Health IT

Why mHealth hasn’t created an Instagram (yet)

Every app developer dreams of creating the next Instagram.

The 13-employee company’s $1 billion acquisition by Facebook made tech rock stars out of its founders and essentially proved what plenty of people have been predicting for awhile – the mobile Internet is about to explode (if it already hasn’t) and it’s going to be huge.

In healthcare, it’s no different. The mobile health movement has generated huge buzz over the last several years with its promise of bringing better, more personalized care at a cheaper cost to a wider number of engaged consumers.

So it’s only natural to wonder if and when mHealth will give birth to its own Instagram.


It hasn’t happened yet but it’s “a virtual certainty” that it will, said Rick Valencia, vice president and general manager of Qualcomm Life and a 25-year technology veteran.

“Right now, we have nichey stuff, like apps for extreme athletes or for overweight folks who want to diet,” Valencia said. “We don’t have the types of things where everyone says, ‘All of us have to have this now.'”

Before the mHealth movement can get to that point, two key challenges need to be overcome, according to Valencia.

First, we need advances that make sensor technology “more pervasive and more ambient” to better capture a range of human physiological data. That could be more sensors in mobile phones and sensors embedded in the body to track biomarkers that could indicate early warnings signs for disease.

“People don’t want to be watching over their devices, they want their devices to be watching over them,” Valencia said.

Second, there needs to be huge sets of human physiological data available to software developers who can play around with the information and figure out ways of creating new apps that will help users improve their health.

The algorithms those developers write will make sense of the physiological data gathered by sensors and guide users of an app toward behavior that improves their health. The key is access to reams of data so developers can write those algorithms.

That’s where Qualcomm Life’s 2net cloud-based open-source technology platform comes in. 2net allows for the wireless capture of data from medical devices. The data is then stored in a central hub. Developers can access this wide range of medical device data from the 2net data center.

Valencia thinks 2net can solve the “access to data” challenge.

So what might healthcare’s killer app look like?

“It’s going to tell you what to do next,” Valencia said.

If it’s a weight loss app, it’ll tell users exactly what they can be doing to lose weight as often as they want it to, for example. If it’s an app for diabetics, it’ll tell users exactly what they need to do at any given moment to healthy maintain blood glucose levels.

“There is no lack of technology, and no lack of human physiological data,” Valencia said. “The issue is bringing it together and making it accessible so we can begin to create the killer app.”

And when might that happen?

“If a killer healthcare app is not developed in the next several years, then we’ll have failed at our mission,” he said. “And we’re not going to fail at our mission.”