Now that Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has issued a challenge to public and private sector leaders to collaborate on efforts to make the use of mobile health (mHealth) technology a routine medical best-practice within five years, companies like Qualcomm, Intel, and Apple, as well as smaller firms like Fitbit Inc., and Entra Health Systems, can be assured that this burgeoning market will continue to grow and hopefully thrive in the near future.
After all, smartphones, tablets, and patient monitoring devices such as Bluetooth-enabled glucose meters and blood pressure devices are poised to find a permanent place in the nation’s healthcare IT infrastructure.
Genachowski is under no illusions that mHealth, which is the practice of monitoring and delivering care to patients using mobile devices, is on a growth trajectory in the years ahead.
That said, efforts to expand broadband and Medical Body Area Network (MBAN) connectivity can enhance the capability of mHealth devices to contribute to healthcare reform, as well as create jobs and spur the development of devices and software that can position the US as a leader in health-related technology innovation.
Genachowski recently announced that the FCC will focus its attention on key initiatives, which include:
- Wireless health test beds: The FCC will circulate an Order to streamline the agency’s experimental licensing rules to encourage the creation of wireless health device “test beds” that permit easier testing of mHealth technologies.
- Healthcare broadband networks: Another Order focuses on comprehensive reform and modernization of the Rural Health Care (RHC) Program, to include rules that allow networks of hospital and healthcare facilities to jointly apply for RHC Program funds to boost broadband capacity.
- Telehealth data: Part of the RHC modernization Order requires the collection of richer data on broadband and telehealth applications from RHC Program participants, enabling more targeted support for telemedicine.
- International MBAN spectrum: The FCC’s International Bureau will work with FCC counterparts in other countries to encourage them to make spectrum available for MBANs and to discuss possible spectrum harmonization efforts to allow for medically safe cross-border patient travel and better economies of scale for device makers. MBANs, which are networks of wireless sensors, can transmit information on a patient’s vital signs to his or her doctor or hospital via mobile devices.
The FCC’s efforts are in keeping with the sentiments of leading officials in the high-tech industry who see the lucrative opportunities in the mHealth market and want to capture a piece of the US patient monitoring market, which iData Research expects to grow to $4.2 billion by 2018.
One company seeking opportunities to capture market share is Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM), which late last year announced that it had invested $100 million in the formation of a wholly owned subsidiary, Qualcomm Life Inc., which partners with medical device manufacturers to improve their products.
It’s not surprising, then, that Qualcomm corporate officials would be pleased with Genachowski’s announcement. After all, it should translate to more opportunities for growth in the mHealth market. In his reaction to the FCC’s initiatives, Robert Jarrin, Qualcomm’s senior director, Government Affairs, had this to say:
Qualcomm appreciates the central role the FCC plays in enabling new health care technologies that rely on wireless communications and broadband connectivity. For mobile health care to be successful, there is no question that the nation will need more mobile broadband spectrum to ensure that our wireless networks are robust and reliable. We also need to update policies and regulations to ensure that they incentivize doctors and patients to take advantage of the full range of innovations made available by wireless technology.
Now that the FCC has done what it is supposed to do, let’s hope that companies like Qualcomm can create the kind of innovative technologies that can overcome barriers to the adoption of these mHealth devices, such as interoperability, connectivity, reliability, privacy, and security. Let us pray that through the use of mHealth technology, we can realize a more efficient healthcare system that can save lives.