White House: We are excited about wireless health

By Brian Dolan
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Dr. Daniel FletcherLast month, Dr. Dan Fletcher, who is an adviser in the White House Office of Science and Technology shared the Obama administration's views on the emerging wireless health opportunity. Fletcher's remarks included challenges for the industry as well as ways it can best engage the federal government. Fletcher's presentation was part of a summit in Washington D.C. organized by CTIA, the wireless industry association.

The White House is excited -- remember BlackBerry One?

"The administration is excited about these technologies because they address two of the key objectives of the administration: That is, living up to the commitment of healthcare for all Americans and using and applying technology solutions to address major problems. In my office we have a lot of support for these types of technologies," Fletcher said.

"Of course, we shouldn't forget, that the president, himself, who in addition to Air Force One and Marine One now has BlackBerry One, which provides information for him directly," Fletcher joked. "When it comes to technology there is a great interest in seeing the growth of this industry not just because of the healthcare implications but because this provides an opportunity to develop new technologies that provide growth in jobs, provide an expansion in health communications infrastructure, provide an opportunity to connect the electronic health records, which have received so much attention, with, as we heard from Voxiva, more patient-oriented delivery of healthcare information."

"Ideally, we would be able to stimulate a marketplace for mobile health technologies both here and abroad," Fletcher said.

White House backs Voxiva's Text4Baby

"I want to talk about two different examples of the ways the administration is eager to move forward on these technologies. One is identifying public-private partnerships. There is one under development, called Text4Baby, that would allow for the delivery of periodic messages to expecting mothers reminding them of basic healthcare needs. The aim of using that same technology that is in everybody's pockets, text messaging capability, and builds on the work that Voxiva has done with assistance from CDC. The government can play a role in this [by helping to] reach those populations most in need for this information and [by identifiying] the ways in which expanding this overall infrastructure might impact healthcare."

Fletcher's work and CellScope

"A second opportunity for the government to promote mobile health is through sponsoring research and development. This, I'll use an example from my own lab at Berkeley. The result was a simple attachment to a cell phone [called CellScope] that would allow you to take images of sputum samples or blood samples. We designed this and decided try and build it. It seems to give us reasonable results. This is an example of a blood smear on that phone and this is a sickle cell sample. Being able to do sickle cell screening in the field both abroad as well as in this country in lower resource areas has potential. Technologies in the distant future may enable use of this sort of imaging capability to take some of the back laboratory tests that need to be run and put those in the hands of patients or mobile health workers."

The mHealth industry still needs to answer these questions

"Number one is 'privacy'. How can we address privacy more broadly? What about liability? If there is an image that is diagnoses because that iPhone screen, while beautiful, is quite small. What are the implications of that? What about standards for data collection and interoperability with electronic health records. These are rather generic issues, but ones that the community as a whole needs to come together to address," Fletcher explained.

"Finally, I guess the real nuts and bolts: Why should the government invest in these types of technologies? What are the health outcomes? Are they really improved? Can we prove that quantitatively? Is it really cost-effective? It sounds like it should be, but what data can we point to to actually prove that," Fletcher said. "These are going to be critical in engaging the federal government in directly supporting these technologies."

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