Healthcare Leaders Lay Groundwork for Wave of Innovation in Medical Information Technologies

3/31/09Follow @bvbigelow

While San Diego learned yesterday it is the new home of the nation’s first wireless health care research institute, a vision of the sweeping changes that such technologies pose was taking form in a UC San Diego conference room.

The high-level meeting was organized by federal health officials in an effort to help guide the development of one of the hottest areas in health care—the convergence of “personalized” medicine, based on genomic research, with the latest generation of information management technologies. The session included prominent medical researchers, government health officials and executives from Intel, Google, Qualcomm, and Cisco Systems who are currently overseeing IT initiatives in health care.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which sponsored the meeting, plans to use the discussion as a way to map future funding and research priorities in personalized health. Russ Altman, a Stanford University professor of bioengineering, genetics and medicine, told the group that sequencing individual patients’ full genomes will be available for everybody in 10 to 15 years.

“Genome information will be fundamentally disruptive to providing health care,” Altman said. And because of the enormous data storage needed to analyze genomic information, Altman added, “anybody who is interested in genomic research also is a huge fan of electronic health care databases.”

Qualcomm’s Don Jones told me during a break that electronic health records have become a particularly hot topic since President Obama signed the federal economic stimulus package. The government’s economic recovery plan calls for spending more than $19 billion to help medical facilities throughout the country adopt electronic health records. Jones predicted the most valuable innovation will be the integration of these records with medical diagnostic tests, wireless monitoring tools and analytical software that, for example, can detect telltale patterns that presage a heart attack or stroke.

Jones also led Qualcomm’s support for San Diego’s new West Wireless Health Institute, which was announced yesterday with a $45 million grant from the Gary and Mary West Foundation. The nonprofit research institute is intended to help develop wireless heart monitors and other types of medical biosensors. Jones also noted that wireless health care also will be a prominent theme at this week’s annual CTIA Wireless conference, which begins tomorrow in Las Vegas, NV.

Kevin Patrick, a UCSD professor of family and preventive medicine, told me that startup companies also are emerging with innovative healthcare technologies. Patrick said he was one of several researchers helping Santech, a San Diego startup that is exploring novel uses of the Internet and cell phones to tackle such health problems as obesity and diabetes.

“We recently released the first study in the world on using text messaging to promote weight loss,” Patrick said.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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