When mHealth and telehealth become 'just healthcare'

By Eric Wicklund
09:26 AM
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mHealth and telehealth: Two popular terms in the healthcare lexicon these days. And two whose days are numbered.

That's what Jonah J. Czerwinski thinks. As the senior advisor to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he leads the VA Center for Innovation, which has seen a wide range of mHealth and telehealth projects introduced these past few years. Speaking Wednesday during the first day of the World Congress on mHealth and Telehealth in Boston, he pointed out that the VA helped roughly 500,000 veterans receive healthcare services through telehealth in 2012, and expects to help more than 600,000 this year with services that span some 44 clinical specialties.

But Czerwinski says this isn't mHealth or telehealth – just the standard of healthcare that the VA expects to use for all of the 23 million American serviceman and women, active and retired.

"It's connected healthcare – no 'tele-,' no 'm-,'" he told an audience of roughly 100 healthcare experts. "This is just healthcare."

"Just healthcare" could be the theme of the three-day event, which brings together the 5th Annual mHealth World Congress and 2nd Annual Telehealth Congress under one roof and one agenda. No longer are they specialties in the healthcare landscape, said the conference's hosts and presenters – they've taken over the landscape.

[Related: Report predicts mHealth market to hit $26B.]

Jay Srini, chief strategist for SCS Ventures and a long-standing expert in the telehealth/mHealth field, says both are "all part of the whole ecosystem." The co-chairperson for this year's event, she pointed out that healthcare is evolving so that even that term – "healthcare" – is becoming obsolete.

"We live in a delicate equilibrium … between illness and wellness," she said, describing a field that is affected as much by socio-economic factors, genetics and family and friends as it is by broken bones, viruses and malignant cells. "We are in a journey in health (that) is beyond the healthcare sector."

"Healthcare is not a transaction. It's not a device. It's an ongoing collaboration," she concluded.

Case in point: Czerwinski pointed out that one of the VA's more promising telehealth projects is the VitaLink home monitoring system, developed by the VA in Salt Lake City from algorithms used in the mining industry to detect when drill bits embedded deep in the earth were stressed out and ready to fail.

Throughout the first day of the conference, speakers and panelists focused on that intersection of "new" and "established," pointing out how smartphones and tablets can and should be used not to duplicate healthcare as it's delivered now, but to present it in a better format, thereby leading to better outcomes. As Jeff Bipes, Medtronic's senior IT manager of enterprise mobility and mHealth design and strategy, pointed out, the axiom is "Do what you should on mobile, not what you can on mobile."

Joseph Kvedar, MD, director of Partners Healthcare's Center for Connected Health, added that mHealth has indeed reached its tipping point because "doctors are thinking different now" about how they use the technology. He noted there's a "comfort level" in the use of such technology because they know there won't be any erosion of quality care and they will be compensated for their time.

More importantly, he said, physicians are learning how to use technology that's become an ordinary part of everyone's life. They're injecting "connected health" into the consumer's routine with as little disruption as possible.

"Mobile is addictive, and we can take advantage of that," he said.

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