President Obama's new favorite mobile health use case

By Brian Dolan

Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsUp until about a week ago, the first and last time President Obama mentioned mobile health during a speech was in his State of the Union Address in 2011. At the time the president was extolling the benefits of using tax dollars to ensure high speed cellular networks made their way into more rural areas of the US.

“This isn’t just about — (applause) — this isn’t about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls,” the president said at the time. “It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world. It’s about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.”

While ensuring at least 98 percent of Americans have access to high speed wireless networks by 2016 is still an issue that the White House promotes as an important one, the most recent reference to mobile health came during the president's speech about his management agenda:

"For the first time in history we have opened up huge amounts of government data to the American people and put it on the internet for free," he said. "At you can search through and download more than 75,000 data sets. Data on everything from what different hospitals charge for different procedures, to credit card complaints, to weather and climate measurements. What's happening is entrepreneurs and business owners are now using that data -- the people's data -- to create jobs and solve problems that government can't solve by itself or can't do as efficiently."

"So there is a company called Opower that has used open government data on general energy trends and weather to help families save more than $300 million on their energy bills," he continued. "There's another company called iTriage, founded by two emergency room doctors, that is using freely downloadable data about healthcare providers from the Department of Health and Human Services to help more than 9 million people find the closest doctors and hospitals that meet their needs. The list goes on. These companies have now hired hundreds of people and they're still hiring. Millions of people have already used these applications that were created as a consequence of releasing this data."

President Obama's mention of iTriage is a first for the company and -- by our count -- a second presidential mention for mobile health, as noted above. We already knew that iTriage has a number of fans in the White House, though. iTriage co-founder Pete Hudson MD tells me that he first found out about the White House's interest in his company when he was invited to give a talk to incoming White House Innovation Fellows last year. At the time White House CTO Todd Park said the administration wanted to "clone" iTriage. The company, of course, is one of the few mobile health startups to make a lucrative exit: Aetna acquired iTriage for an undisclosed sum in 2011.) Earlier this year Hudson was also one of only two businesspeople to be invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to attend the 2013 State of the Union Address.

So, safe to say that iTriage has a few friends in DC. It also appears to be the president's new favorite mobile health use case.

"President Obama's inclusion of iTriage in his new management agenda acknowledges the importance of innovation in providing healthcare solutions, especially through the use of free, open-source data," Hudson said in an email. "Mobile health is truly a disruptive force, and the President's remarks underscore the importance of technology in improving consumer engagement and involvement to improve viability of the healthcare system."

Increased access to high speed wireless networks and more open data sets from the government are certainly two important drivers that will support mobile health for years to come. Given that this president is the first to appoint a federal CTO -- Todd Park formerly of HHS now helms that post -- points to the administration's efforts to help update the slow uptake of technology at the federal level. President Obama opened his management agenda speech (read his full remarks here) with an anecdote about how technologically advanced his original presidential campaign was and how behind the times the White House was when he first took office.

"Now, once we got to Washington," he said, "instead of an operation humming with the latest technology, I had to fight really hard just to keep my BlackBerry."

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