Qualcomm makes big splash into mobile health, remote monitoring

There has long been a gap in remote patient monitoring. The market is crammed with dozens of monitoring devices, apps, and systems that collect and transmit patient biometrics. But in most cases, that data is transmitted to a proprietary vendor database or a health system electronic health record. It's rather a dead-end process, with data unreachable by other players in the patient's continuum of care.

I talked with a new entrant onto the mHealth scene that claims it can change all that. It's a new iteration of the long-time wireless health investment company Qualcomm, which this week metamorphosed its Qualcomm Wireless Health division into a full-blown subsidiary, Qualcomm Life, with two actual mobile medical device products.

I met with senior government affairs director Robert Jarrin and marketing director Anthony Shimkin at the 2011 mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C., about the scope and challenges of the new company.

The first product in the Qualcomm Life stable is 2Net Hub. It's a gateway module that the company says can plug into an electrical outlet and accept and transmit biometric data from a variety of sensors or monitors in the home. You'll recognize some of the device manufacturers that have signed on as 2Net Hub partners already: Mobisante, Sprint, Airstrip, and AliveCor.

The second product is the 2Net Platform, which accepts data transmitted by 2Net Hub devices, anonymizes it, and stores it in a cloud-based databank, Shimkin explained.

Here's where things get interesting: The 2Net Platform then provides informatics and analytic software for a variety of end users who can access the data--everyone from consumers to insurance companies to providers such as hospitals and physicians, he says. In one way, the project seems hopelessly ambitious--collecting data from dozens of disparate, unrelated systems, creating algorithms for sorting and analyzing that data, plus building myriad user interfaces and reporting mechanisms for vastly different user groups.

But in another, its mission may not be quite so overblown. I talked to several of the partners and potential users of the Qualcomm Life products, and the overall message was that storing and sharing the data through a central, cloud-based facility shouldn't be too difficult. Even configuring that database to accept data from all the different medical devices and apps should be workable. Qualcomm's core wireless connectivity services were centered upon as proof that it could handle the data transmission side of things.

Where it seems the new Qualcomm Life could stumble is on the clinical side--being able to parse out the data needed by different end users, in formats and dataflows that match up to consumer preferences, insurance claims processes or physician workflows. Shimkin was undaunted, noting that while the company hasn't created any of the reporting that ultimately will flow out of the informatics/analysis segment, it is "speccing those out now."

One important note: Qualcomm bills both 2Net Hub and 2Net Platform as device- or technology-agnostic, and they are in theory. But they're not exactly plug-and-play; only partner organizations can hook up through the hub or platform, Jarrin said.

And then there is the third piece of the Qualcomm Life puzzle--a $100 million investment fund called Qualcomm Life Fund. This certainly is a sweet spot for Qualcomm, which already sported an investment fund of a little less than half that size under the Qualcomm Wireless Health banner, Shimkin notes. The five startups already on the books now will be shifted into the Qualcomm Life fund, according to Shimkin.

Just as I am with AT&T, Verizon, Cisco, Intel and other non-mHealth giants, I'll be keeping my eye on Qualcomm's moves in the remote patient monitoring market. I'm fascinated to see how far they can go! - Sara