From the mHealthNews archive

mHealth masters: The near future of connected devices

By Eric Wicklund

Rob Flippo is CEO of MobileHelp. For the past 16 years, he has worked in both start-up environments as well as Fortune 50 companies, holding executive roles at Motorola, Boca Research and Emergin Inc. He is a current member of the Board of Directors of MAMA, the Medical Alert Monitoring Association. He holds an MBA from the University of Miami and a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of South Florida and has completed coursework in business management at Harvard Business School. He also holds 7 U.S. patents for communications systems.

Q. What's the one promise of mHealth that will drive the most adoption over the coming year?

A. The old expression "cash is king" is an apropos phrase to discuss the promise of mHealth as well as its rapid adoption. According to a recent article in the LA Times, personal, business and community healthcare costs have continued to rise, at degrees incongruent with increases in income. 

The article cites a recent survey by private health insurance exchange eHealth Highlights, which reported that more than 6-in-10 people say they're more worried about the financial effect of expensive medical emergencies and paying for healthcare than about funding retirement or covering their kids' education. And the Commonwealth Fund reported that annual increases in work-based health plan premiums rose three times faster than wages from 2003 to 2013.

All of this has put pressure on technology companies to deliver solutions that can help consumers and healthcare providers manage those costs – much of which comes down to better management of healthcare at the patient level. If patients have the tools to manage their own care under the guidance of a physician, cost savings can be realized throughout the care continuum. 

The promise of lower healthcare costs – whether from reimbursements from insurance companies around healthy habits tracked with an activity tracking device or increased reimbursements from Medicare around telehealth services – should definitely drive adoption in the next 12-18 months.

Q. What mHealth technology will become ubiquitous in the next 5 years? Why?

A. While the Health IT space has seen a massive influx of new technology in the form of wearables, apps and other devices, the foundation for them – telehealth and telemedicine – is in older, proven technologies. What is rapidly becoming ubiquitous, and will continue to do so, is remote biometric data collection, enabled by smart Bluetooth or BLE. 

We are not far from a future where any device we purchase for purposes of managing our health, from weight scales to blood pressure cuffs to glucometers, will automatically upload our data to a cloud location we designate and have ready access to. With seamless integration of devices and data collection, patient control of their own data will occur as effortlessly as simply stepping on the scale each morning. The difference will be that instead of trying to remember what one weighed three days before, that data will be tracked and trended on an app on one's phone, tablet or computer.      

Q. What's the most cutting-edge application you're seeing now? What other innovations might we see in the near future?

A. As a good segue from the previous question, the data that consumers and patients will collect and are already collecting every day has promise for healthcare providers to analyze and solve future problems – for that specific patient or for a population of patients with the same diagnosis. 

Collecting ongoing data from a broad and substantive group of patients holds significant promise around helping healthcare providers create care plans to address population health management goals and initiatives.

Q. What mHealth tool or trend will likely die out or fail?

A. In looking at trends that have endured to become proven methodologies in long-term health management or the treatment of disease, it is clear that devices and apps that do not tie into the broader picture of patient health simply don't make it in the marketplace long term. 

Devices and applications are only as good as the system they plug into; if I have a device that tells me I walked six miles that day, that's nice, but if I have a device that not only tells me I walked six miles, but also how that compares to the previous day, week or year, and further – how that is allowing me to address the goals my physician has for me around exercise related to my pre-diabetes diagnosis, that kind of device has staying power.