Tech titans turn focus to mHealth

From the Business section
By Erin McCann
02:29 PM
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With nearly 26 million Americans living with diabetes – and racking up $245 billion in costs each year – many stakeholders have been looking for innovative ways to help those individuals better keep tabs on their condition. With its new mobile health project, Microsoft is the latest company to offer a diabetes management platform.

The tech titan announced in late August that it was inking a deal with wireless provider TracFone to extend mHealth technology to underserved and high-risk populations, specifically aimed at patients living with diabetes. 

The two companies have teamed up with Miami-based Health Choice Network to launch a pilot program aimed at examining how access to mobile technology affects patient disease-management and outcomes. 

Through the pilot project, HCN will provide smartphones to some 100 patients enrolled in the Care Management Medical Home Center diabetes pilot, complete with short message service abilities and Microsoft's HIPAA-compliant email and messaging communications. Patients will have the ability to access Microsoft's HealthVault, the company's Web-based platform that allows patients to store their protected health information and stay on top of medication adherence.

The platform, officials say, will also allow patients to receive appointment reminders and keep track of glucose levels. 

This is not the only healthcare-related project Microsoft has signed on with, officials note.

"Microsoft is in the process of developing additional pilot projects, but our first one, which is scheduled to launch by the end of the year, will involve Health Choice Network of Miami, Florida," said Steve Aylward, general manager of solutions and strategy for U.S. Health and Life Sciences at Microsoft, in an emailed statement.

Rivals wrangling

Apple, for its part, has given precious little detail about what its much-discussed HealthKit will ultimately look like, though many are expecting a data play, in which HealthKit will essentially be an information hub connecting a range of apps and devices with which patients generate data.

IBM and Apple already have pilots underway at MD Anderson and Sloan Kettering, testing the ways physicians can use Apple devices and Siri to query IBM's Watson for information and recommendations about cancer treatments. 

What's more, the reports of recent discussions with EHR vendor Allscripts, as well as the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins, are adding to the widespread speculation that when Apple unveils its next iPhone in early September, perhaps HealthKit will be part of that rollout.

The road ahead

With the usual pre-announcement Apple rumors swirling, Microsoft kicking off a pilot and promising others and IBM girding to sell its mobile platform and health apps with Apple devices, exactly where these vendors are going is not yet crystal clear, but it is obvious that they're moving deeper into mHealth.

Many observers and insiders are declaring the tech giants' presence a victory for doctors, patients and their families and caregivers – not to mention for mHealth itself.

In a rather unusual move, an official from the Department of Health and Human Services appeared in Microsoft's announcement, quoted in the company's marketing materials saying that tapping into existing and emerging technologies can help improve patient care outcomes and reduce overall costs.

"Combining the power of a smartphone with a personal health record platform that brings disparate data together in a secure environment is an important step toward the goal of providing better patient engagement and more mobile healthcare in the U.S.," said HHS director of health information exchange policy and interoperability Lee Stevens, quoted in Microsoft's press release.

It seems clear that sentiment holds for big vendors as well.