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Broken Healthcare System Needs a Wireless Fix

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 4:29pm
Andrew Berg

Rick Valencia, vice president and general manager of Qualcomm Life, a subsidiary of Qualcomm responsible for all things mHealth related, believes the healthcare in this country need a bit of a technological overhaul. 

“There are two industries that have fought off any kind of technological advancement and those are healthcare and education. Both of them need it badly. Both of them are broken,” Valencia told Wireless Week. 

Valencia says the current healthcare system is entirely unsustainable economically and there’s data to back up that claim. According to a recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States spent 17 percent of its annual GDP in 2008 on healthcare related costs, with that number expected to rise to 25 percent by the end of 2025. 

That’s where Valencia says wireless technologies can help reverse that trend. 

“Where the real opportunity is in terms of addressing the cost issue in healthcare is helping to provide solutions outside of the hospital, where people can be monitored by their doctors and their family members and intervention can happen before they end up in the hospital,” Valencia said. 

Qualcomm has aimed to address just that need with its 2Net platform, which essentially connects legacy healthcare monitoring systems to the network, allowing data to get where it needs to go in a secure and efficient manner. 

Valencia explains that the 2Net hub—a small module about the size of a nightlight that automatically pairs with monitoring devices in the home—and the backend platform are FDA-listed Class 1 medical devices. 

“The important reason for that is it eliminates the need for Qualcomm’s 2Net customers to have to go back and get their own equipment an approval from the FDA,” Valencia said. 

Qualcomm does help some companies embed wireless connectivity into medical devices, but Valencia says that approach has its flaws and may not be widely adopted for some time. 

“It’s not really the right thing to do for most applications because the development cycles for wireless devices are so fast, and by the time you get a medical device out of the FDA for approval there’s probably already a new chip on the market,” Valencia said.   

Valencia admits that the move to remote patient monitoring through connected devices isn’t going to happen overnight, but he says healthcare is just on the verge of a major shift. He cites banking as one industry that has already seen the kinds of changes coming to the healthcare industry. 

“Think about where we were just 10 years ago in terms of how people did their banking…Think how quickly it happened in hindsight, but when we were going through it seemed like forever,” Valencia said. 

Recent research from Berg Insight suggests that around 2.8 million patients worldwide were using a home monitoring service based on equipment with integrated connectivity at the end of 2012, and that’s just dedicated monitoring devices and doesn't include patients using their phone, tablet or PC. 

Qualcomm is right now working to get the technology in its 2Net hub into smartphones and tablets so the solution becomes even less of a hassle for patients. 

“With medical devices, particularly the profile of someone that’s suffering from a chronic disease and is just out of the hospital, the last thing they want to do is go home and perform some kind of home IT project. That’s the objective with the phone, is to build that same functionality into the phone,” Valencia said, noting that consumer adoption of these solutions will depend on ease of use.  

But Valencia says wireless solutions will not only offer cheaper healthcare but also elevate the standard of care that a provider can offer. 

“What I think is going to happen is that more and more, doctors will rely less on gut and less on training that they got 10 or 20 years ago and more on real data that will be presented to them in an actionable form when they need to make a decision,” he said.  

 
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