Mobile health care: Where does the new IT intersect with medicine?

Next time you see your doctor, he may be using a Bluetooth-enabled stethoscope.

Next time you see your doctor, he may be using a Bluetooth-enabled stethoscope.

A rural Georgia elementary school is using telemedicine to connect students with doctors. A Bluetooth-enabled stethoscope allows physicians to monitor vital signs remotely from their office miles away.

Millions of Americans are sporting “wearable technology” that monitors their exercise regimen and even blood glucose levels of diabetics. These new devices soon could suggest actions we should take — from eating something to raise our blood sugar to seeing a doctor.

Older people talk about when doctors made “house calls.” With the advent of “mobile health care,” using smart phones and other devices, there is the potential that the old virtually could be new again.

A conference being presented next Friday in Indianapolis by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business will look at the implications and economic opportunities of mobile health care.

It will take place from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. at Hine Hall at IUPUI. Kelley’s Business of Medicine MBA Program also is involved and many of its physician-students are expected to attend.

More companies getting involved

George Telthorst, director of the Center for the Business of Life Sciences

George Telthorst, director of the Center for the Business of Life Sciences

“Certainly there is exciting potential associated with the Internet and mobile health,” said George Telthorst, director of Kelley’s Center for the Business of Life Sciences and one of the conference organizers. “There’s also some trade-offs and I think there’s a lot of work trying to figure this out right now. Big companies and small companies both are poking around in this.

“The Food and Drug Administration was slow to respond to this — they weren’t sure what to do with this — but within the last months guidance has come out that suggests the FDA will be treating this with a lighter hand than a heavier one,” added Telthorst, who believes this is a positive development.

For example, he believes that devices that monitor vital signs but do not prescribe specific treatments or medications will not come under much regulatory scrutiny.

“I think it’s going to drive innovation. I also think it’s going to lead to more players from outside the industry getting involved,” such as Microsoft and Apple, he said.

Interestingly, the origin of many mobile health applications came from patients’ groups. A Silicon Valley parent developed one leading app that monitors diabetic children while they are sleeping and then shared it via online user groups.

This innovation is not coming from the big medical device or pharmaceutical companies, but many may soon become more involved.

Kelley School alumni among the innovators

Kelley School alumnus Chris Bergstrom has played a role in this emerging field.

Chris Bergstrom

Chris Bergstrom

As chief strategy officer of WellDoc — a pioneering leader in digital health — Bergstrom created a new category of treatment for diabetes by launching the world’s first mobile prescription therapy.

Prior to WellDoc, Chris worked for P&G, launched two blood glucose systems at Roche Diagnostics, and served as the adviser to the CEO of Alere Home Monitoring (previously Tapestry Medical) as it pioneered a remote home patient monitoring service.

Bergstrom will be the morning keynote speaker at the Feb. 20 conference and is expected to lay out the potential for mobile health. What should be done with the data? Are software analytics as powerful as molecules? What’s a mobile prescription therapy? How can it generate profits?

Also participating will be CEOs and executives of several start-up companies, including a couple from the Midwest.

Among them is David Wortman, co-founder and CEO of  Indianapolis-based Diagnotes Inc., which won the 2012 Hoosier Healthcare Innovation Challenge. The Purdue University graduate will speak during a morning panel of executives from “cutting edge” firms.

Diagnotes has developed a system that allows physicians to access important patient information over secure communication channels no matter where they are.

Another Kelley alumnus Jeff Lautenbach leads another up-and-coming company, cloud software developer HC1.

Recent cybersecurity breaches have highlighted concerns over privacy. The wearable healthcare devices employ ultra-low frequencies and questions persist over whether they are vulnerable to hackers.

One of the conference presenters, Surendar Magar, president and CEO of California-based HMicro, which is developing embedded wireless applications, likely will address this topic.

While most of the development of new mobile health care apps is happening in Silicon Valley, there is growing potential for it in Indiana, Telthorst said. Hoosier companies Roche Diagnostics, Zimmer, Cook and Hill-Rom are involved and Eli Lilly is expected to join them soon.

The lunch speaker will be Horst Merkle, president and chairman of Continua, a consortium tasked with develop industry standards so that these new technologies work on all devices and platforms. He also serves as its liaison to the FDA.

In addition to the information and experiences shared through the program, Telthorst said the Indiana Life Sciences Collaboration Series conferences provide ample opportunities to “make connections, help build the Indiana health care ecosystem and spark new ideas.”

More than 150 people are expected to attend and registrations will be accepted through the morning of the conference. The registration fee for each conference is $150 and discounts are available for students at any accredited Indiana college or university.

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