Gary West on San Diego’s West Wireless Health Institute and ‘Always On’ Medicine

As the international wireless industry group CTIA convenes its 2009 conference on information technology and entertainment in downtown San Diego this week, one of the emerging sectors claiming much of the agenda and industry attention is wireless healthcare.

San Diego, with its concentration of both life sciences and wireless technology startups, also has emerged as a de facto capital of wireless healthcare—particularly since March 30, when the Gary and Mary West Foundation founded the West Wireless Health Institute atop La Jolla’s Torrey Pines Mesa and provided $45 million in startup funding.

The non-profit institute, which is focused primarily on research and education, ranks as one of the first organizations in the world to seek improvements in healthcare specifically through advances in wireless technologies. In June, the institute revealed its first clinical research program, which involves testing remote heart monitoring technology for San Jose, CA-based Corventis. But the institute hasn’t announced much else since then. So I arranged to get an update on its progress from Gary West, the founder and board chairman.

West moved to San Diego from Omaha, NE, after making his fortune in telemarketing and in providing customer services for the telecommunications industry. He says he founded the institute to help address the costly inefficiencies that plague our healthcare system, and at a panel discussion last night at Qualcomm, he used his personal encounter with high blood pressure as an example. West says when his high blood pressure was initially diagnosed, his doctor prescribed medication and told him to return in six weeks to see if it was working. He returned; it wasn’t. So his doctor prescribed another medication and told him to come back in six weeks. West says the hit-or-miss process, which took about six months to get right, could be done far easier and less expensively by using sensors and wireless technologies to monitor patient response.

What is most immediately striking, though, is the sheer scale of West’s thinking. At a time when the Obama Administration’s plans for healthcare reform are sputtering, West views the institute as nothing less than a catalyst for overhauling a costly and overburdened U.S health system. West pointedly tells me he doesn’t care whether or not healthcare reform includes a public option—which has become one of the polarizing issues in the political debate in Washington D.C.

“That’s all noise to me,” West says. “What we’re talking about is going to benefit the world of healthcare from a quality and cost standpoint, regardless of what methodology they choose to deliver healthcare.”

He contends that unless escalating medical costs are reigned in, the American healthcare system will bankrupt our economy. To West, the institute’s prime directive is driving innovations in wireless technology to take costs out of the healthcare system—while at the same time maintaining healthcare services that are as good or better than what … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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