OnQ Blog

The Wireless Health Waiting Game

Nov 22, 2011

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Since taking the helm at Qualcomm Wireless Health  just under a year ago, I have had the opportunity to speak with many medical device manufacturers, wireless operators, wireless sensor companies, hospitals and doctors, and the challenge ahead is clear.  I’ve also tried out some of the latest mHealth technologies myself, giving me unique insight into why the wireless health industry has not yet exploded.

Despite the clear call-to-action for medical and healthcare device makers to connect their health and wellness solutions to a network - enabling critical health information and medically-relevant data to be instantly, easily and securely recorded, stored, and accessible by people using the devices and their caregivers - we are not seeing the industry take off.

Let’s look at some numbers:

  • 300M people in NA and EU have at least 1 chronic disease, and it’s estimated that 25% of patients would benefit from wireless home monitoring solutions, and another 50% of patients would benefit from handset integration of existing medical devices. (CDC, 2011; “mHealth and Home Monitoring”, Berg Insight, 2009.)
  • By 2020, at least 160 milion Americans will be monitored and treated remotely for at least one chronic condition. (Johns Hopkins University – Chronic Conditions, 2004.)
  • A single connected medical device (CMD) saves 4-36 minutes of caregiver time daily while preventing up to 24 data errors per day. (“Quantifying the Business Value of Medical Device Connectivity”, Black Box SME, 2011)
  • It is projected that by the year 2014 public and private healthcare providers could save between $1.96 billion and $5.83 billion in healthcare costs worldwide by utilizing mHealth technologies for health monitoring. (“Mobile Healthcare Opportunities, Monitoring Applications & mHealth Strategies 2010-2014. Juniper Research. April, 2010)

The Patients and Physicians win. Costs go down. Overall health improves. Based on these numbers, one would think large medical device manufacturers would be chomping at the bit to integrate wireless technologies into their solutions, especially those used to manage chronic disease. Yet we have not yet seen this happen in a widespread way, which begs the question, “Why not?”

Device makers are trying, but hurdles are great:

  • Up to 68% of manufacturer IT projects, including wireless connectivity, fail.
  • These IT projects also take as much as 180% target time to deliver, consume over 160% of budget and deliver less than 70% of required functionality. (“The Impact of Business Requirements on the Success of Technology Projects”, IAG Consulting, 2008.)

These may seem like staggering numbers, but not to our team. We have lived these numbers day in and day out for years as we meet with global medical device OEMs, and understand the problems they run into when integrating wireless connectivity in a previously unconnected industry. Based on these conversations we are working to build a solution that makes integrating wireless easy.

How do we get over the existing hurdles?

Medical device makers need cost-effective, reliable solutions with a high level of security for wireless health data that are quick to deploy and interoperable across technologies and carriers. They need a wireless health ecosystem where app developers, device makers, health service companies and analytics companies work together, easily, without worrying about interoperability and integration.

Qualcomm Wireless Health has been contributing to the vision and technology movement in wireless health for over eight years, and is committed to several key initiatives focused on moving the industry forward. On this front - stay tuned for exciting news from the team.

I look forward to engaging with you all through this blog, and encourage you to check out posts from the rest of our Wireless Health OnQ blog family, including Don Jones and Kabir Kasargod.

Rick Valencia

President, Qualcomm Life

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Once whole-home sensor networks are in place, the next step is to integrate and manage this data privately and securely on a unified home-health platform and ecosystem. Like smart-home sensors, these technology platforms are already in development. Google, Apple, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., and others are creating unified hardware and software hubs that can gather data from disparate smart-home devices and apps that can easily analyze it.

IBM Watson and similar machine-learning systems are able to decipher large, unstructured datasets, which will allow our homes to spot patterns in our habits that might indicate illness. If issues are small, doctors will be able to advise and treat patients via on-demand telemedicine services. And, perhaps one day, prescriptions and medical supplies may even be delivered by drones.

That’s not to say that smart-home-centered healthcare won’t come with its own set of challenges. Constant monitoring raises ethical and psychological questions, and wearable devices have taught us that individuals struggle to stick to the lifestyle changes the devices are intended to foster. Doctors will need to find ways to continually motivate patients to follow through on the prompts their smart homes deliver. What’s more, with the amount of personal information generated by these sensors, we’ll need HIPAA-like regulations to protect patient data. And, of course, users will need to opt into the home-health platform, rather than allow sensing to take place without their knowledge.

The homes of the future will be filled with dozens — perhaps hundreds one day — of sensors. The challenge will be to make sure we’re getting the most out of them and the data they collect, without interfering with our day-to-day lives. Ask yourself: If your home could spot a cold coming days in advance and offer advice to help fend it off, wouldn’t you want to know?

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