When your life and your business – may depend on mobile coverage

Ted Mercer

Matthew Arnold &amp, Baldwin LLP

Ted Mercer discusses mobile coverage and the effect it has on businesses, specifically in reference to the pharmaceutical sector. In addition, he looks to future uses and benefits of mobile health.

We all from time to time get frustrated at mobile telephony coverage. Despite maps and regulators that show that only a very small part of the United Kingdom isn’t covered by mobile signal, there are times when trying to make a simple call seems to indicate with complete accuracy that the last thing that mobile telephones are, is mobile. The greatest example of that I always think is travelling on a train. On a Monday morning I have to load my electronic Daily Telegraph before my train hits the New Forest, because of a break in signal here of some 20 minutes long. Now at this point, some of you just may have switched off wondering what on earth mobile signal quality has got to do with the Pharmaceutical industry law or medicine. The answer in the future is “quite a lot”. More than that your livelihood and indeed patient safety may depend on an ubiquitous and active data network.

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“How long you might ask yourself before this can be seen as a means of lowering the number of hospital beds necessary…”

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Now let’s move to an armchair. That’s the one you are sat in watching Formula one on the television. Have you ever wondered how those guys know so much about their team’s engine performance so that they sit at the back of the pits in a large caravan faced by banks and banks of screens and graphs and dials? The answer to that is every Formula one car bristles with information gathering equipment and the means by wireless to feed that back to the engineers in the pits. It’s not a stone’s throw from that technology to one in which using a series of micro processors that may be imbedded in the body. A physician could then watch your performance, if necessary, in great detail despite being a hundred miles away. Indeed, such systems are available today. A Cambridge based company already specialises in the area of what is described as “ambulatory physiological monitoring”. This means that in the areas of professional sport, military training and medical research somebody can read an ECG, heart rate, respiratory rate, skin temperature, motion status and one or two other things from a single sensor module.

How long you might ask yourself before this can be seen as a means of lowering the number of hospital beds necessary to those only associated with treatment rather than any form of observation and how it might improve the chances of earlier recovery at home.

We are not talking here about technology which might exist, but that which in fact already is in use. Let’s combine that with some statistics, in terms of mobile apps it’s believed that one in five apps will be health related. That’s a lot of apps on a lot of mobile phones being used in the context of a national health service desperate to cut costs, personnel and effectively use what money it has got to better serve its patients. Telehealthcare is an obvious way to achieve those aims.

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“We are not talking here about technology which might exist, but that which in fact already is in use.”

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I can still hear one or two of you saying well, that’s absolutely interesting but I could have picked this up in two minutes on the BBC technology sites, which is also possibly true. There are a couple of things about which you should be aware. First the pace of development of these kinds of systems is accelerating with experience in developing mobile apps to everything from appointment and booking services upwards and downwards and now looking at how they interface with the health economy. Secondly, though we can still have very significant network problems, the strength and capacity of our data networks are beginning to grow. More than that, frequencies will start to come up for re-distribution and those could include channels or ranges of frequencies being devoted solely to healthcare. Having said that, I have to say that one of the major advantages one sees of the ubiquitous mobile app type technology is that the health service technology simply becomes another strand that goes alongside other uses of technology. That in turn provides for a bigger drive towards more ubiquitous and useful networks generally.

Having said all of that and noted the pace of change is quickening there is then the question in respect of the pharma industry as where does it come in and what’s in it for you? The answer I think is this. How long will it be before the first GP practice uses a mobile app as a repeat prescription ordering system? How long before one of those is then tied into a particular pharmacist outlet. How long before something monitoring, for example diabetes on a regular basis is linked to dose change and delivery? The same goes for all forms of health conditions that are monitored and where that monitoring might lead to a change in dosage.

Law and regulation must catch up with, permit and not hold back these developments or you might lose your part in future major distribution channel for prescription drugs.

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“…let’s start with basic stuff like repeat prescription apps linked to a particular pharmacy…”

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Pharma companies that become allied to these forms of changes in healthcare provision will lead the industry. I am not saying that there aren’t significant problems related to security (but given the uses of physiological monitoring I would be pretty sure those could be overcome!). And it would take some trial and error to see which monitoring and testing is useful and taken up on a large scale. So, let’s start with basic stuff like repeat prescription apps linked to a particular pharmacy and then work through to some of the cleverer stuff with each stage looking for the connection with the pharma industry which undoubtedly will be there.

So that’s why it’s very surprising that when I look down the list of those attending the recent ‘Cambridge Wireless Healthcare SIG the hospital of the future’ meeting there doesn’t seem to be too much interest from the pharma industry.

I think you might just be missing a trick! There is no guarantee of a place in that future except as a wholesaler unless thought is given now to creating law and regulation to make it work.

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European-CME-Forum-15-16-November-2012

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About the author:

Ted Mercer is a lawyer who specializes in amongst other things the law and regulation of telehealth care, medical use software and procurement questions.

Click here to find out more about ambulatory physiological monitoring.

How long until GP practices start routinely using mobile apps?