The Perils of eHealth

Posted in Mobile Health by Jamie Hartford on August 21, 2013

Qualcomm Life's Don Jones weighs in on the downside of technologies that enable patients to take more control over their healthcare.


In an exclusive interview with MD+DI, Don Jones, vice president of global strategy and market development for Qualcomm Life, the wireless health arm of telecommunications giant Qualcomm, discussed a range of e-health issues, including the genesis of ehealth, mobile health apps that work, and ehealth in the United States versus the EU.

In this installment, he covered the perils of ehealth.

MD+DI: What are some of the dangers of empowering patients to take more control over their care through ehealth?

Jones: That all depends on who’s looking at what. Legitimate or not, the one fear is that the consumer who takes over more [healthcare] management doesn’t recognize appropriately when he needs the help of the professional. I believe we could come up with any number of scenarios where that might happen. But, frankly, that happens anyway. People delay connecting with their healthcare providers all the time. That’s a normal occurrence. The fact that they’re engaged, I suspect, actually will cause them to probably engage with their healthcare provider more appropriately rather than less appropriately in the long run if we actually study this.

Another fear is that it causes them to overengage. In other words, now that they’re into self-management, they actually want to engage more with the healthcare providers, and the healthcare providers say, “I don’t want to deal with every little interaction.” I would argue that the healthcare providers can’t have it both ways.

There are all kinds of nuanced reasons why people wouldn’t want to compare it necessarily in this way, but a retailer would want to engage the customers as appropriately as possible so they consume as much as possible, right? In the case of healthcare, we probably want to engage the customer base so [there are] informed customers and they consume as much as is appropriate. The problem is that we’ve built a system that deals only with sick care. If we apply [connected health] and say we really need a system that deals with well care and sickness is just a derivative of that, then you’re back into a retail situation that says I want to engage people as much as possible so they consume as much as possible. You correct that error in the system that says we deal only with sick care, and we might inappropriately try to deliver too much sick care if we engage the people. But if we rephrase it so what they really want to buy is health and not healthcare and occasionally they need healthcare, it’ll correct itself. But we’ve got a ways to go to get to that kind of utopia in our healthcare system.

MD+DI: You’re touching on the benefits and drawbacks of social media in general.

Jones: The big opportunity is an engaged population that should be able to self-manage more and, as a result, become more compliant with their healthcare. And more compliance with physician recommendations should result in better health status.

That should result in a happier situation with all stakeholders: the payer, the physician, the patient, and so on. A lot of physicians are frustrated with the system on all fronts, and theoretically a more engaged clientele that’s willing to actively participate in managing their healthcare will make more physicians happier. Not all of them, but happier because they feel like they’re in a collaboration as opposed to a one-way conversation.

Finally, there are a lot of errors in healthcare. If you have access to your record or chart, the chances are you’re going to find those errors and help start correcting them. Right now there’s not much transparency, and if we can bring more transparency to consumers, then they are going to volunteer to their healthcare providers when things are incorrect. I think there’s a hidden opportunity there that comes out of the transparency issues.

MD+DI: That applies to Europe as well?

Jones: Absolutely.

John Conroy is a frequent contributor to MD+DI. Reach him at


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