A Big Convergence: Wireless Health Care, Information Technologies, and Serial Entrepreneur James Sweeney

5/4/09

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of frustration. “It took the large companies so long to execute an idea, mostly due to internal politics, instead of responding to what the market needs. I eventually found that I could start companies and create ideas that would lead to faster adoption of ideas.” Caremark was born out of a business plan Sweeney presented to a company he was working with. “They thought it was such a bad idea that they fired me.”

Sweeney says he takes a different approach. “I believe that ultimately the successful approach is entrepreneurial. If you plant the seed of an idea, it eventually grows. But big companies require many things to happen at high levels.” He says that he sees opportunities in health care because “it is very poorly managed and really focused on the wrong things. In many cases the patient is the last person who gets the attention of the system.

“The more we can design seamless technologies that do not require a lot of intervention from anyone the better. In CardioNet I designed a technology where a patient doesn’t have to physically do anything except wear a device. Patients told us they love it!”

CardioNet’s MCOT (Mobile Cadiac Outpatient Telemetry) is, to date, the only validated wireless health care device in the U.S. It has monitored heart data for over 175,000 patients. Patients wear three leads attached to a sensor which uses Qualcomm wireless technology to send data to a monitor in the patient’s home. The device sends an alarm to a monitoring center when it senses an irregular heartbeat so apporpriate action can be taken.

Health-care will see many similar wireless revolutions in the near future. People won’t need to see a doctor to have their conditions monitored, but they’ll carry their own sensor-monitor devices, which are becoming smaller, more-reasonably priced and reliable. All sorts of remote monitoring, such as tiny biosensors, even wireless pills may one day become commonplace.

“All of this sensed information leads to electronic medical records,” Sweeney says. “If we can collect your data and take that information from the doctor’s office to a server, it wouldn’t matter where you were in the world and which doctor you saw, that doctor would have access to your data. Now very expensive procedures like MRIs are repeated because six-month-old data is not available. Having this information available will dramatically reduce duplications and save money. The patient owns his medical information. What I envision is that he can also bring it with him.”

He wonders when health-care funding under the federal stimulus package will be in place. “I’m very excited about it providing money to hospitals to do many things we think need to be done.” But a single-payer system will be, in his opinion, the death of new technology. “Historically, the United States has been the world’s health-care innovator. But I’m hopeful that people who make decisions recognize that there are intelligent ways to embrace technology. And technology has to pay for itself. It hasn’t always been so in the past, but it will in the future.”

Sweeney also gave me his four concepts for other entrepreneurs who see opportunities in healthcare.They are:

—”Choose a Big Idea. The bigger, the better. Foremost it’s all about the size of an idea. It takes just as much energy to develop small ideas as large ones, so I try to focus on ideas that have billions of dollars of potential.

—”If you have a very big idea, you will attract very good people. And you will need them.

—”When you have an A management team, it’s very easy to raise money, even in the current environment!

—”Execution is the hard part. You are doing things that have been never done before. It’s hard to get people to support new technology.”

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