Electronic medical records (EMR) are already moving into the cloud. But devices makers, hospitals, and even some patients, want more. With large investments that have made digital storage relatively free, corporations like Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and Apple have made big bets on the cloud. No matter what your mhealth device of preference, the cloud is the backbone. But we're a ways away from even having the totality of our most basic data on the cloud. What would it take for us to get our health data there? A panel of experts at USC's Body Computing Conference 2013 shared some of their insights into what a healthcare-based cloud would need to catch on with doctors and, more importantly, with patients.
1. ) It Has to be About Data, Not Devices
All panelists agreed: it's not about the hardware. Sensors and other devices are a means to an end. The real value is “how data is collected, what other streams, [and] what insights can be found from the data,” said venture capitalist Missy Krasner, a founding member of Google Health and currently managing director, healthcare & lifesciences at Box, a cloud-based storage provider. Smartphones and wearable sensors are viable products, but they aren't for everyone and they may not even be the primary way in which health data is collected. As the so-called Internet of Things grows larger, companies will be given an ever-growing quantity of data from individuals.
Panelists discuss "Who will win the mHealth Cloud" at USC's Body Computing Conference 2013
Image via Twitter user @ManeeshJuneja
David Rhew, chief medical officer and VP of global healthcare at Samsung SDS, talked about the need to make all of this personal data relevant. What will we learn when every part of our home, from our floor to our refrigerator, is capable of collecting data on us? “Not everyone is the same and not everyone has the same usage,” Rhew said. “What we need to figure out is what is it that people touch every day, what is it they do every day, and how data from these things can be made relevant.” For Rhew, being able to filter the plethora of patient data will be crucial to the mhealth cloud's efficacy.
2.) It Needs to be Shareable and Transferable
Right now consumer-level cloud sharing, from Google Drive and Dropbox, to even sites like Instagram and Facebook are very insular. Good luck getting your data seamlessly from one cloud to another without some sort of intermediary. The panelists believe that the healthcare cloud needs to take a lesson from EMRs and learn from its mistakes.
The issues with EMRs is that they need to be open. Right now there's no coordinated workflow and they're not social. It leaves patients, doctors, and hospitals without easy access to data and often creates redundant sets of data. “If [FDA] had told us we want the data in this certain format, we'd have a standard now,” Krasner said of concerns over why there is no standard today. Sean Nolan, chief architect at Microsoft HealthVault noted that within all this there will still be a need for patient privacy and HIPAA compliance, which the panelists agreed but said there is also a consideration toward educating patients about the usage of the cloud. “There's a perception among patients that everyone is looking at their data,” Krasner said. It's a fear that companies and doctors will need to educate patients against.
Mark Thirman, VP of indirect channels and partnerships at Vodaphone, added that there are also technology considerations to be made. Thirman stressed that while U.S.-centric companies tend to thing of things in terms of high speed 4G, it's important to remember that much of the world isn't there yet. “It's a 2G world, not even 3G,” he said. So a big part of this user experience, particularly on a global scale is “looking at getting the signal out and sampling the data.”
3.) It Needs to be Personal
“How many of you use weight watchers?” Krasner asked the audience. Her point was to illustrate that a successful healthcare cloud would be similar – a personalized experience that is interactive and gives accurate information.
Building on this point Don Jones, VP of global strategy and market development at Qualcomm Life, stressed that cloud technology also needs to be sane and simple he encourages developers to “ask yourself, would my mom use this?” Rhew echoed this statement, calling for “ a seamless user experience and operability” in the mhealth cloud.
While every company of course has its own strategy, what the panelists saw was a need for a coherent vision and a singular view of cloud-based solutions
. It's not yet time for companies to fight for points and percentages of the mhealth cloud just yet. What's going to determine how the cloud progresses is how this viewpoint is established and adopted. Jones perhaps summed it best in his comment on how Qualcomm Life views the collection of data and users. "We see bodies and organs as nodes on the net,” he said.