Expanding Wireless Health Summit Looks to Inform and Change Patient Behavior

After years of carefully shepherding San Diego’s emerging mobile health industry, Rob McCray says the sixth annual wireless health convergence summit that begins tomorrow in downtown San Diego isn’t just about “convergence” any more.

McCray, who is CEO of the nonprofit Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance (WLSA), instead sounded a theme that seems to resonate in these uncertain economic times.

“The problems of healthcare have gotten worse,” McCray told me recently. “The United States and the world in general have started to wake up to the fact that access to healthcare is declining and costs are increasing. Just over the last 12 months, there’s been a marked increase in the intensity of concern—and in this convergence of technology and healthcare where we operate, we have this opportunity to increase access and reduce costs.”

So it’s not just about developing wireless innovations for use in healthcare, McCray said. As an example, he said Procter & Gamble has joined the WLSA as a global partner, and the Cincinnati, OH-based provider of Tide detergent, Duracell batteries, Pantene shampoo, and Pringles potato chips is neither a wireless nor a healthcare company. Yet P&G recognizes healthcare as a global market, with new opportunities emerging that could become important to the diverse consumer products company.

Rob McCray

For companies already focused on wireless health, McCray says the biggest challenge is to develop products and services “that actually bend the curve of healthcare costs.” Increasingly, the industry views changing patient behavior as the critical component to addressing the worldwide obesity epidemic and other long-term health concerns.

Changing behavior—consumer behavior—actually plays to the strengths of a company like Procter & Gamble, McCray said. Many of the services and mobile apps that are being developed as “wireless health” technologies are being designed to help consumers change their behavior, for example, by helping them to stop smoking or count their calories at each meal. And many of these offerings, especially those intended for use outside a clinic or hospital, “are only going to be effective if they can change behavior—change health care—for a long period of time,” McCray said.

Developing a new breakthrough vaccine or antibiotic is easy in comparison, McCray says, because it represents an acute medical intervention—conducted under the supervision and orders of a doctor and carried out by a healthcare institution. “What’s overwhelming our system, though, are the ill effects of long-term human behavior”—and changing that behavior requires more sustained efforts, he says.

San Diego’s wireless health summit “never has been an event that aspired to be the Comdex of healthcare,” says Chris Hoffman, a senior principal and market research director at Triple Tree, an investment banking firm in Edina, MN, that has supported the WLSA and the emerging industry. But the annual event has grown significantly, from a one-day meeting of some industry executives to a three-day conference that is expected to draw close to 250 people each day. As a result, the sixth annual summit has moved to the more spacious Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego.

The agenda includes a keynote talk by Qualcomm chairman and CEO Paul Jacobs, and features an update from the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health on the agency’s regulatory oversight of wireless health devices, apps, and services. Interest is high on this session, as the FDA has been developing a draft guidance document on how the agency might regulate health apps for wireless devices. A panel discussion billed as “Part I” in a conversation about paying for healthcare in America is intended to focus on new revenue models.

The program Wednesday is billed as more of an “investor day,” with a series of presentations by early stage companies that have been selected as finalists in the summit’s “i Awards” for innovative wireless health startups with technologies focused on consumer effectiveness, clinical applicability, and operational efficiency. (The winners will be announced later in the day.) An afternoon panel discussion about new models for healthcare providers is billed as “Part II” in the “paying for healthcare” conversation.

This year, the final day of the program is built around the concept of broadening development of the wireless life sciences ecosystem, with a keynote address by Dell computer’s chief technical officer, and a panel discussion on “driving mHealth innovation” with speakers from Cisco, AT&T, and Hewlett Packard.

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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