Engaging patients with simple technology

One of the great things about being a freelancer--other than not having to get dressed or fight traffic to go to work, of course--is the opportunity to work on so many interesting stories.

In reporting for a feature on smartphones in healthcare for a Canadian publication--funny, Canada makes several appearances in this week's newsletter--I had a lively conversation with Howard Rosen, founder and CEO of Life:WIRE, a company that makes text messaging applications for managing chronic diseases. You know how I've written extensively since we launched FierceMobileHealthcare back in the spring about text messaging's power to provide basic health services in developing countries? Rosen has realized that this technology doesn't have to be limited to low-resource environments. Why go overboard just because you can?

In a past life as a producer of corporate videos, Rosen was working on an assignment for the University of Toronto about Type II diabetes. That's when he got to thinking about chronic disease management and how to improve patient education. "People should use things they're familiar with," Rosen says. And since cell phones are so widespread, they are a perfect platform for disseminating information.

"My job [as a video producer] was engaging an audience. I wanted to engage patients."

Unlike with fixed-point telemedicine, there are very few start-up expenses associated with a text-based system, just a simple piece of software. "If you take out the equipment cost, you have an immediate ROI," says Rosen, putting his MBA background to work. And thus was born a company.

Rosen and his team at Life:WIRE, which has offices in Annapolis, Md., as well as in Toronto, have had their product on the market just over a year, and next week will be debuting an interactive email system to link case managers with patients who have chronic conditions. Like the text system, the messages are very short, sometimes as simple as a letter from a multiple-choice list or a number corresponding to a lab value. There's no context that unauthorized users would understand, so privacy is protected.

Even with smartphones and their exciting rosters of apps gaining so much market share and grabbing so many headlines, simple, low-cost and so basic that it's secure isn't a bad way to go. - Neil