in the late fall by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, has a high-level, more global focus, as evidenced by the presence of keynote speakers like Bill Gates and Ted Turner.

The difference between what Bredesen said about the health IT industry in general and the mobile health industry is that people in m-health tend to be more about action than talk. Until Wednesday afternoon, though, I was wondering if there would be any action at the Mobile Health Expo.

Then the news broke. “You're going to have to get involved,” said Bill Jones, an Austin, Texas, public policy lawyer who formerly served as general counsel to Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He and two other lawyer-lobbyists noted that the American Telemedicine Association advocates for telehealth technologies, but that there doesn’t seem to be anyone speaking for mobile health in particular.

Wendy Thomas, founder of the conference, then announced she was forming the Mobile Health Association. A press release will go out Thursday, but don’t expect a lot of details; Thomas says she’s initially seeking individual and corporate members, before developing a direction for the association.

Maybe that’s not anything to get excited about, but you have to start somewhere. The mobile health industry needs to and will be heard, whether through an association… or by developing products and services that people can’t do without.