Topol and the other presenters at this week’s mHealth Summit predict that health care in coming years will be highly personalized, ultra-efficient and will most likely involve smart phones and tablets. That is, of course, only if mobile health entrepreneurs can get health care providers to embrace the new technologies, which so far they have been slow to do.
During his presentation, Topol clicked through slides of potential apps and devices — some already in existence — that would help patients monitor health conditions remotely. There are contact lenses that can check for glaucoma symptoms, a photo app that can track changes in a suspicious mole and small test strips that can analyze saliva droplets for disease.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, another keynote speaker, described a future “where you can take a video of a rash on your foot and get a diagnosis later that afternoon without making a doctor’s appointment....Or get a calorie estimate of how many calories are on your plate by snapping a picture.”
Driving down costs
Sebelius said mobile apps can bridge the information gap between doctors and patients and help patients take better charge of their health.
She also put bluntly why the Obama administration supports growth in this field:
“In a country with some of the best medical care in the world...Americans still live sicker and die sooner than many of the people in other nations,” Sebelius said. “We’re talking about taking the biggest technology breakthrough of all time and using it to address our greatest national challenge.”
Indeed, the field is ripe terrain for startup companies: A November Pew Internet & American Life Project report found that 11 percent of American adult cell phone users have downloaded an app to help them monitor health, and the wireless monitoring device industry in the U.S. has doubled in the past four years, to a current value of $7.1 billion.
“This space has legs,” Topol said in an interview. “There’s interest in this [from venture capitalists], and it’s exploding.”
In October, for example, Gary and Mary West, founders of the West Wireless Health Institute in San Diego, created a $100 million investment fund to provide capital for companies that create “cutting-edge health care technologies and services that offer the potential to lower the cost of health care.”