Veteran healthcare journalist Anne Zieger provides her views regarding the needed ingredients to make mhealth really work in the coming year.

At the recent mHealth Summit in DC, it was pretty clear what the organizers’ view of the market was. Huge banners throughout the conference space promoted the show as offering a view into “an ecosystem of opportunity.”

While speakers offered tantalizing glimpses into their views of what’s next in connected health, few attendees I heard or spoke with seemed focused on the bigger picture of how the pieces might fit together. If the show is any indication, virtually all the vendors in the space are focused on their little piece of the market, with the notable exception of very large tech firms like Microsoft, Apple and QUALCOMM.

Given that even among these giants, there’s no consensus vision as to what an mHealth ecosystem is, it’s worth considering what pieces such a system should have. Here are some theories.

The model mHealth ecosystem

Technologies that support the future mHealth ecosystem include the following, I’d argue:

  • Brings basic diagnostics to the field:  Solutions that solve an interesting and important problem in mobile health, such as efforts to create a mobile ultrasound app, tie protected health efforts into the basic processes of medicine.
  • Solves problems that cut across healthcare:  Solutions that can improve health for key populations like the chronically ill, such as the medication adherence system promoted by QUALCOMM-affiliated iMPak Health, can be plugged into health system-wide quality improvement efforts.
  • Makes basic tests more accessible to patients:  If we want a fully-connected mobile health ecosystem, patients must become a greater part of their own healthcare processes than ever before, and that means further development of mobile-connected testing tools like the urine test kit under development by startup Scanadu.
  • Provides the “glue” tying mHealth elements together:  These technologies, such as QUALCOMM’s 2net Platform, Apple’s HealthKit and Microsoft Health, are designed to connect data generated by fitness bands, smart watches, mobile devices and even future health options like sensor-laden clothing to traditional health data backbones like EMRs.

Ultimately, to have a connected health ecosystem, we have to have technologies that everyone can use, and everyone can afford. And though we’re not there yet, we’re clearly moving in the right direction.

No data standards yet

On the other hand, the various parties that need to be involved in the mHealth ecosystem do not share a common technical standard. In other words, these technologies can’t share data freely between different connected health platforms, EMRs and other health IT systems.

This problem is already reaching a boiling point in the EMR world, where attempts to pressure vendors into uniting around HL7 or other common technical standards have been more or less futile.

And the lack of data sharing between EMRs has already done much to limit the benefits of implementing such systems, robbing them of the potential for saving money by coordinating care and avoiding duplicate treatments.

The last thing the health IT world needs is to layer another set of incompatible data sources on top of an EMR or health data warehouse. 

We can only hope that the health IT industry, having been burned so badly by the lack of interoperability between EMRs, will do better this time around. Ultimately, the idea of an mHealth ecosystem will remain just that, an idea, unless vendors and providers come together to make mHealth data truly shareable.

About the author: Anne Zieger is a veteran journalist who’s been covering the U.S. healthcare scene for over 25 years. She provides “News with a Twist,” combining solid reporting with expert insights and analysis. Her opinions are her own. You can follow Anne on Twitter @ziegerhealth.

The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.