Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mobile Tech Use Growing

Today and in the future, smart phones and wireless technology will play an important ever growing role in delivering healthcare especially in developing countries. To find out the latest news in the mHealth field, an overflow crowd attended the Foundation for the National Institute of Health’s Inaugural “mHealth Summit” held on October 29-30. Leaders and experts came to the Summit to hear in-depth discussions on using mobile communications to advance global health for all in the 21st century.

The Foundation was established to support NIH in their role to improve health through scientific discovery. The Foundation’s goal is to identify and develop opportunities for innovative public-private partnerships involving industry, academia, and the philanthropic community. As a non-profit corporation, the Foundation raises private sector funds for a broad portfolio of programs to complement NIH’s priorities and activities.

Keynote speaker Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary HHS sees mobile technology empowering patients, consumers, and providers while she emphasized that HHS is committed to driving the technology. She explained that since phones are everywhere and can touch everyone’s life, they can and should be used to provide better healthcare in this country and the world.

Secretary Sebelius mentioned how today and more so in the future, patients will have the capacity to take photos and videos and instantly send the information to their provider using a smart phone. The provider will be able to see the information and then rapidly send back an opinion as to what the next steps should be. This technology will make it possible for the worldwide population to have a doctor in their pocket.

She continued to say that when one out of five patients is discharged from the hospital, they are readmitted within 30 days with most people not talking to a healthcare provider within those 30 days. Mobile tech could help in these cases by providing the means to ask for and receive follow up information.

As the Secretary pointed out, getting people under 40 to change behaviors is a difficult task. For example, HHS has been holding regular briefings on the flu pandemic that have been very helpful to many, but the agency wanted to reach younger people, so information now goes out to Face Book and You Tube.

Keynote speaker Francis S. Collins, M.D., PhD, Director, of the National Institutes of Health said, “Using mobile technology will certainly provide NIH with major opportunities. Researchers will be able to apply high throughput technology to understand biology, be able to translate basic discoveries into new and better technologies, put science to work for the benefit of healthcare reform, encourage a greater focus on global health, and also reinvigorate and empower the biomedical research community.

Dr. Collins discussed how mobile technology research can be applied to genetics research programs. He noted that there is a strong case for a U.S prospective cohort study of genes and environment. This would enable researchers to detect the relationship among genes, environment, and health by collecting valuable data via mobile technology and then organize the data to find answers as to how the environment interacts with genetics and how this all relates to illness.

Dr. Collins pointed out that the National Children’s Study underway is examining the effects of environmental influences on the health and development of 100,000 children across the U.S. and will follow the health of the children from before birth until age 21. The use of mobile technology to send data to the researchers is really going to help to provide timely and important information as needed.

Dr. Collins also sees the practical advantages for mobile technology and smart phones and technology to address obesity by assessing food intake and calculating food nutrients for people. Equally important is the need to determine how much exercise people really do. Cell phones will be able to measure physical activity by assessing the type and duration of physical activity in real-time. Dr. Collins sees the wireless accelerometers increasingly that are now being built in cell phones in Asia to soon become standard worldwide.

For more information on the Foundation for NIH’s “mHealth Summit”, go to or call (301) 402-5311.