As more big corporations board the mHealth bus, who's driving?

When multi-billion-dollar corporate giants start seriously eyeing mobile healthcare as the key to their next big market move, should hospital CIOs be excited or scared? 

Health systems already are struggling to integrate mobile devices like tablets and smartphones into their enterprise planning, security structure and networks. In just the past year, the iPad swept through the healthcare industry like a mini-tsunami and forced hospital IT directors to make adjustments and take detours they weren't expecting. 

But when Ericsson's CEO Hans Vestberg uses his platform at CTIA to say that healthcare is the next hot frontier for mobile development, you can almost see the stakes rising to another level. He started his cheerleading with some stunning predictions -- one billion mobile users by the end of 2011; five billion by 2016; 50 billion connected devices in use by 2020 and 90% of Earth radiating in mobile coverage by 2016.

Following Vestberg was a video appearance by Patrick Soon-Shiong, chairman and CEO of the Institute for Advanced Health, who pushed the hype into healthcare, with demonstrations of a paraplegic dialing a cell phone with his brain, and a wireless nano-chip that could replace the human retina. 

Their comments were exciting and stimulating, and point to a bright future for mHealth overall, but they also raise the question of who'll drive the bus? Will it be healthcare CIOs, with their daily implementation challenges and seemingly pedestrian concerns about who is going to pay for all this? Or will it be the CEOs of major multi-national corporations with visions of a "networked society" – and shareholders to satisfy?  

 Perhaps even more important: How fast will all of this happen? With the pace of change in the mobile environment (consider that only about 45% of physicians were using smartphones two years ago, compared with 85% to 90% now), hospitals could quickly find themselves playing catch-up, as both clinicians and patients/consumers drive the market forward. 

This is definitely a crucial time for hospital IT execs to get their heads (and hands) around their mobile strategy -- before someone else does it for them. - Sara