Wireless Health Summit: Barriers to Adoption and Tools for Change

5/1/14Follow @bvbigelow

As a co-founder and CEO of the San Diego-based Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance, Rob McCray has spent the past decade or longer shepherding the convergence of innovative wireless technologies and healthcare.

To paraphrase the poet, he still has miles to go before he sleeps.

McCray has done his tour of duty as the voice in the wilderness. He’s helped to focus the industry on using wireless technologies to change consumers’ unhealthy behavior. He’s seen the rise of wearable technology companies like Fitbit and MC10—and the fall of Zeo and its sleep-monitoring business. McCray saw how Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) built a wireless health business that led to the formation of its Qualcomm Life subsidiary. And he watched how Athenahealth’s $293 million acquisition of Epocrates last year became a catalyzing event for an emerging industry.

Nevertheless, the emerging wireless health industry is still running up against a lot of barriers. In fact, McCray has focused the Wireless-Life Science Alliance’s 9th Convergence Summit on highlighting the most-significant barriers to achieving the goals of “connected health,” the industry’s latest marketing term of art. (McCray  also has been at the forefront in shifting industry’s nomenclature, from “wireless health” to “mobile health” and “digital health.”) The three-day conference, which begins with an invitation-only afternoon session on May 14 and public sessions that convene on May 15, will be held at the downtown Omni San Diego Hotel.

“Technology is not a limiting factor in enabling healthcare solutions,” McCray says. “It’s adoption.”

Through the years, one constant has remained: If ever there was a hidebound industry long overdue for disruptive innovation, it is the American healthcare system. McCray describes it as a $2.8 trillion industry that delivers, on an overall population basis, lousy outcomes. But change doesn’t happen easily when vested interests defend the status quo in a multi-trillion-dollar industry.

“Defending the status quo makes it difficult for customers [i.e. care-givers] and payers to make rational decisions to invest in knowledge or service that improve quality, but doesn’t necessarily improve revenue,” McCray says. In other words, it’s hard to sell innovations that improve the quality of patient outcomes when every hospital admission–and readmission—represents another revenue opportunity. As he puts it, there’s no reimbursement code for quality of outcomes.

“I’ve never done a formal survey,” McCray says, “but when I ask [industry leaders] ‘if you could change one thing that would improve the market,’ they say it’s the fee-for-service system.”

Yet McCray also maintains that the tools and knowledge now exist to fix this runaway business model in healthcare—and he views San Diego as a model region, where … Next Page »

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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