You've probably seen it on TV, but it's not common practice: The patient is immersed in an ice water bath to lower body temperature and draw out symptoms -- to determine what the real issues are. After three weeks on the road at various tech conferences, the mobihealthnews team feels like some speakers at The World Health Care Congress in Washington D.C. gave us the ice water bath treatment. And we learned a few things.
During his keynote address yesterday, Novartis CEO Daniel Vasella made a passing comment about technology solutions for overcoming the medication adherence problem, "These solutions are all fine and good, but I do not believe these technical approaches will solve the equation," Vasella said. "People are not just machines. People are human beings with social, biological and psychological aspects that need to be addressed" if these solutions are to be effective.
That's enough to send cold shivers down any technophile's spine, but once you get past the condescending comment that "people are not machines", Vasella's point rings true: We can't expect the technology alone to solve the problem of medication compliance. Caregivers need to work with patients to teach them how to use these new tools, but the industry also needs to do more than find ways to remind patients to take their meds -- in Vasella's opinion, the drivers of non-adherence are much more complicated than simple forgetfulness.
Later in the day, the founder of innovative Web 2.0 company PatientsLikeMe discussed the functionality of the social network and plans moving forward: Also, not too bullish on mobile.
"As I said before, we're not really a ‘technorati' platform, so it's not like our patients are clamoring for an iPhone app," PatientsLikeMe President, Director and Founder Benjamin Heywood said. "These are people dealing with fundamentally life-changing illnesses. It's not like 'Oh fun let's play with this'. While there is immense value in that platform and obviously the whole world is going to be moving to mobile platforms eventually, we don't feel the need to be a leader in that space."
Fair enough. PatientsLikeMe offers a platform where users exchange a good amount of complicated data and long form content -- mobile phones are generally suited for shorter content and quicker exchanges.
That said, Heywood's implication that the mobile phone as a platform for health applications and services is only for the "technorati" or iPhone users is troubling. Most everyone in the emerging mHealth industry would disagree with that categorization, but the stigma is one that the mHealth solutions providers face everyday.
Someone who understands this better than most is Jitterbug Co-founder and Chairwoman Arlene Harris. Jitterbug offers a very easy to use mobile phone service for the less techno-savvy, typically older crowd. Jitterbug is also tackling the mHealth opportunity with gusto: Earlier this year Harris disclosed that Jitterbug has been conducting trials for diabetes management, rheumatoid arthritis management, outpatient post-op support and medication compliance as well as location-based services.
"We want to control the experience of our customers... [who are] techno-phobic, typically older, typically very costly to our healthcare industry," Harris said back in February. "Unlike Google or iPhone, we want to make sure that if we offer these services, that they have been sanitized for simplicity."
So, while Heywood is probably right that bringing the full functionality of PatientsLikeMe to the mobile platform would require a smartphone like the iPhone and would only be accessible to a somewhat techno-savvy user, it is not fair to say that all health services and applications delivered via the mobile platform are for the "technorati." Companies like Jitterbug and its partners will lead the way toward debunking this misconception.
Here's hoping it's not too long before we can throw the "technorati" stigma out with the bath water.