Sneak peek: West Wireless Health's 2010 plans

By Brian Dolan
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West Wireless Health Institute CEO Don CaseyThis week MobiHealthNews had a chance to discuss wireless health trends and activities at the West Wireless Health Institute with the Institute's new CEO Don Casey. We asked Casey to list five things the WWHI will accomplish in 2010, to point to some of the key challenges facing the wireless health industry and more.

MobiHealthNews: Name five things the WWHI will accomplish this year.

Casey: 1) We now have our management staff in place following my recent hire and Mitul Shah, but also in a few weeks will be announcing a really exciting new addition to the team around the Chief Medical Officer. A real world class hire.

2) You have heard about our Corventis clinical trial, but we will also complete a number of other clinicals over the course of this year.

3) By the end of this year we will announce 10 new partnership agreements with major players in this space. Obviously, I can't name names but think about the large medical device makers and telecoms interested in mHealth. We can serve them in a unique role as a not-for-profit. We can put them in a position where they can look at collaboration in a different way. We are pushing very hard on these collaborative agreements.

4) By the end of the year we will probably unveil the first prototype that we have developed internally at the West Wireless Health Institute. We plan to have that in clinical trials by the end of the year. I was actually just reviewing one of those prototypes earlier today!

5) Finally, we will have at least one major policy initiative underway by May.  We plan to move two policy initiatives forward each year. We plan to work with academics and other organizations to present unbiased data to help policy makers understand wireless health. For example, policy makers want to better understand how what kinds of data and how much data consumers should have to manage their health. We tend to think consumers can take on quite a bit and we want to do a study on that.

What are some of the top challenges for wireless health?

Business Model: When it comes to challenges for wireless health, reimbursement is the biggest. A number of potential venture backers and strategic buyers eyeing wireless health question the business model for wireless health. That has had a trickle down effect and resulted in venture money not moving into wireless health as quickly as we would have hoped. Will consumers pay for these services or will reimbursement come around? There are still a lot of questions here.

Regulatory Clarity: The murkiness of the regulatory environment for wireless health is another challenge. Regulatory clarity is certainly one benefit that we don't have in the industry yet. What is the regulatory pathway for wireless health devices and services? Next generation health devices will be wirelessly enabled, so do they get approved by the FDA through 510(k) or premarket approval? How does the FCC fit in? Lots of discussion here, especially within the FCC's recently published National Broadband Plan, but not a lot of answers yet.

Liability Questions: There are many legal questions surrounding wireless health, including liability issues. The old question: What happens if you send a doctor patient's data and there's no response? Where does the liability lie? State Licensing: The ability to practice medicine across state lines would really help this industry reach economies of scale. Take a look at congestive heart failure -- there's an obvious opportunity that is ripe for wireless health innovation. If a new entrant came to market would that have to create 50 different call centers for each state? Privacy issues are also a challenge -- what does privacy look like for wireless health?

Entrenched Health Care Establishment: Another key challenge is changing the way the healthcare industry has practiced medicine for the past 75 years. The industry is used to practicing medicine one way and they are not used to getting data remotely. That will require a lot of changes. Ultimately, wireless might give us an infrastructure independent approach to medicine that brings the right medicine to the right patient wherever they are. That's a big shift from the hospital as hub and the spoke approach we see today.

The key enablers

Casey also pointed to a number of enablers for wireless health including technology, citing the rise in the number of smartphone users as just one example. More physicians than not are now using smartphones, and there is an incredible amount of mobility activity at the point of care, according to Casey. Next generation wireless chips will also make healthcare delivery more seamless, Casey said. The science of algorithms is also enabling richer and more useful data sets -- just four years ago the practice of data oriented medicine was in its infancy, but today there is a huge amount of demand for these algorithms. Backend analytics for hospital data, including that based in electronic medical records (EMRs) is transforming large swaths of raw data into actionable data for clinicians and patients alike. Another key enabler according to Casey is the government's interest in wireless health.

"We are starting to hear the government ask really interesting questions about how they can get involved," Casey said. "People are starting to ask the right questions and are looking to determine what the mHealth ecosystem will look like."

What problems does wireless health aims to address?

Chronic disease, chronic disease, and chronic disease, Casey said. Take your pick of condition: Whether it's congestive heart disease, managing arrythmias, mental health, diabetes, asthma. Wireless health presents a significant opportunity to change the paradigm on how we manage care in certain areas.

Gary and Mary West have challenged the rest of the team at the Institute to become a true catalyst for the wireless health industry, Casey said, we have a well-funded, very focused, very passionate group of people working here to drive that agenda.

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