Exploring mHealth

It seems (at least to me) that mHealth is starting to gain a lot of attention. I think part of it is self-derived, based on an article I was quoted in at Health 2.0 meets Information Therapy in April, 2009. The attention grabbing headline is really based on this article, highlighting the work of Kaiser Permanente’s Information Technology group, rather than anything I said, however.

The experience picked up recently, with a visit with the leaders of Voxiva, and yesterday’s mHealthInitiative June Seminar, in Washington, DC. The good news, at a minimum, is that there is a lot of innovation happening in mHealth in this part of the United States.

It probably gets better than that, though, as the possibilities for mHealth become more real. Way back when, when I was working my first patient internet portal project, when someone brought up the idea of any sort of mobile or instant-messaging-type interaction with physicians, it seemed pie in the sky. Now, not so much.

I was first exposed to the work of Voxiva at Health 2.0 in San Francisco, in October, 2008 , and recently got an updated look at what they are working on from Co-Founder Paul Meyer and Carl Kirts, including a new program called Text4Baby that demonstrates the potential of a communication platform to integrate with a very large portion of a population. Paul offered two pieces of advice based on his experience:

  1. Don’t fall in love with the technology in this space – “let people use what they want to use” and “think multichannel”
  2. Don’t focus on one use case – think more broadly in deployment for flexibility.

I had the good fortune of attending the mHealthInitiative June seminar with one of my favorite thinkers, Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, who came to the seminar, as I did, to learn more perspectives about mobile health. You can get a sense of what we learned from livetweets on the event, compiled by the Healthbirds service.

One of the presentations that caught my attention was the discussionled by Arlene Harris, Founder and Chairwoman of Jitterbug. As it says on their About page:

Jitterbug was created for people who prefer a simple, easy to use cell phone, a friendly, helpful service experience, and affordable plans without monthly contracts.

It seems that Jitterbug has worked to understand the best way to serve customers over 55, and then create the cellular experience to match, for this potentially disadvantaged population. It would be interesting to see how personal health record platforms might interact with an approach like this to broaden management of health to people who may not use the web. Jitterbug is also involved in work on medication adherence, as well as services that connect family members to subscribers’ information.

At the conclusion of the session, President Claudia Tessier discussed the 12 mHealth Application Clusters, which might be useful to people who think about the most promising leverage points for mHealth are.

A lot of this is still very new to me, however, I think the current data (and data coming soon, from the Pew Internet and American Life Project) supports review of the possibilities for patients in every care system to leverage technology to manage their health.

Thanks to Voxiva and experts at mHealthInitiative for the start on the journey….


Ted Eytan, MD