For the second year in a row, we attended the mHealth Summit in Washington, DC, the country’s largest conference on mobile health and wireless applications in healthcare. Last year’s summit was a real treat as the keynote speakers were Bill Gates and Ted Turner. Mr. Turner, in typical shoot-from-the-hip fashion, discussed everything from his reading habits (he religiously reads the Economist cover-to-cover) to nuclear disarmament (bombing people is generally not good for their health). When it came to mobile health, he was unabashedly optimistic declaring that nothing will stop this from becoming a huge success.  Mr. Gates was more cerebral and guarded in his speculations, remarking that the greatest innovations in this area will likely come in middle-income countries, and noting that care must be exercised not to apply the same mHealth methods everywhere, but tailor them to each region’s resources and needs.

The 2011 mHealth Summit was no less interesting with opening remarks from mHealth luminaries such as Eric Topol, MD, Vice-chairman of the West Wireless Health Institute and a leading evangelist and spearheading force in the mHealth movement. The West Wireless Health Institute, based in San Diego, CA, was established by the Gary and Mary West Foundation and is one of the world’s leading organizations dedicated to lowering healthcare costs through innovation and technology, and particularly mobile and wireless technology. Dr. Topol’s passion for the field shines through in dynamic presentations that are always an invigorating experience. This year he demonstrated several remarkable mHealth technologies including a simple and portable sensor that works with an iPhone app to quickly generate an electrocardiogram (ECG) tracing. In the very near future, people experiencing chest pain will be able to quickly stick their phones on their chests, record an ECG, and send it to their doctors or EMT facilities in mere seconds.

From the presentations of government leaders in attendance at the 2011 mHealth Summit, including keynote talks by Dr. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Regina Benjamin, US Surgeon General, among others, it is quite clear that the US government is taking a keen interest in mHealth as a means to reduce costs and improve outcomes and efficiency of healthcare delivery.

In her opening speech at the mHealth Summit, Dr. Sabelius acknowledged that although the US medical system is at the forefront of medical research, and uses the most advanced medical technology and treatment approaches in the world, its information infrastructure has lagged far, far behind every other industry including finance, travel, and others. However, Dr. Sebelius was happy to report that things are changing at breakneck speed. The percent of overall electronic health record (EHR) adoption has increased from 17% in 2009 when the administration started undertaking its major healthcare IT (HIT) modernization efforts, to 34% today, an unprecedented doubling in the span of two years.  Although the government’s big push in this direction certainly plays a key role in this shift, Dr. Sebelius also attributed this rapid adoption to the explosion in the use of mobile communication devices, and the increasing comfort level with these devices among the general population, and among healthcare workers in particular.

Other keynote speakers at the 2011 mHealth Summit included John Stratton, COO of Verizon Wireless, which is investing heavily in medical wireless infrastructure, and Dr. Paul Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm which recently launched Qualcomm Life, a Qualcomm spin-off dedicated solely to the development of a robust and high-speed network for medical device communication and interoperability.

Over the course of three days we participated in stimulating sessions and lectures on a variety of topics from state of the art mobile technologies and standards, to HIPAA, security and privacy, and FDA regulation in the mHealth space.

It is definitely an exciting time to work in mHealth and we’ll certainly be back in Washington next year for mHealth Summit 2012 to see what this year has brought!