West Wireless CMO: Opting for money-saving mobile technologies is a matter of priorities

Everyone with an inkling of knowledge about healthcare policy knows that the current system of episodic "sick care" is unsustainable. "There's a bleak future that's in front of us unless something changes," Dr. Joseph Smith, chief medical and science officer of the West Wireless Health Institute, said at last week's World Congress Second Annual Leadership Summit on mHealth in Boston, CMIO reports.

According to Smith, 96 percent of Medicare expenditures go toward treating chronic disease, as does about 80 percent of overall U.S. healthcare spending. Preventive care has been offered as the answer for years, and yet we find ourselves even deeper in the chronic-disease morass. Wireless and mobile healthcare could be the disruption healthcare has been looking for.

"We put travel and stress detectors in highways and roads because we love our cars," Smith said. "We have collision avoidance systems in our cars now. We certainly have built in the technology that allows us to do a better job of protecting our cars and ourselves when we're in them than if we're struggling with chronic disease. We have the technologies, we just decided to apply them to our automobiles."

Other speakers at the World Congress summit spoke of the importance of smartphones in connected care. Harry Wang, director of mobile and health research at Parks Associates noted that his firm believes more than 70 percent of Americans will have smartphones by 2015, and healthcare needs to take advantage of that kind of widespread connectivity, PC World reports. He noted that some hospitals already are using iPhones as glucose monitors.

Wireless networks at home also hold great promise. For example, people with sleeping disorders could get a wireless device to monitor their sleep patterns and send data to their doctors via the Internet for about $300, far less than the $1,200 that labs typically charge for such testing, according to Wang. 

Healthcare providers and payers must make sure they deliver what patients want, or their mobile strategies may not have the desired effect. "There is nothing more personal than a mobile phone," Julie Kling, mobile executive business lead at Humana (NYSE: HUM), said at the same event, according to Computerworld. "The phone is a personal tool and you need to use it in that way."

It's also important to make sure that mobile apps do more than just replicate web portals, added Bud Flagstad, vice president of strategic initiatives at UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH). (United and Humana are, of course, major health insurers, not "health-care providers," as Computerworld reports.

For more from the summit:
- read this CMIO story about Smith's presentation
- see this PC World story (via Yahoo) on smartphones in healthcare 
- take a look at this Computerworld report