Interview: mobileStorm Exec Discusses The Mobile Healthcare Market And Its Challenges

Following a presentation on mHealth at this year’s Mobile Marketing Association Forum in Los Angeles, I was able to catch up with mobileStorm EVP Ric Hattabaugh to discuss his thoughts on the mobile healthcare market, its challenges and the road ahead. Together with mobileStorm CEO Jared Reitzin, Hattabaugh — who also heads the company’s mobile …   Read More

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Following a presentation on mHealth at this year’s Mobile Marketing Association Forum in Los Angeles, I was able to catch up with mobileStorm EVP Ric Hattabaugh to discuss his thoughts on the mobile healthcare market, its challenges and the road ahead.

Together with mobileStorm CEO Jared Reitzin, Hattabaugh — who also heads the company’s mobile healthcare division — took the stage at this year’s MMA event to briefly detail the mHealth market, but more importantly, to discuss a recent case study in which Kaiser Permanente was able to save $275,000 at a single clinic by deploying an SMS appointment reminder solution.  We’re beginning to see a lot of innovation in terms of mHealth, but with healthcare in general representing a fragmented, overly complicated market, there remains numerous challenges and cross-roads ahead.

The following is a brief Q&A with Hattabaugh:

Q: Beyond the obvious barriers like compliance, what else do you see as unrealized roadblocks for advanced mHealth solutions?

A: One of the biggest barriers is the technology “pools” that exist around the healthcare organization.  Think of all the disparate — and often completely separate — systems that exist:  pharmacy, EMR, appointment scheduling, laboratory, radiology – dozens of systems.  The systems running these apps came into being over many years, and often as individual systems without regard to data exchange operating in the organization.  The process of connecting everything has been a huge undertaking in the last 5-10 years for many providers, and many applications are still isolated.  Now, we want to introduce a new input/output medium to the mix.  It’s tough and will take time.

Q: Which side do you think will drive the most growth in mHealth going forward, consumer or clinician?

A: Both, and for different reasons.  A consumer will “grade” or judge how well they like a healthcare provider or insurer based on their health services and costs.  One aspect of service is how well they can communicate.   I don’t know that I would choose a healthcare provider simply because they have a great iPhone app, but how well they communicate is definitely part of the mix.  And, I don’t choose the cheapest.   But in the healthcare industry, cost is huge, too.  In retail or other consumer mobile opportunities the focus is on making money, but in healthcare mobile apps can also SAVE money.  Other industries can save money, too, but it’s not usually the focus right now.  You don’t typically see businesses like retailers, CPG or entertainment companies focusing on mobile as a way to save money.  In a healthcare organization, cost savings is driving some of the innovation.

Q: Do you see any mobile technology surpassing SMS as a primary mHealth driver? i.e. mobile Web, mobile apps, etc.

A: There’s been massive interest across the whole spectrum of mobile technologies by the healthcare industry in the last several years.  Many healthcare businesses have apps and mobile web initiatives.  Some are rolled out right now, many more coming soon.  SMS is hitting some very important goals in communicating with healthcare consumers.  It’s relatively easy to understand, and often relatively easy to get going.  So right now, I’d say SMS is doing more than its share of lifting.  That’s not to say that it’s a sole area of focus, or that it will be the big seller for mobile companies in the healthcare industry, but rather it’s the technology that got traction first.

Q: What do you see as the best solution to overcoming security, privacy and HIPPA compliance in mHealth?

A: Each communication stream may have its own “best solution”.  You have to look at why the compliance issues around privacy exist in the first place.  The structure of mobile communication and data access has to be around making the information easily available to the person who really owns it – the healthcare consumer.  That’s the knock on Google Health for instance.  Is it really secure?  Well, in Google Health, the consumer is the one entering in the data, or authorizing feeds to a password secured portal.  That makes sense to me as being within the meaning of privacy and a practical compromise that’s directed by the consumer.  I don’t my lab results left on my answering machine if I share and apartment, but what if I want you to leave my results in a voice mail that’s only accessible from my phone with my credentials?

Privacy compliance in the healthcare industry is very ambiguous.  I’ve heard opinions from legal departments in many companies in the healthcare industry and one of the things they have in common is that they are only opinions.  I’m seeing opinions change as more information is available.  Everyone is trying to understand “what does it mean” when it comes to privacy in healthcare.  Of course, there are some clear cut requirements – I can’t post your lab results on a public website, for instance.  But it’s a very complicated and fluid process of introducing new communication technologies into healthcare organizations, and it will take some time before there is common ground and clarity.

Q: Why are so many healthcare providers and stakeholders maintaining a wait-and-see approach for mHealth, why do they seem so resistant to innovation?

A: I don’t think healthcare providers and stakeholders are at all adverse to innovation.  In fact, I think the healthcare industry is capable of an amazing, risk-accepting response to innovation.  Keep in mind that mobile is only a very, very tiny part of what can influence a positive outcome for a healthcare consumer.  That’s the bottom line.  There are hundreds and thousands of innovations being trialed and developed right now.  So if I’m a healthcare provider, I have to prioritize resources on a risk/reward basis.  Mobile is now for healthcare organizations, but it will take time for it to be widespread.  As a technology vendor, it’s taking longer than I’d like, but I get it.

Q: Where do you see the mHealth market in 5 years?

A: I see a fully developed and thriving integration of mobile into methods used by clinicians, administrators and hundreds of millions of consumers managing their health around the world.  I think people will have access to more and better information when they need it, they will be better informed and coached to have a better quality of life.  Maybe mobile by itself is not going to expand lifetimes significantly, but it will be a small part of the way that we live healthier lives.  That’s not too much is it? And, if we do that, the money will come.

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