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Tech entrepreneurs gather to talk health and apps

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With the advent of electronic medical records, doctors can now access a patient’s health history with the click of a mouse. And now, as smartphones become ubiquitous, a wave of new entrepreneurs is working to harness e-health care and bring it to patient’s mobile device.

Tech entrepreneurs, doctors and investors gathered at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, on Thursday for the Mobile Health Convention 2011, or mHealthcon. The conference was focused on how the use of mobile devices, apps and platforms can help improve patient health and patient/physician communication, and ultimately lower the cost of health care.

Tom Wheeler, chairman of the mHealth Alliance Partnership, which works to use mobile devices to improve health care in the developing world, kicked off the event with a keynote address on the power of mobile technology.

Wheeler said mobile technology has the power to transform health care, and he said tech entrepreneurs are equipped to make that transformation happen.

“I don’t understand anything about medicine, but I do understand the concept of collecting information, digitizing, transmitting and manipulating that information,” he said.

Marrying the collection of health data with wireless connectivity can mean new health care options for people who aren’t able to get to a doctor, he said.

At a panel discussion on startups, four mobile health entrepreneurs talked about their experiences building companies based on mobile health technology.

Serge Loncar, president and CEO of CareSpeak, in East Brunswick, urged startup entrepreneurs to get data to back up their product’s usefulness and value.

“I’d say anybody in this space needs to create a prototype really fast and find a doctor who wants to test it with you and get that data,” he said.

CareSpeak offers text messaging tools, which can facilitate communication with doctors or send patients reminders to take a pill. He said insurers have embraced the technology faster than pharmaceutical firms.

“The payers are more progressive, which I didn’t expect going into this,” said Loncar, who used to work for Johnson & Johnson.

Gopal Chopra, CEO of PingMD, which produces an app aimed at parents, said it can take a long time to find a client base, due to issues such as regulatory fears and the difficulty of communicating a value proposition when a chief benefit of many mobile products is prevention or avoided health care costs.

The morning also included a consumer-focused discussion looking at how apps could help people with specific conditions, and whether patients would actually embrace the technology.

Amy Gurowitz, a patient advocate, blogger and radio host with multiple sclerosis, said applications that offer patients an individualized experience have the best chance of success.

“In terms of the customization, my experience with apps that I’ve used is that they really kind of pigeonhole you,” she said.

That can be frustrating to MS patients, she said, because one patient’s experience with the disease can vary widely from another patient’s.

Gurowitz said she asked her Facebook followers which health apps, if any, they used. Only one of the roughly 20 responders used any app at all, she said.

Still, Casey Quinlan, who wrote a book about her experience being diagnosed with cancer, said the potential for mobile health solutions is high, because patients bring their mobile phones with them everywhere.

“If it’s easy, and I can do it with this,” said Quinlan, holding up her own smartphone, “I’ll do it.”

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