@CTIA Interview: Gary West, West Wireless Health Institute

By Brian Dolan
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Gary WestIf Scripps Health's Dr. Eric Topol's sweeping keynote about the emerging wireless healthcare industry was the main course at the CTIA Wireless show this week, the launch of the West Wireless Health Institute on Monday was the event's amuse bouche.

The mobihealthnews team had the opportunity to sit-down with the West Wireless Health Institute's Chairman and lead donor Gary West to discuss why he decided to invest in wireless medicine, which indicators led him to decide now was the time to invest in mHealth, what kind of CEO the Institute is looking to attract and how the Institute will spend his $45 million donation.

From healthcare to telemarketing, and back again

While Gary West became a billionaire by building a successful telemarketing company that got acquired in 2006, his resume also includes a decade of work in the healthcare industry. 

"From about 1970 to 1980 I was in the hospital administration business," West told mobihealthnews during the interview. "During that decade of my life I was able to learn about the nuances of the healthcare industry, at least as they existed back then. Things have certainly changed since then, but, still, a lot of the basics are the same. Back then I couldn't do too much to change the industry."

"Later on in life, my wife and I owned a large [telemarketing] business, West Corp., which we sold our primary interest in back in 2006," West said. "The company had 35,000 employees. So we had been in a people-intensive business for almost 30 years. Every year we saw healthcare costs going up and healthcare benefits for our employees going down. It was clear that healthcare was not sustainable for me and not sustainable for most companies. Sooner or later, [healthcare] would become a genuine disaster. Again, at the time we couldn't do too much to change it."

Wireless medicine: Best bang for West's buck

Of course, once West and his wife sold their primary interest in West Corp. three years ago, the pair finally had the opportunity to impact the healthcare industry in a very significant way. The Wests are philanthropic investors, but they approached their investments like stock buyers, they wanted to see measurable results for the money they spent.

"We wanted a good 'bang for our buck'," West said. "We realized that something had to be done about the way healthcare is conducted today. We have to keep people out of hospitals and doctors offices because in ten years so many people won't be able to get in. [Of all the potential ways to help solve that coming disaster,] wireless medical intervention made the most sense to me."

"In the next decade, wireless health will do more to decrease the cost of healthcare (while increasing access) than anything else we will see in medicine," West said.

Continued on Next Page: Eight months later, West Wireless Health Institute launches