Patricia Mechael, mHealth Alliance executive director, shares her vision of mobile health, the role of NFC and startups in it, and “social science of technology”.
Do you think that NFC is the technology that can be successfully implemented in health care and, if so, for what purposes?
Absolutely. In health care you deal a lot with personal health information and privacy and security are extremely critical. We at the mHealth Alliance are now finishing a review of privacy and security legislation at the global level and in seven countries. One of the recommendations that came out of this research is actually to embed the security in the devices so that any transformed information is secured and so that people have control over both the transformation of and access to the data. For example, only one’s health care provider should have access to one’s health information, unless the person decides that someone else should have access to it, as well. For this reason, I think that there could be a lot of interesting applications of NFC to health.
We are now moving into a situation where a lot of people take control over their health records, create their own personal health files and choose who should have access to them. But we need technology to keep pace with these changes. So your health provider has to have special technology to accept data from your mobile device, while you have to have a technology to transfer that data in a secure way.
What is the main sphere for NFC implementation? Is it personal health data management or are there also other needs, for example, improvement of monitoring devices?
NFC can definitely be used for remote monitoring. Any kind of sensor technology which allows for sending health information that can be traced back to an individual is very useful. This takes us to the concept of the “internet of things”, which is broader than just interactions with mobile phones.
What are the main challenges for establishing the internet of things in the health care industry?
One of the major challenges is ID management. We do not have standardised mechanisms for identification. There is no personal health ID that would enable almost everything. Secondly, there are security and legislation issues. The use of the technology is dependent on the legal framework in each particular country.
Who are the actors that stimulate technology breakthroughs across health?
There is now an increasing demand for mobile technologies coming from multiple channels. For example, in developing countries the demand is coming from the governments themselves because they see it as an opportunity to organise health care in a different way. I think that pharmaceutical companies will constitute the second major economic buyer in the ecosystem. There are always pharmaceutical products somehow attached to health service delivery and there is a real interest in improving supply chain management and medical devices. Thirdly, I feel that citizens themselves are going to drive the use of these technologies, simply by shifting to taking their health into their own hands.
Do you consider that NFC and contactless technologies can become the key technologies in health care?
I think they can become key technologies, given that privacy and security are becoming more and more important. But certain regulations have to be changed for this to happen.
What advice would you give to startups that aim to implement NFC and contactless technologies in the health industry?
I used to advise the Ministry of Communications and IT in Egypt on their incubation projects and their startups. When I talked to the incubators who worked on health-related technology, the problem was that they have never spent time with the patients who would be the ultimate users of their technology. But to me, doing ethnographic work is critical in order to clearly understand how users think and feel, and how to best design and position technology. So I think that user-centric design is one area that is particularly important in the health space. When you deal with people in challenging health situations, you often face mental and psychosocial health issues. For such people it is just hard to hear: “You have diabetes and now we want you to use this technology”.
Using design-thinking approaches is very important. I was involved as an advisor for a project in South Africa around HIV. The aim of the project was to get more people to be tested and counselled. The focus was mostly on mobile health technologies. However, after some ethnographic work, the design team found out that the major challenge was that people did not want to go to the testing sites, despite all the efforts to increase their awareness. The reason for that is probably discrimination happening when you go to a clinic to get tested because people then assume that you have HIV. So finally, the product that ended up being designed was a home testing kit so that people can test themselves in their homes. Now a large pharma group is working on this product, which is highly likely to succeed because it gets to the heart of why people do not want to get tested.
My advice to startups would be this: provide as much value and support to people and design products that just make their lives easier. Make sure that you are taking into consideration the larger system, or ecosystem, into which some of these technologies have to integrate. Issues such as standards and interoperability are very important. Regarding public and private partnerships, it is crucial to engage all the relevant stakeholders. Additionally, you should deal with policy issues such as privacy and security. These are some of the aspects of any technology that are often forgotten or overlooked. I call it a social science of technology, which is just as important and sometimes even more important than the technological product itself.
Date of the interview: 29.05.2013
See the entire infographic here: http://visual.ly/mhealth
Other opinions about NFC in health industry
Koichi Tagawa, NFC Forum Chairman, believes that NFC in health care is, first of all, about remote monitoring of your health conditions which allows to connect monitoring devices to a network. He explains it in this video. NFC Forum considers health care to be one of the five key markets for NFC implementation.
Chuck Parker, Continua Health Alliance executive director, who is also supervising the special interest group formed by NFC Forum, thinks that ‘NFC could become the standard channel for getting data out of devices and into health IT data systems’. Thus, there are claims that NFC could become a key interoperability technology in mobile health market. For example, Imprivata CEO Omar Hussain sees NFC as a potential game-changer.
The optimism about successful use of NFC in health care is indeed fostered by such projects as the development of NFC medication tracking system by Harvard Medical School or the release of NFC phone for monitoring home visits made by care workers. In Startupbootcamp, we are inspired by such examples and we believe that health care is one of the spheres where NFC can bring true value.
Are you working on an innovative solution which uses NFC or other contactless technologies? Apply to our NFC & Contactless Interactions program and grow your startup! Pitch to us on Skype or live in Amsterdam on June, 19 or July, 22.