Wheeler brings wealth of mHealth experience to FCC

In late March, Julius Genachowski announced that he was stepping down as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. At the time, after a four-year tenure at FCC marked by a wealth of accomplishments in the area of healthcare and wireless communications, it was hard to imagine a replacement at the agency who might have the qualifications and potential to rival Genachowski's record.

Nevertheless, President Obama's nomination of Tom Wheeler, a venture capitalist and former lobbyist and telecom executive with heavy ties to the mHealth community, has me very excited about the prospect of the FCC under Wheeler's direction. If he succeeds Genachowski as FCC chairman (Wheeler still requires confirmation by the full Senate), his advocacy in recent years on behalf of mobile healthcare causes globally puts him in the category of a "true believer" when it comes the power of wireless technologies to improve health outcomes--a mindset that can only serve to benefit our nation's future mHealth initiatives. 

Wheeler has been nicknamed the "Bo Jackson of telecom." And, like the star athlete in Nike's "Bo Knows" advertising campaign of yesteryear, he certainly knows a lot about different sectors of telecommunications, not the least of which is mHealth. Wheeler's extensive knowledge stems from his time as an emeritus member of the mHealth Alliance Partnership Board and a former Chairman of the mHealth Alliance Partnership Board, a position he held during that organization's formative years from 2009 to 2012. 

At the mHealth Alliance, he helped to champion the use of mobile technologies to improve healthcare throughout the world, particularly in developing nations. "Mobile health offers innovative solutions to some of global health's most pressing issues," said Wheeler in a 2011 mHealth Alliance statement. 

He has cleared an important hurdle in being confirmed and taking the reins at FCC. On July 30, in a voice vote, the Senate Commerce Committee approved his nomination. At the Commerce Committee's June 18 hearing to consider his nomination, Wheeler testified that what he learned from his business experience will make him a better FCC chairman. Likewise, what he learned from his experience at the mHealth Alliance will allow him to make better informed decisions at the FCC as they relate to mHealth.    

I haven't been this encouraged by a healthcare-related government appointment since Farzad Mostashari joined the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology in 2009 as principal deputy national coordinator and then took over as national coordinator in 2011. In Mostashari's case, with his resignation announcement last week, all good things must come to an end. 

However, my money going forward is on Wheeler. Just as Mostashari was at the forefront of the Obama administration's health IT efforts, driving Meaningful Use regulations and implementation. So, it will be very interesting to see someone like Wheeler with such a strong background in mHealth heading the FCC, which as a regulatory agency has an important jurisdiction for enabling the growth and adoption of mobile health technologies. - Greg (@Slabodkin