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Mobile technology revolutionizes health care

Wireless health could be SD’s next big thing

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Over the past two decades, increasingly sophisticated mobile and wireless technology has fundamentally changed the way people communicate and conduct business most notably in retail, travel and financial services. A convergence of information technology and life sciences coupled with a consumer-driven desire for connectivity is revolutionizing the health care industry.

Devices, sensors, apps and other programs and technologies are being developed to target chronic conditions, telemedicine and remote monitoring, patient data capture and electronic records, thereby transforming health care into a more efficient, patient-centered system. Wireless solutions also have the potential to help solve some of the most important health care issues: accelerating costs, new regulatory reforms, accessibility and quality care.

According to a 2012 report issued by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, mobile technology will transform the health care industry with increased productivity gains, saving $305 billion in the United States over the next 10 years. Among other improvements, the savings will come from reduced travel time, better logistics, faster decision-making capabilities and improved communications. The report also sites a 2012 Brookings Institution study that predicts remote monitoring technologies will save nearly $200 billion by managing chronic diseases over the next 25 years. Other estimates suggest remote monitoring that allows the elderly to live independently at home can reduce costs by 25 percent.

A 2011 fourth quarter CONNECT report estimated there are 3,025 wireless companies and 614 life sciences companies in San Diego. This diverse and collegial ecosystem supports the development of wireless and mobile health (mHealth) solutions. MHealth is the practice of medicine and public health supported by mobile phones, monitoring devices, personal digital assistants and other wireless devices.

Independa’s Integrated TeleCare cloud-based technology targets a growing demographic of elderly living longer and independently, and addresses rising health care costs and the challenges of managing chronic disease. Its wireless health subscription services focus on smart reminders, social connectivity, and health and safety to help the elderly live safely at home longer.

PatientSafe Solutions delivers real-time clinical mobility solutions to hospitals to improve patient safety, quality and satisfaction while decreasing costs. Its flagship product, the PatientTouch System, uses a mobile device to facilitate coordinating people, processes and data in real time. The company was ranked second in The Wall Street Journal’s Top 10 Venture-Backed Health care Companies in 2012, and Forbes named it one of Three Health Technology Companies To Watch in 2012.

Qualcomm Life, a wholly owned subsidiary of Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM), entered the health care market last year with 2net Platform and Hub. Providing easy cloud access for at-home patient monitoring devices, it transfers, stores, converts and displays medical device data.

The subsidiary was founded in part to remove the burden of technical development faced by medical device manufacturers when integrating with mobile carriers, or solving complex operational issues to support wireless medical device data in the field.

“It’s a platform that makes other companies comfortable about making an investment and creating devices because they know that with Qualcomm, they can get the information they need into a database where they can use it,” said Robert McCray, President and CEO of Wireless Life-Sciences Alliance, a local organization devoted exclusively to developing global ecosystems for wireless health.

Since launching 2net, Qualcomm Life has been partnering or collaborating with companies all over the world who are using its platform and hub to connect health care providers and patients with secure remote monitoring. Those partners include Sotera Wireless and AirStrip Technologies.

San Antonio-based AirStrip Technologies has been expanding its presence in San Diego since CEO Alan Portola came on board several years ago. The company originally developed AirStrip OB, an application enabling doctors to use smart phones and tablets to track the vital signs of pregnant women and their near-term fetuses.

AirStrip subsequently developed monitoring capabilities for tracking vital signs of heart and acute care patients. The company has since expanded its platform to provide real-time mobile access to electronic health records.

McCray said although venture capital firms continued to invest in mHealth development throughout the recession, funding did slow.

In 2011, Qualcomm established Qualcomm Life Fund, a $100 million investment entity managed by Qualcomm Ventures, which invests in venture-backed wireless health startups that will help accelerate its 2net Platform commercialization.

Qualcomm Life’s investment in AirStrip last year is enabling the company to use Qualcomm’s 2net Platform for a new monitoring product that reports vital signs for congestive heart failure patients after they leave the hospital. AirStrip’s system will include Qualcomm’s 2net Hub for connectivity.

Earlier this month, Sotera Wireless announced it had raised $14.8 million from a group of investors including Qualcomm Life. It is using the proceeds to build out the sales and distribution network of its ViSi Mobile System, a comprehensive vital signs monitoring platform designed for use in ambulatory, non-ICU clinical settings. Patients wear a device the size of a wristwatch that captures and wirelessly transmits core vital signs so clinicians can detect early signs of deterioration and intervene to avoid unnecessary escalation of care.

The International Telecommunication Union estimated there were 6 billion mobile subscriptions at the end of 2011, or 87 percent of the world population. That proliferation may help explain why the mHealth market grew during the recession.

“There’s never been a larger and more accessible market than this one,” McCray said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for San Diego, and for the U.S. economy generally, to take advantage of cellular communications and digital health and create products and services to serve the world.”

-James is an Encinitas-based freelance writer.

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