Do we need mHealth to communicate the benefits of connecting everything?

Reading this Sunday Times article by Bryan Appleyard on Google’s IO Developer Conference and although I disagree with much that he’s written (especially the bit about Google “fighting for survival” in mobile) I think it highlights the importance of adding meaning and establishing trust before much of this tech talk can make sense and generate interest.

I think it’s quite obvious that mHealth offers the easiest way to create this so I thought it would be interesting to translate the text into what it could be if Google where to let a mHealth focus take the lead:

Stephen Rosenthal gestures at a tiny electronic gizmo in a planter.“This plant,” he says, “tweets.” “It what?” “Tweets.” “Oh, ah.” Plants tweet here — mainly about whether they need watering — and there’s a space rocket in the garden, also moss on the walls being trained into some kind of living fresco. Inside, people are high on Coke, San Miguel, doughy sandwiches and gadgets, all of which are “cool”. The big screens are still streaming the hard sell from San Francisco into the little screens of the laptops that glow in the gloom. From there, the sell leaps at the speed of light to tech blogs, mags, Twitter, Facebook, to be analysed by geeks and translated for the rest of us into the manifesto of a better world. Well, a different one, in which people lounge on sofas as doughy as their bread rolls, stroke tablet computers, chill to music from the Cloud — the banks of computers where your music is stored — through a grey ball, and check “notifications” on a mobile phone

Stephen Rosenthal gestures at a smoke/CO alarm, door bell buzzer, a parking meter, an AED cabinet, a keyless ambulance, some conventional looking home heating switches and a life saving implantable medical device. “These are now all connected”. From there, the story leaps at the speed of light to tech blogs, mags, Twitter, Facebook, from where it’s then analysed by everyone as they discuss the opportunities this opens up. In a breakfast slot with ABC News Dr Eric Topol states “This is exactly what I meant by the Creative Destruction of Medicine“, Andrew Lansley the British Health Minister talks to the BBC about how these innovations are going to be a key part of his vision for the future of the NHS.

Not far from the City’s gilded palaces of sin, near Old Street Tube station, now known as Silicon Roundabout, is Campus, a nondescript building taken over by Google and turned into a geek hive. Space and facilities are offered to tech start-ups, either generously or because Google wants to keep an eye on them. Who knows? This company whose motto is “Don’t be evil” has, these days, a chequered record when it comes to evil. More of that later

In the nerve centre of the London Ambulance service we’re shown the latest implementation of Google Enterprise’s cloud based productivity software. On a single screen I’m shown the status of every single Emergency AED in London. Details reveal the make/model, remaining battery life, whether the cabinets emergency “Break Glass” is intact, the nearest qualified paramedic and whether they are on or off duty (more than 3,000 NHS Doctors in London use a location aware smartphone app when they are off duty that can mobilise them if/when needed!). Some of them seem to be moving very quickly across the map. The staff member tells me this is actually a police car that carries an AED and at least one of it’s occupants is a trained EMR (Emergency medical responder).

Over on the frontline I see the teams who used to man telephones looking at screens: Londoners are the first citizens in the world to be able to make mobile video calls in an emergency. I’m shown how the NHS is using these to accurately identify caller locations so they can effectively locate qualified personnel to respond, they also have facial recognition technology that is enabling these Healthcare professionals to access the summary care records of patients who have asked for their NHS and HealthVault medical records to be securely shared in the event of an emergency.

Over a cup of coffee before I get to go out on the roads one of the emergency medical dispatchers tells me about how having this information saved the life of a patient this morning but that it makes them feel bad about all those lives lost before they had this tech when they had so little information about and “couldn’t even see the patients they were trying to help”.

The problem Web 3.0 poses is this: unless mobile advertising can be made to work, then it is unclear how Web 2.0 companies can make serious money. Facebook acknowledged the fact in the documents relating to its recent, disastrous, stock-exchange launch. Buried in there was this little bombshell: “We do not currently directly generate any meaningful revenue from the use of Facebook mobile products, and our ability to do so successfully is unproven

The change is clear. Google is no longer a company that’s just about advertising. By integrating that content we as citizens all use without thinking into cloud based services for enterprise Google is unleashing huge new value for businesses and in the case of the NHS for the health of citizens. Ambulances find the quickest routes using real time traffic data, parking places are reserved ahead of ambulances arriving, turn by turn navigation on foot + street view and all the paramedics need to wear is a pair of protective glasses!

Privacy will not go away and that geeky laid-backness may continue to be a problem. A peculiar form of autism afflicts geeks. They often simply do not understand the entirely reasonable concerns non-geeks have about technology. Page, for example, was once asked about the future of internet search. “It will be included in people’s brains,” he replied. “When you think about something and don’t know too much about it, you will automatically get useful information.” Yuk. Then there is the chairman, Eric Schmidt, who makes chilling remarks about children having “two states: asleep or online”. So no looking at real trees and stuff? Schmidt also speaks of an “augmented humanity” emerging from our connected devices. Augmented by whom?

I used to have real concerns about the idea of an “augmented humanity” but it’s when you’re out with the paramedics in an Ambulance attending to patients that you begin to appreciate the difference all this tech is having.

Jane’s been a paramedic with the London Ambulance Service for 12 years and has really taken to the new tech: “Sometimes it’s the simple stuff like when you need a bag of frozen peas and the glasses tell you there’s a shop across the road that sells them but at other times it’s amazing, I mean I don’t actually know all this stuff that I’m doing but when I put these glasses on and the patient records appear, the camera automatically analyses the patients skin pallor or turgor when I gently pinch their forearm, I get to see decision support tools and I can video conference live with colleagues back at base and really it’s like I’m super human and there’s an infinitely wise and all knowing emergency room consultant within me!”

Now the geeks, and perhaps even Schmidt, are beginning to understand, and most observers say things are improving. “I think, in the long term, privacy is not a fatal flaw in their plan,” says Dr Ian Brown of the Oxford Internet Institute. “It is perfectly possible to develop tools and businesses while taking privacy into account.”

I’ve been in the tech industry for 20 years and considered myself to be one of the most obstinant privacy advocates in the main stream media. I vividly remember the colossal expensive failures of NHS patient record services like HealthSpace or the countless other times when the healthcare industry would design things around outcomes that simply didn’t matter to patients. This one’s different and it’s great to see that it’s no longer a discussion of whether things should be set as “opt out by default” or any of that rubbish as this clearly shows that when you create value and enhance patient safety people will vote with their feet (80% of Londoners already have).

After a day getting to see it for myself I went straight home and registered my entire family. For one thing I know I’ll sleep a little better in September when my daughter leaves home to go to University in London…

So what do you think? With £3.95 Billion in UK profits it could certainly afford to give away a some mHealth innovations to help create some Healthcare industry showcases of its tech…

About David Doherty
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3 Responses to Do we need mHealth to communicate the benefits of connecting everything?

  1. Pingback: Do we need mHealth to communicate the benefits of connecting ... | Doctors 2.0 & You |

  2. Pingback: Apple is selling 2/3 of all it’s devices in the UK Healthcare market through a relationship with a single mHealth App Developer « mHealth Insight: the blog of 3G Doctor

  3. Pingback: Did the NFC technology focus cause Samsung to miss out on the biggest ever TV opportunity for mHealth? « mHealth Insight: the blog of 3G Doctor

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