The need for speed: Expediting availability of mobile health solutions amid COVID-19

Arnol Rios, head of business development at Sony's Takeoff Point, offers advice on more quickly preparing and deploying wearables and other mobile health tools.
By Arnol Rios
04:57 pm
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About the author: Arnol Rios is head of business development at Takeoff Point, a Sony company that provides the mSafety Platform in North America.

As companies look to fast-track availability of their mobile health solutions amid COVID-19, they are facing a variety of hurdles. Despite these challenges, organizations are more motivated than ever to identify ways to make their mobile health technology available at a time when virtual care is poised to become a mainstay. Companies developing mobile health solutions today – particularly those focused on business-to-business versus business-to-consumer – have a variety of options to consider as they look for opportunities to make their solutions available more swiftly.

Outsource Where You Can

Perhaps the single most important question developers creating mobile health solutions need to ask themselves right now is whether developing a wearable is part of their company’s core business or merely an enabler. If it’s the latter, developing your own device is likely not worth the time, resources and risks involved. In this case, partnering with a third-party vendor is a smarter decision to bring your solution to market faster.

As with any product-development project, there are numerous factors to evaluate when it comes to a wearable platform partner: feature set, lifetime costs, manageability, adaptability and time to market, just to name a few. When it comes to matching a feature set to a target group, most off-the-shelf wearable solutions are designed for consumers who’ve made an independent decision to monitor their own health or lifestyle. They often provide a fantastic set of features to appeal to gadget enthusiasts. Users can choose apps, change settings, set up accounts and more. They are in control.

By contrast, users in the B2B segment have not made an independent decision, and neither want nor need the same degree of control when it comes to choosing apps, performing firmware updates or changing settings. It is the role of the service provider to select and manage the device’s features. Consider, for example, the elderly stroke patient who has been advised to wear a monitoring device by her doctor. In such cases, the top priorities for the wearable are durability and a straightforward user interface, not customization or control.

The reality is that the creation of mobile health solutions and wearables for a B2B setting requires a different set of considerations than those for consumers. From data access and ownership to wearable fleet-management, the considerations surrounding wearables in a B2B setting – especially specific to healthcare use cases – are more complex than those involved with consumer wearables often utilized by the healthy versus those dealing with chronic conditions. That is why organizations like Cork University Hospital collaborated with a variety of organizations, including 8 West Consulting and their strategic B2B wearable platform partner, to create a remote early warning system for the detection of COVID-19 symptoms among their frontline medical staff [Editor's note: Sony's mSafety watch is among the wearables being used in this study, although the company does not have a direct relationship with Cork University Hospital].

Integrate Healthcare Insights and Experts

Too often, companies bringing mobile health solutions to market don’t consider the value up front of including healthcare experts as part of their development team. As previously alluded to, B2B mobile health technology is infinitely more complex than B2C because of the variety of rules and regulations that developers must adhere to in order to receive approval from a regulatory body – like the FDA – or to ensure organizations, like healthcare providers or health plans, have complete trust in the efficacy, security and privacy of the technology they are providing.

One way to accelerate adoption of your mobile health technology is to bring a healthcare expert to the table from day one. The insights they can provide as an embedded part of your development team – from what providers need to what patients will expect – can be invaluable. More importantly, they can help identify potential issues early, so that you overcome these barriers to approval and adoption before your solution hits the market. For example, the Skane University Hospital of Malmo embraced healthcare partners from the get-go. They brought doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and dieticians all to the table as they created a holistic compliance program that integrated wearable technology to support kidney transplant patients. [Editor's note: this program is a Sony partnership and uses the mSafety wearable device.]

In addition, partnering with trusted healthcare organizations and their innovation and venture teams is another viable option to ensure you have healthcare insight and expertise embedded early in your development process. Organizations like Blue Cross Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente, and Johnson & Johnson Innovation all offer potential opportunities for viable partnership aimed at identifying potential use cases. More so, because of the vast resources these organizations can offer, partnering with them can speed go-to-market greatly and, in some cases, facilitate reimbursement and coverage from public and private payers. The reality is that these large healthcare organizations, in turn, expect a return on their investment of time and resources, so mobile health developers must weigh the pros and cons of such partnerships up front.

Developers looking to lead on mobile health solutions must realize that speed matters in the world we are living in – especially at a time when we are all beginning to realize the value and importance of virtual care models. Those organizations that can bring trusted mobile health solutions to market faster by collaborating with a wearable platform partner, and ensure that healthcare insights and expertise are integrated from the get-go, will be poised to succeed in the wake of lessons learned from COVID-19.

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