mHealth Monthly Mashup: release 11.0 – imaginative speculation regarding “mHealth: 2112”

Michael Spitz

Zemoga

Much as social media has exponentially engulfed and transformed communications over the past few years, mobile technology has even more recently and rapidly exploded across every measurable indicator, ultimately whiplashing back through social media in a manner powerful enough to influence Wall Street’s largest IPO and perhaps engender the oddest mobile/social mashup of them all, a “Facebook Smartphone”.

Since communications, data, and analytics are the cornerstone of medicine, the impact of the mobile industry on healthcare has been even more astonishing. As Leigh Householder recently described, mobile transcends our conventional notions of device, channel, or tool, and instead reflects a confluence of all these concepts into what can only be expressed as a seismic force driving the next evolution in all of our health behaviors.

Physicians recognize and embrace this trend, doubling their use of tablets since 2011. Given such a whirlwind of paradigm shifts and transformation, the world seems like science fiction come to life. So what better way to cap off mobile health month here at pharmaphorum than by enthusiastically and perhaps recklessly speculating on what the future holds for this ‘complex intersection of technology, expectation, and interaction”?

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“What better way to cap off mobile health month than by enthusiastically speculating on what the future holds?”

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Tracking the trajectory of touch

Our ancestral ability to combine tool making with communications gave us an evolutionary edge, and qualitatively differentiated us from all other species. Fast forward from the cave paintings in Southern France to Sumerian cuneiform tablets and the utility of “mobile” becomes evident, continue from papyrus to paper, printing to broadcasting, electricity to digital and an astonishing convergence of tech and behavior paves the path ahead.

“At every stage in technological development an increasingly more powerful, engaged user has emerged,” observes Andrew Spong, social business developer. “So if we extrapolate that trend to logical extremes we can visualize what mHealth might be like in 2112 and beyond.” Central to increased mobile power and engagement has been location-independence and progressively seamless connectivity, the latter a gateway toward the quantified self.

“Developers are concentrating on making biometrics effortless and ubiquitous,” agrees Brian Edwards, mHealth expert. “We already have ‘smart pajamas’ that wirelessly monitor infants, and are on the brink of digital bandages that assess wounds and even administer treatment. The theme of combining real-time, comprehensive, and continuous diagnostics with non-invasive, unobtrusive treatment lies at the very heart of mHealth now and ahead.”

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“Developers are concentrating on making biometrics effortless and ubiquitous.”

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“The matrix is everywhere”

Audience targeting and content customization propelled digital into the mainstream, significantly bolstered by mobility. Interestingly enough, individually tailored healthcare made possible through genome mapping, gene diagnostics, and proven genetic therapies are transforming the medical and pharmaceutical industries, mHealth merging messaging, tech, and biotherapy in ways undreamed of a decade ago. “The future is in our DNA,” says Brian.

“The future could also be our undoing,” cautions Andrew, “since the artifice of empowerment works in both directions: engaged users on the one hand, but also powerful infrastructures holding the keys to all connectivity on the other.” Indeed, as we are beholden to increasingly elaborate synergy between devices and data, institutions and interface, where do we draw the line between contribution and control, and who should make those vital decisions?

“But I tend to be an optimist in spite and perhaps to spite my otherwise pervasive cynicism,” smiles Andrew. “Social media has brought an imperfect but impressive democratization to the world, one that teleologically steers us toward social good. The entrepreneurial quality of research and development in mHealth has a similar luster, one where no single entity or organization can dominate, and innovation continues unabated for the patient benefit.”

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“The future of mHealth is in our DNA.”

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The role of regulators

Few argue that mHealth will become increasingly integral to healthcare communications, diagnostics, treatment, and even prediction, so the need for standardization and risk management analogous to and extrapolated from entrenched medical device guidance and regulation is apparent. For insights and speculation in this highly specialized area, let’s turn to Bradley Merrill Thompson, medical device attorney and regulatory expert.

“A century ago an iceberg sank the Titanic,” says Bradley, “and their wildest speculation couldn’t have imagined the Moon landing fifty-seven years later. mHealth in 2112, let alone how it’ll be regulated then? Who knows, but I ultimately see mHealth guidance as a balance between giving the industry freedom to innovate, and minimizing the risk of adverse events. Governmental legislator and regulators are key influencers, as is the media.”

Exactly where the line will be drawn around the scope of regulation is central, already exemplified by FDA draft guidance of mobile medical applications and its focus on high risk categories. “Along the way the mHealth industry will thrive, because it has to, and we all need it to. The industry will adapt to whatever regulatory scheme ultimately emerges, accomplished through creative partnerships typical of a network technology industry.”

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“Along the way the mHealth industry will thrive, because it has to, and we all need it to.”

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Holistic vision of the mHealth future

So what might mHealth in 2112 be like? Three parallel trends will likely drive it: Communications (integration of social media with search, eCommerce, and health records), technology (elimination of input barriers such as keyboards, and adoption of sensing peripherals as organic extensions of the human body), and healthcare (dominance of gene diagnostics and therapy on one hand, and boundaries of information privacy on the other).

“People will be inundated with so much data that they’ll define ‘privacy’ in the same way we specify content filtering and alerts on social platforms today,” adds Andrew. “Automated diagnostic and even treatment tools could become so sophisticated as to redefine what we even mean by ‘patient’ and ‘healthcare professional’ – although one would hope that the human element, the ghost in the machine, will remain our ultimate arbiter and regulator.”

And until then? “I’m twenty-eight-years-old and considered a senior citizen in Silicon Valley,” concludes Brian. “But I’m still seen as alarmingly young at a medical conference. So imagine a world where ‘mHealth’ isn’t understood as a nascent, intimidating technology, but is utterly taken for granted and integrated within every aspect of the healthcare universe, monitoring, diagnosing, treating, and healing us from conception through very old age.”

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About the author:

Michael Spitz is SVP, Managing Director of the Healthcare and LifeSciences division of ZEMOGA. Spitz combines his passion for technology with more than 15 years of clinical content expertise to help engineer digital healthcare solutions. Follow @SpitzStrategy on Twitter for his daily – often hourly – updates on all things digital for the ultimate benefit of patients worldwide.

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