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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Can 4G enable these services?

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What are some of the challenges of extending perfect connectivity to mission-critical services?

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ORB, by mPowering, celebrates one year of empowering frontline health workers with access to educational resources

Guest blogger Lesley-Anne Long is Global Director of mPowering Frontline Health Workers. She provides strategic leadership to mPowering and coordinates across mHealth, maternal and child health advisors, program implementers, government officials, private sector, NGOs and others focusing on sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The views expressed are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Qualcomm.


Recently, a reception was held in Washington D.C. to commemorate the one-year anniversary of ORB, an mHealth content platform created by mPowering for frontline health workers.

Angela Baker, Director of Qualcomm Wireless Reach, welcomed an audience of attendees from U.S. government and international agencies, non-profits, social enterprises, and academics.

As the Global Health Director of mPowering Frontline Health Workers, I am proud of how far we have come in just one year.

mPowering, a partnership of private sector, government, donors, and program implementers  created ORB to help governments, training institutions, NGOs and health workers access high quality training resources quickly, wherever they are in the world. As a core part of mPowering’s new comprehensive training approach, ORB’s content is helping health workers gain critical knowledge and skills to improve the quality of care they provide to their communities. 

Partnering with mPowering frontline health workers

At the reception, Baker talked about Wireless Reach’s goal to create sustainable, advanced wireless programs that strengthen economic and social development across multiple sectors. She described the importance of strategic and effective collaborations such as the one Wireless Reach has with mPowering.

As a founding member of mPowering, Wireless Reach has contributed to mPowering’s goal of ending preventable maternal and child deaths by harnessing the power of mobile technologies. As ORB celebrated its first birthday, Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health and the Child & Maternal Survival Coordinator at the Bureau of Global Health at USAID, reminded us of the potential that frontline health workers have to save lives. Pablos-Mendez emphasized the critical importance of quality training, support and mentorship for health workers, and commended the mPowering partnership for its work in creating ORB as an accessible library for frontline health workers everywhere.

At the event, one of mPowering’s partners, Global Health Media Project shared a story about a new mother in Pakistan. A health worker showed the mother a video from ORB about danger signs in newborns. This enabled the mother to recognize similar signs in her own baby a few days later and bring her to a health worker in time for life-saving treatment.

We also heard from Instrat Global Health Solutions about how the maternal health training program created by mPowering and partners (Medical Aid Films and Digital Campus) for frontline health workers in Ondo State, Nigeria, has been enthusiastically received by the Ministry of Health, with plans to scale the program up to 540 health facilities over the coming year.

What’s next for ORB?

Over the last 12 months, ORB has grown. The platform now hosts more than 300 resources, some in multiple languages, covering critical maternal, newborn and child health topics. mPowering and its partners will continue to grow this library, as well as add content in new topic areas such as Zika, water and sanitation, and mental health and well-being.

Increasingly, mPowering is working with governments and international partners to use ORB and other mobile technologies to deliver a more holistic and scalable approach to frontline health worker training.

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We see ORB as a vital innovation, not just for community health workers to reduce the number of maternal and child deaths, but also to improve people’s lives globally. Working with Wireless Reach, we believe we can extend ORB’s reach to support hundreds of thousands of frontline health workers across the world.

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Your next health tracker might be your house

Dr. Berci Mesko (a.k.a. The Medical Futurist) is a geek physician with a Ph.D. in genomics, an Amazon top 100 author, and a technology consultant specializing in the future of healthcare and digital health. He tweets as @Berci. The views expressed are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Qualcomm.

Picture this: Clara, a generally healthy 30-year-old, hasn’t been feeling great. She’s experiencing night sweats, grogginess, and unexplained weight loss. She isn’t the only one noticing these symptoms; her smart home caught on, too. A sleep-tracking mattress, smart scale, and digital mirror recorded the changes. As it turns out, the data from those devices might point to something more serious, so her smart home sends her an email telling her to go to the doctor.

This is the future of healthcare. Household objects — televisions, scales, fridges, mattresses, and more — will work together to paint a holistic picture of our health.

Ultimately, ultra-aware homes might touch every facet of personal healthcare. Connectivity will provide peace of mind to patients with chronic conditions who often live alone, tracking everything from medication compliance to activity and biometric data, such as weight and blood pressure. For people who are generally healthy — like our friend Clara — the smart devices in our homes will serve as an early warning system for illness and suggest lifestyle changes to improve wellness. Most importantly, our homes will automatically dial 9-1-1 in emergencies.

This distributed and seamless approach to personal health is a far cry from the wearables and mobile health devices we use today. Right now, data collection is largely limited to patients with chronic conditions, who might use doctor-recommended connected blood pressure cuffs, smart glucose monitors, or digital health apps. At the same time, without a medical background, there’s not a lot the average person can glean from all this data.

The first step in making health monitoring more universal is to tap into the growing network of smart sensors in our homes. In fact, elements of the future always-aware home already exist. For example, Google Nest products keep tabs on day-to-day movements, Kolibree toothbrushes help improve users’ oral hygiene, Beddit and Withings sensors convert mattresses into sleep monitors, and there are even chairs that record EKG readings. From here, we can easily imagine toilets with bio-sensing microchips, bathroom pipes that track water usage, and digital mirrors that measure basic vital signs.

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?

Jul 28, 2016