Mobile Health Edges Closer to Transformation as Industry Convenes Fifth Summit

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As mobile healthcare entrepreneurs, technologists, and investors gather in San Diego next week for a three-day conference on wireless health, a report assessing the state of the industry concludes that “mHealth” is still emerging, and not yet ready for mainstream adoption.

A survey of mobile health companies found that 94 percent of the wireless health companies that responded to the query are private—and two-thirds generate less than $1 million in annual revenue. Nevertheless, the study issued eight months ago by Edina, MN-based TripleTree, a boutique investment bank and research firm, predicts that the progress that mHealth has made over the past four years will be eclipsed by coming advancements over the next 18 months.

The survey, which is part of TripleTree’s report on Wireless and Mobile Health, found more than 250 wireless health companies in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Nearly all of those (90 percent) are based in the U.S.; about 41 are developing wireless technologies for new clinical applications, 37 percent are consumer-focused, with the idea of producing more successful patient outcomes, and 22 percent intend to improve operational effectiveness in healthcare services. Much of TripleTree’s results are based on information from 32 companies that responded to the survey.

One indication that the industry is on the threshold of a new era is that the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance, the San Diego nonprofit group organizing the 5th Annual WLSA Convergence Summit, became a full-time, member-supported industry group in January. In previous years, the WLSA was an all-volunteer effort that came together in May to host the conference, which will be held at the Estancia Hotel & Spa for three days, beginning Tuesday.

“We assessed the situation and realized this market was on the verge of really booming,” says Rob McCray, a former TripleTree partner and now a senior advisor. “I think we’re finally at the point where we were in 1994 with Internet commerce and where we were in 2001 with wireless data.” He explains that a number of e-commerce startups were founded in 1994 (Amazon was started in 1994, eBay and craigslist followed in 1995)—and by 1999, McCray says, “we had some successful companies.” In the same vein, McCray traces the transformation of wireless data to 2001, as e-mail and the BlackBerry smartphone (introduced in 2002) triggered a wave of new users and applications.

In making San Diego’s WLSA a full-time trade group, McCray says he’s stepped in as CEO. He has also recruited healthcare marketing executive Ashok Kaul as WLSA vice president of healthcare convergence and former Qualcomm marketing executive Jeff Belk as vice president of wireless convergence. The WLSA’s move also has benefitted from the support of many new corporate members, McCray said, including AT&T, St. Jude Medical, Optum Health, and Ascension Health.

The conference schedule features an investors’ meeting and showcase that includes company presentations and keynote talks on the first day; an invitation-only program for C-level executives on day 2; and a “Commercialization Day” set for the third day with workshops that are intended to identify technologies and solutions to such healthcare challenges as teen obesity and sleep disorders.

“Four years ago, mHealth solutions were, for the most part, early stage initiatives geared exclusively toward tech-savvy clinicians and forward-thinking hospitals,” TripleTree’s report says in its executive summary. “Today, both technologies and attitudes are changing, making mHealth approachable to a broader audience including physicians, nurses, patients, payers, healthcare administrators, and consumers.”

So perhaps mobile health is becoming more mainstream. Still, the question remains, who will drive adoption?

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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