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Heritage Open mHealth Challenge: Searching for a Sum Greater Than Its Parts

Mar 4, 2013, 3:14 PM, Posted by Christine Nieves

Christine Nieves Christine Nieves

“Smart” phones are rapidly becoming ubiquitous; almost half of all American adults own one. Every one of those phones has the potential to be a health companion for its owner, providing reminders about pills to take or tips about healthier foods to eat. Phones can also collect valuable health data—such as the quality of the air we breathe or the number of steps we walk. For people with a chronic disease such as diabetes, a smart phone can track the kinds of meals that spike their blood sugar or the side effects of their medications; it can even relay that information back to a doctor, who can then help patients better manage their health.

To date, the major tool for harnessing the power of mobile technology has been the app. Just like there are apps for weather, news, or restaurant reviews, there are apps for health. They can do amazing things, from measuring and monitoring, to imaging and predicting. But, there aren’t just a handful of them—there are thousands! And, that’s where the Heritage Open mHealth Challenge comes in.

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Gaining Perspectives on mHealth

Dec 21, 2011, 10:14 AM, Posted by Al Shar

In my recent blog post summarizing December’s mHealth Summit, I began by saying that the mHealth organizers must have been pleased with the conference, given its growth in attendance and engagement.

We were equally pleased with RWJF and Pioneer’s presence at the meeting – in fact, I’d say the meeting was a resounding success from our perspective.

Pioneer grantees Ben Sawyer and Debra Lieberman were both on panels featuring their work in health games and mobile technology. Deborah Estrin and Ida Sim announced the launch of Open mHealth, which is supported with funding from RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio. And a session focused on this summer's mHealth Evidence meeting that was conceived of and co-sponsored by Pioneer.

Our Public Health Portfolio was also there looking for interesting perspectives on how mHealth could be deployed by public health departments to address a variety of health issues.

And finally, I was lucky enough to moderate a special session on a topic of keen interest to me and the portfolio.

“What I Really Need from mHealth: Five Perspectives on Value” featured a great cast of panelists including Robert Jarrin, senior director of Government Affairs for Qualcomm; Carol McCall, chief strategy officer at GNS Healthcare; Anmol Madan, founder of Ginger.io and visiting researcher at MIT Media Lab; and Richard Katz, director of cardiology at George Washington University Hospital.

Our session was structured around an imaginary mobile health application. The panelists discussed the value  of the application and how to demonstrate that value from the point of view of the individual, provider, various payers, regulators and researchers. This generated a fascinating conversation in which participants spoke from both a professional and personal perspective. Toward the end, we opened the discussion up to the attendees, which led to an informative and engaging discussion that will hopefully extend far beyond the session. The various perspectives are not completely aligned but yield something quite important when they do come together.

But wait, as they say on TV, there’s more! In addition to our panelists, we brought together about a dozen thought leaders, including representatives from organizations like NIH, Google, GNS Healthcare and the National Science Foundation, for a series of lively discussions about the future of mHealth and how to build value for all the players in the ecosystem. There was no lack of good ideas or strongly held opinions, and more questions were raised than answers offered. However, at the end of the night, we could all see light at the end of the tunnel. And that light came from a greater understanding of the value others saw in mHealth. From this newly fashioned broader vision, I’m hopeful we all left with a better sense of the way forward and with new ideas on how we could each play a role. 

I look forward to sharing more of what we learned and what this might mean for our investments in mHealth moving forward – and hearing your thoughts as well.

Reflections from mHealth Summit 2011

Dec 16, 2011, 10:49 AM, Posted by Al Shar

I'm sure that the organizers of this year's mHealth Summit were more than pleased. There were more than 3,600 people in attendance, up 1,200 from last year. The exhibit floor was larger and more complex, rivaling some trade shows. There were tracks for business, research, policy and technology along with a slew of special sessions and keynotes from Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, among others. Some presentations soared with whiz-bang demos and promises of how technology will change the world; others bemoaned the complexity of interoperability, the "silo-ization" and the lack of demonstrated value.

While there is no question that mHealth is on the rise, some, including myself, are wondering if we’re heading toward a bubble of inflated expectations. As with all bubbles—dot com, housing etc.—the question isn’t whether there is significant underlying value (there is), but instead “how do we invest in the value that can be realized without buying into overinflated hype?” In the context of the ‘90s’ dot-com bubble, “How do we place our bets on Google and not on pets.com?”

The answer isn’t going to be found in the next jazzy consumer-oriented gadget, but by connecting great ideas that will help us lead happier, healthier lives over the long haul – connecting business, research, technology, and policy interests to find shared value.

I came away from the 2011 mHealth Summit optimistic in the overall potential of mHealth, but a little skeptical about the direction it seems to be heading in. Introducing multiple new and evolving health innovations is inherently complex, as is the perversity of our current health infrastructure. Yet one can’t help but notice that there are some very smart people working on developing the promise mHealth can offer to address some of our most pressing health challenges.

A central question will be how willing those from the “m” will be to ensure that the “health” is improved? And how open will the folks from “health” be in fulfilling the promise of “m” technology?

This will require us all to see value from others’ perspectives in this growing ecosystem. I’ll explore this more in my next blog post, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, take a moment to peruse RWJF’s coverage of the Summit on NewPublic Health.org, which tapped into some of the conversations, new collaborations and innovations in mobile health that might feasibly be applied to public health, and started a conversation about the potential for mobile technologies to help the public health field connect with hard-to-reach populations and bridge disparities.  Read what they learned in interviews with Susannah Fox of the Pew Internet and American Life Project about advances in mHealth, with Yvonne Hunt of the National Cancer Institute about the potential for mHealth in public health, and with Robert Kaplan, director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the National Institutes of Health about the rigorous research still needed to support the field. We’d love to know what you think, so don’t forget to comment on each post or below to share your insights.

Converging Ideas at the 2011 mHealth Summit

Nov 22, 2011, 9:55 AM, Posted by Al Shar

Sometimes things just come together. We funded the first mHealth Summit because it was interesting and pioneering, and it seemed to have a connection to a few of our Project HealthDesign grants. Then came our involvement with and support of Quantified Self, Open mHealth, the Stanford Mobile Health 2011 conference and the mHealth Evidence meeting. Other programs, like our national program Health Games Research, Games for Health Conference and the Reality Mining meeting that we funded at MIT in 2009, also have strong mHealth associations.

This is more than just coincidence--rather, mHealth focuses on many of the qualities that make Pioneer “pioneering.” mHealth has the potential to radically change the way health and health care is delivered, it is inherently oriented to the individual, and it is an area not yet burdened with the organizational and bureaucratic complexities of traditional health care. mHealth is a place where something radical can happen.

It is therefore particularly gratifying to see that Pioneer will be well-represented at the 2011 mHealth Summit on December 5-7 in Washington, D.C., with grantees featured in sessions on Open mHealth, The Evolution of Gaming and its Effect on Prevention and Wellness, and Wireless Patient Monitoring in Care Facilities: The Future of Wearable mHealth Applications, Devices, and Sensors, and with a  Pioneer-sponsored session, What I Really Need from mHealth: Five Perspectives on Value. This session builds on a discussion that began in August at a Pioneer co-sponsored workshop on mHealth Evidence.

I hope that you’ll be able to join us at the conference, tweet me at @alshar using #mHS11,  and help frame what I’m sure will be a very important discussion.