IT chief: mHealth moving forward faster than expected

Marketplace innovation to move healthcare forward using mobile technology is advancing at speeds that only a short time ago could not be imagined, said Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer at the mHealth Summit on Tuesday.

This year's mHealth Summit, organized by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health in partnership with the mHealth Alliance and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is being held Nov. 8-10 in Washington, D.C., and has drawn more than 2,000 professionals from the U.S. and 30 countries to hear from experts on mobile health technology and policy.

At a luncheon keynote, Chopra told attendees that cloud computing and improved connectivity could help unlock progress and compress the cycle time from idea to operation. Already, examples can be seen across government and the marketplace, and the results "are astounding," Chopra said.

But questions remain. When it comes to mobility, "do we have the right necessary infrastructure over the next 10 years and beyond?" Chopra asked.

"We need to increase bandwidth and infrastructure," he said, "but we also need to take our learnings from research and development and think anew about how to use existing spectrum in a more efficient manner."

One example of using what already exists to innovate change is the new download system for personal health records available for veterans.

On Aug. 2, President Obama announced that for the first time ever, veterans would be able to go to the VA website, click a simple "blue button," and download or print their personal health records to share with their doctors outside of the VA. Since the program was soft-launched in September, the system has provided more than 100,000 PHR downloads, Chopra said.

In addition, Northrop Grumman has developed an iPhone app to be used with the blue button data, he said. 

"A year ago, if someone would have asked me if we could use data this way, I would have said we have a long way to go," Chopra said. "Yet here we are."

Meanwhile, it's important that the government convene groups from the private sector to help remove blocks to innovation, he said.

Chopra offered another example of new solutions created now, using what already exists. Recently, a group of companies with "diametrically opposed opinions" came together to develop a shared code physicians could use to send private health information securely via email to their colleagues, he said. The code was developed in 90 days – a surprisingly short amount of time – and will be shared on NHIN Direct.

"It is important for us to knock down bottlenecks and barriers as they come," he said.

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