From the mHealth Summit 11/8/10

Today was an interesting day, starting with keynotes from Francis Collins of NIH and Todd Park of HHS.  The opening keynotes were mostly about data and research.  After that, there were two Super Sessions and one breakout, with lots of company exhibits mixed in. What surprised me most was that the focus of the panels and breakouts was almost exclusively global health, and not US-focused.  After the high-level, mostly US-based keynotes focused on data and uses, the talks moved to panels. 

The focus of the panels was all about business models for mHealth and whether or not mHealth is ready to be scaled beyond pilot to the level of a national health system or that required for a clinical trial.  Most people acknowledged that mHealth had generated innovative thinking and solutions, though nothing in the way of a sustainable business model or a proven enhancer of clinical outcomes.  Sustainable business models turned out to be the focus of all the talks, which was interesting because it was all globally focused.

My favorite quote was when a moderator asked, “Who’s making money in mHealth right now”. The response was mostly silence, followed by the panel representative from Qualcomm giving Nike+ as the example of a sustainable mHealth revenue model.  I’m not sure if this is entirely a fair representation, especially in terms  of scalability and global impact.  To be honest, the take-home for me was that no current revenue model exists to prove out mHealth.  This didn’t seem to deter the audience, who seemed to be mostly comprised of academics and development people.

Some other interesting areas explored by the panels were about whether mHealth was ready for the big time. Most speakers seemed to agree that mHealth needed to be integrated into national health systems and health programs, though this in itself is challenging.  A WHO representative pushed the question of national support and standards by asking, “Are were going to have a community health worker carry eight different mobile phones?’” This was in reference to the many funding sources serving the developing world.  Several other speakers questioned the ability of mHealth, currently based on pilots and grants, to scale.

This isn’t meant to be pessimistic of the very real potential of mHealth. It is widely accepted by the speakers here, and I assume the 2,400+ in attendance, that mHealth is a valuable tool to overcome the global shortage of 2-4 million providers. The question seems to be whether it can scale beyond the thousands of projects currently in existence to a more connected, integrated healthcare delivery tool.  We’ll see what Bill Gates and Ted Turner have to say about that tomorrow.        

Be sure to check back on the blog tomorrow and also on twitter (@HIStalkmobile).

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