Patricia Mechael: Interoperability foundational to 'anytime, anywhere care'

Patricia Mechael, Ph.D., has a full plate these days as the newly appointed executive vice president of the Personal Connected Health Alliance (PCHA). The first order of business, she tells FierceMobileHealthcare in an interview, is recharging the organization’s mission and focus to create new paths for market and policy innovation, as well as research.

The goal, says Mechael (pictured right), is to advance technology while also addressing tough health challenges such as chronic illness management, aging and mental health. The alliance has already completed a market analysis and strategy planning effort. Now its members want to push those initiatives forward and close research gaps.

FierceMobileHealthcare: You've been on the job a little more than a month. What's at the top of your to-do list?

Patricia Mechael: Last month, we officially launched PCHA's new strategy at eHealth Week in Amsterdam. A priority has been to share our strategy and vision for better health and well-being for all through increased personal ownership, responsibility and self-efficacy enabled by technology.

One focus right out of the gate is to catalyze market and policy innovation, research and collective action that ultimately results in improved health outcomes through the sustained adoption of personal connected health. We are also interested in addressing app and research gaps--aligning product development with health needs and generating a body of evidence to guide implementers and innovators in making informed decisions as they develop new tools, programs and collaborations.

FMH: PCHA has noted that it is recharging its mission. What exactly does that require and what's prompting those efforts?

Mechael: PCHA is aligning with key trends in health, including the consumerization of health, innovation and technology adoption to create the partnerships, programs and infrastructure to achieve personal connected health for all. Our research has found that there is no consistent and agreed-to global definition of “personal connected health.”

While many institutions and companies are addressing aspects of personal connected health, there is no mechanism or platform for bringing individual efforts together to harness their collective impact on the health and lives of people worldwide. One of our first orders of business is to shape and develop consensus related to the definition of personal connected health and bring cohesion to a fragmented ecosystem. Personal connected health crosses many disciplines and areas of human activity and culture.

Additionally, there is increased interest, demand and need for governments to rethink their approaches to public health and healthcare. The cost of providing care is skyrocketing. In the EU last month, health ministries and their agencies from Austria, Catalonia, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden endorsed large-scale deployment of open, interoperable telehealth and declared their support for PCHA's Continua Design Guidelines.This endorsement is historic and trendsetting, with much more to come.

FMH: Where does mobile technology fit PCHA's strategy facilitating innovation and research, and how do you view its role in well-being?

Mechael: Personal health technologies, including smartphones, health apps, wearable sensors and remote monitoring devices are having a dramatic impact on how we think about our health and treat illness. Increasingly sophisticated mobile and wireless technologies are leading the market, while the consumerization of health, increased interest in disease prevention and health promotion, and precision medicine all represent real-world opportunities for technology to transform health and wellness.

Mobile technology is critical to delivering information, education and coaching to individuals to help them make good decisions and maintain healthy behaviors over the long term. It is also key to public or population-based approaches to health improvement. With big data and IoT, in many cases, a mobile solution will be at both the beginning and the end of the chain driving data inputs and informing decisions and behavior change.

FMH: What is the top obstacle facing the use of mobile tools healthcare?

Mechael: A significant challenge we are working to overcome is the lack of interoperability and pervasiveness of closed systems that limit or prevent opportunities for health data exchange. We believe interoperability is the foundation upon which to build anytime, anywhere care and create engaging, personalized, data-driven health and wellness.

FMH: One of PCHA's goals is to make personal responsibility for health and positive change the norm. How can the association foster that and what else must change in healthcare to make that happen?

Mechael: A critical change within the healthcare system will be increasing access to data captured in EHRs for patients, and use of data generated by patients through remote monitoring devices and mHealth applications by health professionals. In industry, a move toward health outcomes-based business models is starting to emerge. For someone who has spent more than 20 years working in global health, this is a welcome trend and will go a long way toward building trust and greater alignment between the public and private sectors.

Incentive shifts and new payment models, cost, the growing burden of chronic disease, aging populations and new tools already are driving change. PCHA is executing a five-pronged strategy to support this transformation with strong evidence, appropriate regulation, partnerships, innovation and awareness. We will help to define the field, ensure greater alignment between products and health needs and create the framework to measure sustained behavior change.

We are also bringing together diverse stakeholders and facilitating partnerships to increase consensus on priorities, best practices, further research and innovation, and to help mainstream personal connected health across the health and technology fields. 

Personal connected health will not be possible through a series of disconnected individual efforts.

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.