Impressions of the mHealth Summit 2012 12/4/12

I’m already on my way back from the Summit. Today was a long day and I spent more times in sessions than I had planned. I also got to walk the whole exhibit floor, which is considerably easier than walking the floor at HIMSS because it’s a small fraction of the size. As a frame a reference for the size, walking every row of the exhibit floor twice was only worth about 1,500 Nike Fuel Points, something I’m personally disappointed about. Now I’m sitting on a plane with no hope of reaching my daily Fuel goal. I’m sure I won’t have the same problem at HIMSS. I’m really not that upset, but still, I expected a bit more exercise.

My overall impression of the Summit is that, on the whole, not much progress has been made since last year. Last year all the talk was about how 2012 was going to be the year mHealth started going to scale. I even heard one speaker today (I can’t remember who it was) mention that this upcoming year would be the tipping point for mobile health going to scale. That same talk was going on last year. The one main exception to the lack of scale, which I heard a lot about today, was iTriage. Apparently iTriage has over 8 million downloads now and is being searched once per minute.

Most of the sessions seemed very similar in tone and content, especially when speakers discussed the challenges facing mobile health. The main challenges cited, not surprisingly, were models of reimbursement and creating incentives for quality care instead of volume of care. Other common challenges were apps and services that are fragmented (lack of interoperability) and lack of integration of mobile apps and services into the physician’s workflow. I’ve heard Joseph Kvedar, MD, say that integration into workflow and changing reimbursement go together, and I think he’s right.

The two other most common themes I heard, which again aren’t surprising if you’ve been following mobile health over the last 6-12 months, were that we should learn from others industries, especially banking (I think speakers must have had cheat sheets that mentioned this because just about everybody was saying it) and that design is essential to the success of mobile health apps and services. If you think about it, it’s a bit ironic that we would pair these themes since the main lesson we can take from mobile and online banking is that it grew in spite of crappy design (it actually started on dial-up services in the 80s).

I have a post half written about why banking is something we need to stop talking about in comparison to mobile health so I won’t belabor the point here, but just like creating carrots and sticks to encourage adoption of EMRs, by leaning on design as a crutch we’re admitting that people don’t see the fundamental value in these mobile health services. Don’t’ get me wrong, I love good design, but there are bigger issues at play preventing adoption of these apps by users. Kiosks for health aren’t the same as ATMs.

On to the exhibit hall. While the EMR vendors weren’t in attendance, the hall was full of several categories of offerings.

  • Point solutions for clinical communications and data access (AirStrip had a huge booth).
  • Telehealth companies offering specific services like dermatology (Direct Dermatology is a good example) and some platform plays. Telcare also had a much more prominent booth and location this year, which I guess comes with raising a lot of VC money since the last Summit.
  • Aging-at-home companies were everywhere, and even had their own devoted area sponsored by Aging 2.0.
  • Games for Health had its own pavilion, so lots of game companies were there.
  • Mobile app design and development firms.
  • Mobile marketing firms. This one was the most surprising to me.
  • Specific service offerings that can be integrated into apps, like Nuance. I spoke with Jonathon Dreyer from Nuance and wasn’t surprised to learn that the company has seen tremendous growth since launching its developer program. It’s up to 300 developers and close to 50 production apps with Nuance integrated. Jon says this past year was the year of the developer and next year will be the year of the user as Nuance really starts to understand how users will leverage voice technologies.
  • Carriers like Qualcomm and Verizon.
  • A few major health systems and payers, including integrated systems Kaiser and Intermountain. This is the most exciting thing to see as these are the organizations that are going to be the driving forces behind mobile health services by setting examples and generating evidence.

Healthcare is a behemoth and moves slow so it’s understandable that we’re not seeing huge changes from year to year, especially as we readily acknowledge barriers like reimbursement. The frustrating part for me was just listening to what sounded like panels I could have attended last year. The Summit drew about 4,500 attendees, so it’s still growing and isn’t lacking interest. With only one day of attendance this year I didn’t explore the global health or research tracks, both of which are relevant.

If you’re at the Summit and had different views on the event, I’d love to hear them. I’ll missing Tuesday and Wednesday, so if you’re there those days and hear some great stories, please feel free to pass them along via e-mail or comments. I’ll likely write a few more posts later this week specifically about the panels and speakers I heard today, so please stay tuned.

Travis Good is an MD/MBA involved with health IT startups. More about me.

  • Chris Wasden

    for me we are starting to see convergence in the areas of interoperability, which is good. the Aetna keynote was all about convergence and interoperability in data across apps and the healthcare system. Their solution complements what Qualcomm Life is doing with 2Net and others are doing at Continua. So I would say that this is progress, though not fast enough.

    One part of the banking analogy that does resonate, and I am a skeptic of it as well having spend half my career in banking, is that the any ATM card can work for any bank anywhere in the world. We need to get to the point that it doesn’t matter what app or device you use, they all work together.

  • Marcia Noyes

    Nice redesign of your site! Looks great.

  • Aaron Neinstein

    Travis… I think you are right on with the themes from the Summit. I stayed all three days and, while I enjoyed it, the themes did not change. I also wrote a blog piece summarizing some of the themes, and we really had similar views on things like Interoperability, quality, and other terms being the big buzzwords. If you’re interested, my blog is at Hope to see you at a future conference,

  • Brandi

    I went to the summit last year. Overall I was pleased with the speakers and the tracks. I was overwhelmed with the choices though. I wanted to go to all of them. By the 3rd day I was worn out, but I left with some great connections and a lot of knowledge.

    I have several friends who are doctors and I’m not aware of any of them who actually use iTriage. The way this technology is moving we’re going to see the apps improving at a quick pace and I am pretty sure the insurance giants like Aetna will continue to acquire them…just like everything else.

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