Mobile health technology leads the revolution

As I mentioned last week, I attended the mHealth Initiative's first mobile networking conference--and was lucky enough to get out of Washington Friday morning just ahead of an historic snowstorm (dubbed #snowpocalypse by those tracking it on Twitter) that shut down the airports, not to mention the entire D.C. metro area. That means that my memories of that trip were mostly about the conference, not the weather.

And what did I learn from two intensive days of meetings about mobile health? Well, it confirmed my belief that this is the most exciting, dynamic area of healthcare innovation, at least for those of us not in pharma, genomics or some other medical or scientific side of healthcare. Of the three Fierce publications I edit, I'm having the most fun with FierceMobileHealthcare.

Mobile healthcare certainly is changing faster than any other part of health IT. Notice how I didn't say "evolving." C. Peter Waegemann, founder and vice president of the mHealth Initiative, called mobile healthcare a "revolution" during his opening remarks. "All of this is going to go much faster than anything else we have seen," added Waegemann, who ran a group called the Medical Records Institute for 25 years before moving over to mobile last year.

His old organization held a conference, Toward an Electronic Patient Record (TEPR), for a quarter century, peaking in 2004 with about 3,000 attendees, then shrinking rapidly before dying an unceremonious death following last February's 25th annual event that attracted fewer than 800 people. The mHealth Initiative, which drew about 300 people for last week's exhibit hall-free meeting, isn't waiting another year before bringing the mobile healthcare community together again; the next conference is set for just seven months from now.

Someone who once worked for Waegemann, Dr. Andrew Barbash, neurosciences director at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., sees the potential. Barbash has himself a Droid smartphone--a model on the market only since November--with Google Talk instant messaging to communicate in real time with other clinicians, whether he's in the hospital or not.

With Google Talk deployed in many parts of Holy Cross, the emergency department can instantly see whether Barbash is free for a consult. "Your phone has become a remote-control device for your availability," he said. His phone also gives him remote, mobile access to the hospital's Cerner EMR so Barbash can see the records of patients he's answering questions about.

If he needs a more secure environment for peer-to-peer meetings, Barbash simply fires up Citrix GoToMeeting on his phone or his home or office computer. The service costs about $50 a month, but the savings in time and convenience are worth far more than that.

"We can make it incredibly easy for people to connect with each other," Barbash said. That's what mobile phones have done for business and interpersonal communication, and they can do the same for healthcare. - Neil