Mobile healthcare's 'Amazon' moment on the horizon

WLSA President and CEO Robert McCrayWireless-Life Sciences Alliance President and CEO Robert McCray (pictured) believes that it's only a matter of time before mobile healthcare takes off in much the same manner as e-commerce in the 1990s. Following the WLSA's 6th Annual Convergence Summit in San Diego last month, McCray chatted with FierceMobileHealthcare about his takeaways from the gathering, including why he thinks mHealth will succeed more because of disruption than acceptance.

FierceMobileHealthcare: What, in your mind, were some of the primary themes of the conference?

McCray: One, and this might not deal with healthcare directly, but Procter & Gamble--specifically their FutureWorks group--is a global partner. That organization is charged with creating or investing in or buying service businesses that leverage P&G assets, including brand equity that they have and also just global assets in terms of knowledge reach, especially knowledge of the consumer. Healthcare is one of the areas in which they made an acquisition, made some investments. In that context, the fellow that heads it up, Nathan Estruth, made a comment ... that in 10 years, every Procter & Gamble brand will be paired with a service. [That] reinforces a strong trend throughout our community, through this sector, that the customer for healthcare is looking for solutions, not just products. Solutions mean you have to pair your IT--your device--with a service. Procter & Gamble sees that for all of their products, from laundry detergent to toothpaste. That's significant and it helps to reinforce the best thinking out there. 

Another theme: Deep concern about the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration]. No surprise to you, I'm sure. The FDA is taking and articulating an entire agenda approach to figuring out what to do about wireless health. There's still just deep concern because we're still in a period of great uncertainty about the regulatory requirements for some of these innovations. 

FMH: How close do you think we are to the FDA having concrete guidance for mobile healthcare devices and applications? 

McCray: I expect we're going to be in this area of uncertainty for quite some time. But there are other initiatives going on that will change the discussion. Based on history, I don't know that anyone expects that there will be a clear set of 'do these five things objectively and you're good to go.' That's just the nature of how they operate; they're very cautious. 

One the of the things I think we're going to be finding is that the wireless health tools will actually allow us to look at device regulation in a different way because they can provide transparency post-market for a lot of these devices and even therapeutics. Once that's established--or there's a pathway to really show how you can--then you begin to change the nature of the discussion completely. All the analysis of what's going to happen in the market is based on trials that are done with study subjects under circumstances that mimic what happens at post-market. 

FMH: How much of the costs for complying with such regulations do you think could be passed on to consumers? 

McCray: I think a lot. There's another big undercurrent: Is wireless health, at the end of the day, going to be dominant in the market because of disruption or because the existing institutions embrace it? I think maybe a slight majority of people would say it will occur through disruption. I think it translates into, it's a disruptive force that will give the tools to the institutional providers that are really on top of their game. A lot of them are already embracing these tools, and they're at least figuring out what they can do with them and how they can fit them into their business model. 

It'll disruptively force other companies to come along or just lose market. 

FMH: Were there any devices that were unveiled at the conference that stood out to you?

McCray: One that grabbed everyone's attention--it grabbed my attention the first time I met one of the founders a few months ago--is called DuoFertility from Cambridge Temperature Concepts. It's a service to promote fertility. Think of a woman that wants to get pregnant, but she can't. The next step is [In Vitro Fertilization], which is very expensive and very invasive. [DuoFertility] is an alternative that she can do at home that's about one-tenth as expensive. It's a combination of sensors that are wearable with a bedside platform that gathers information tied into a medical record from a patient's physician that tells patients essentially when it's time to get on the job fairly accurately. And in the U.K., they're offering a money back guarantee [after 12 months of compliant use] if you don't get pregnant after two weeks. That got everyone's attention. 

FMH: Prior to the conference, you mentioned that it currently is not known who will be the "Amazon or eBay" of mobile healthcare. How soon until that moment manifests itself? 

McCray: I think in five or six years, we're going to know who they are. And I think those companies probably exist today--at least in somebody's garage. Even in 2000-01, both [Amazon and eBay], by revenue, were still microscopic compared to a Walmart or a Target, but they were clearly where the momentum was. They changed the rules for traditional retailers and put pressure on them. 

And healthcare is huge. So, it may be that there are companies that pressure certain segments of healthcare dramatically. If there's a better way to diagnose sleep disorders that costs 25 percent [less] and is more convenient for the patient, and lowers their overall costs because the primary-care doc can deal with it, it's a winning combination. That's going to outcompete the traditional approach. Just like surgery centers have outcompeted general hospitals and surgery wards in hospitals for lots and lots of services. 

To me, useful innovation is innovation that starts with a problem and then assembles the knowledge to solve it. That's useful innovation. 

I'm going to make a prediction that in about two years, there's going to be a rush of venture capital into this sector because investors are going to realize that it's about time that somebody's going to make a lot of money.

This interview has been edited and condensed.