Securing and Engaging in Mobile Health

11/1/2012

As election time draws near, the political world is abuzz with many different societal issues, including healthcare. No matter which side of the ideological aisle wins out this November, one aspect of healthcare is certain: It’s going mobile. Thanks to advances in connected health devices and M2M (machine-to-machine) technology, more connected-health solutions are coming to market. The question is will they be adopted? 

Efforts are being made across the board to help people—both patients and clinicians—make the best decisions when it comes to healthcare. In fact, the market is seeing some extraordinary growth and interest, and it will never be the same as a result.

According to the FDA (Food and Drug Admin.), www.fda.org, “The use of mobile medical applications on smartphones, tablets, and other communications devices by healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat patients is revolutionizing healthcare.” The administration tells Connected World it anticipates continued development and innovation in this area, as well as continued interest by consumers who are looking to adopt tools, such as smartphones, almost as quickly as they can be developed.


However, there are several hurdles that must still be addressed. According to Arthur Lane, director of mobile healthcare solutions for Verizon, www.verizonwireless.com, data security is crucial to the future growth of connected healthcare solutions. “… The biggest issue is that both patients and clinicians—physicians and nurses—need to trust your solution,” Lane says, “and the only way to build that trust is to prove (a solution is) safe and secure. If (it’s) not, then the likelihood of growing connected healthcare solutions is going to be slim.”

Lane says Verizon is doing several things to help ensure data security in the healthcare space. First, the company has audited its data centers to make sure they are compliant with industry regulations such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Second, Lane says, “We’ve built a security practice around creating HIPAA-type services for companies that don’t have a robust infrastructure to deal with (security issues), so they can pour data into the cloud.”

In other words, he says the future of the mobile-health space will rely on a) getting data to the cloud; b) making sure this process is secure; and c) ensuring the data is actionable. “(Verizon is) creating solutions (and) services that help healthcare entities create actionable data (that’s) updated in the cloud,” Lane says. “So we not only supply the infrastructure … we also create platforms that enable our customers to leverage that infrastructure into their daily workflow to basically change the way that they’re doing business.”

U.S. Representative Mike Honda of California believes the creation of an Office of Mobile Health at the FDA is a key component to fostering growth in the mobile-health space. A representative of Honda says, “Mobile devices and applications have quickly integrated themselves to all segments of our lives … (and) the rise of ‘mHealth’ is merely an extension of this continuing trend.”

An Office of Mobile Health would be tasked with providing long-term advocacy and recommendations to the FDA and other agencies, working groups, and commissions on how to best regulate mobile health technology issues. Honda’s office adds, “Having a permanent standing office with its own staff, budget, and priorities on this issue will also make certain that the mHealth issues are front and center for the FDA and other agencies, ensuring that the FDA and the government as a whole is being forward thinking and self-reflective on how it can remove barriers to entry while making sure that patient safety and privacy are paramount.”

The Office of Mobile Health is part of a proposed bill called HIMTA (Healthcare Innovation and Marketplace Technologies Act), recently introduced to Congress by Honda. HIMTA would also include grants and workforce-development initiatives, and tax credits. Honda’s goal is to make involvement in the healthcare technology space “less daunting,” while also lending credibility to the space by signaling the government is serious about promoting competition and investment.

If and when data security is addressed, Verizon’s Lane believes mobile-health technology is poised to take off within the next couple of years, perhaps with one caveat—adoption of the technology. “Physicians really need to be on board,” he says. “The biggest concern is data security, the next hurdle is engagement; so how do I get enough people on both sides of the equation, the patients and the clinicians, to use this (technology)?”

Just recently, Verizon moved further into healthcare with an investment in NantHealth, www.nantworks.com, a privately held company owned by NantWorks LLC. The company focuses on providing secure healthcare through the use of secure fiber networks, cloud computing, and wireless mobile technology. Its founder and CEO, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, has also been involved in a number of other healthcare-related companies, including Vitality, www.vitality.net, provider of Glowcaps, an “intelligent” pill bottle cap. Verizon Investments, a subsidiary of Verizon, made an equity investment in NantHealth that the company says will allow it to accelerate its mission.

Data is paramount to the future of healthcare, but it must be secure, and it must be recognized for its potential by end users. The mobile-health market needs both an increased number of connected devices capable of collecting and transmitting health data, along with secure, robust applications that allow the information to be used. As more people realize the market’s benefits (and understand the hurdles), the mobile-health market will continue to revolutionize healthcare.





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