Qualcomm’s Don Jones and the Year of Inflection for Wireless Health

Xconomy San Diego — 

At the Wireless-Life Sciences Convergence Summit in San Diego a few weeks ago, healthcare industry veteran Rob McCray told me, “We may well look back and say 2009 was the year of inflection for wireless health.”

By wireless health, he means healthcare information and services delivered via wireless networks and devices. The emerging industry certainly got off to a strong start in 2009, with the formation of the San Diego-based West Wireless Health Institute in March. That was followed in April by the CTIA Wireless annual convention in Las Vegas, which devoted substantial attention this year to wireless health. In May, San Diego’s Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance (WLSA) sponsored its fourth annual convergence summit.

One person guiding the nascent industry is Don Jones, a longtime healthcare industry executive who helped get San Diego-based Qualcomm interested in the field. Qualcomm reciprocated by recruiting Jones, who now heads the wireless giant’s health and life sciences initiatives. Because Jones also is a founder of the WLSA and serves as a founding board member of the West Wireless Health Institute, I sat down with him to ask how it all came together.

One thing that became clear in our conversation is that Qualcomm has been working for at least a decade to develop healthcare as a market for innovative wireless technologies.

Don Jones

Don Jones

In fact, Jones traces the roots of his involvement to an invitation he got in 1999 or 2000 from Paul Jacobs, who was then overseeing Qualcomm Consumer Products, among other things. The son of Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs succeeded his dad as CEO in 2005, after a stint as president of Qualcomm’s Wireless and Internet Group. But it’s clear that Paul Jacobs continues to closely follow the emerging field of wireless healthcare. The Qualcomm CEO attended at least some sessions of last month’s invitation-only convergence summit, and has been a speaker at previous summits.

In its promotional literature, Qualcomm says wireless healthcare is projected to become a $7 billion industry by 2012. But Jones says a larger and more influential force also is at work. “More important than anything—or more visible—is the Obama Administration’s goal of bringing healthcare costs down,” he says.

Some innovations offer immediate savings. Jones says technology that enables doctors to write electronic prescriptions has “a pretty good return on investment right away.” But he sees the real economic gains in such advances as telemedicine, saying, “50 percent of primary care does not have to be delivered face-to-face. Why leave your home? Why leave your desk when you don’t have to?”

Amid the Obama Administration’s drive on healthcare reform, the CTIA wireless industry association has organized a June 24 forum on mobile health in Washington D.C.

Jones’ experience with wireless medicine began as far back as 1979, when he was working with a company that provided emergency medical services. At MedTrans (Now American Response), Jones said dispatchers used two-way radio, doctors used numeric pagers, and EMTs used cardiac telemetry units to transmit electrocardiogram data from … Next Page »

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