Joe Kvedar’s drive to get personal

October 17, 2014 in Medical Technology

Joseph C. Kvedar, MD, is the founder and director of the Center for Connected Health, a division of Partners HealthCare in Boston. An internationally recognized author of more than 90 publications on digital and connected health, he serves as a strategic advisor for Qualcomm Life, the West Health Institute, Puretech Ventures and BD Technologies and is a mentor at Blueprint Health and Rock Health. He is also a judge for the President’s Challenge for Entrepreneurship hosted by the Harvard Innovation Lab.

Q. What’s the one promise of mHealth that will drive the most adoption over the coming year?

A. We are now beyond the ‘someday’ phase, with major players, healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies embracing mobile and connected health technologies. Innovations like Apple’s HealthKit, as well as new offerings from Samsung, Microsoft and Google and partnerships between organizations like Epic and the Mayo Clinic are really upping everyone’s game.

Providers are also now embracing mHealth strategies to engage patients in their health and wellness and support positive behavior change, particularly in chronic disease management. At the same time, pharmaceutical and biotech companies are breaking new ground and starting to integrate mobile health technologies in clinical trial support, as well as patient engagement, medication adherence and loyalty programs.

Q. What mHealth technology will become ubiquitous in the next 5 years? Why?

A. The drive to increase efficiencies, best manage resources and improve clinical workflow is paramount. So the application of mHealth technologies to facilitate online patient appointments, bill paying and other administrative functions will most certainly become widespread.


Q. What’s the most cutting-edge application you’re seeing now? What other innovations might we see in the near future?

A. I’ve been talking a lot about the need to create a ‘frictionless’ user experience. What I mean by that is a device should not need a user manual, and you should be able to pull it out of the box, use it, and it works great. We have to make personal health technologies very user-friendly. Uber is a perfect example of a frictionless user experience.

Q. What mHealth tool or trend will likely die out or fail?

A. As part of my assertion that we need to create ‘frictionless’ technology, I also contend that apps or mHealth programs that require patients to input their own data will not succeed in the long run.

In just one example, from a blood pressure monitoring study we conducted at the Center of Connected Health, we had difficulty getting patients to push one button once a day to participate in a program their doctor enthusiastically recommended for them.

We are learning a great deal about how to empower patients to self-manage their health, and what to do with all of this patient-generated data. The common denominator, the one critical element we must get right, is how to ‘sell’ health to consumers and keep them coming back for more. I believe it’s got to be personal, motivational and ubiquitous.

Q. What mHealth tool or trend has surprised you the most, either with its success or its failure?

A. The mHealth market is exploding, with estimates predicting the market will reach $49 billion by 2020. Investors are jumping in with both feet. And huge consumer companies are converging, particularly around the intersection of mHealth and wearables, with the smartwatch as one example. We just coined a new term, the Internet of (Healthy) Things, to describe this convergence.

But is this irrational exuberance? I’m still cautiously optimistic.

Q. What’s your biggest fear about mHealth? Why?

A. I hope that developers don’t assume that what works in the consumer industries can just be applied to mobile health. In healthcare, we can’t just ‘give people what they want.’ The challenge in healthcare is that, though we know what patients/consumers need to do to improve their health, most of them don’t want to hear about it. That makes building ‘sticky’ health apps and devices much tougher than a messaging or photo sharing app, like Instagram or Snapchat.

Over the past 20 years I’ve seen technologies come and go, trends take hold and others fade away. We are learning a great deal about how to empower patients to self-manage their health, and what to do with all of this patient-generated data. The common denominator, the one critical element we must get right, is how to ‘sell’ health to consumers and keep them coming back for more. I believe it’s got to be personal, motivational and ubiquitous.

[See also: My wish list for Apple’s HealthKit initiative.]

Q. Who’s going to push mHealth “to the next level” – consumers, providers or some other party?

A. As we’ve discussed, traditional consumer companies are making a significant commitment to entering the personal connected health space. When these consumer giants put their know-how and marketing muscle behind these technologies, we will most certainly see mHealth catapulted to the next level.

Q. What are you working on now?

A. At the Center for Connected Health, we have dozens of research programs underway, including mobile health, remote monitoring, social media and video-based interventions, as well as clinical trial programs evaluating connected health programs, devices and technologies. Our consulting team is also working with a number of leading companies and innovative startups who are developing products or services for the connected health market.  It’s an exciting time and we’re delighted to be right in the thick of it.

This article first appeared on mHealth News, a sister publication of Healthcare IT News.

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