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Qualcomm's Jacobs: Mighty Payoff to Mobile Medicine

Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs thinks mobile and wireless technologies have the potential to transform the costly health care industry.

The benefits: earlier patient interventions, reduced medical errors, improved outcomes, lower costs and improved quality of life.

Jacobs sees a consumer-driven future, where we can baseline health status through genetic testing, develop specific therapies to meet individual needs and track vital signs, activity and medication compliance remotely to create a healthier world.

Jacobs discussed the future of digital health with CNBC as part of its Healthy Week coverage.

Part of the challenge facing our health care system is that we have an increasing number of chronic problems that are costly to manage, from obesity to cardiovascular disease. What’s the potential of wireless technology to reduce costs and improve the way we care for patients?

The benefits of mobile and remote monitoring technologies are measurable. Studies have shown that these technologies can reduce mortality rates between 45 percent-69 percent, emergency room admissions between 20 percent-69 percent and even hospital re-admissions between 44 percent-73 percent. That’s particularly meaningful for patients with high cost chronic conditions like congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, for example.

This ability to intervene earlier, lower hospital admissions and reduce medical errors takes costs out of the system. Chronic disease patients currently consume more than three-quarters of the $2.7 trillion spent on health care annually in the United States. Mobile technology makes it easier to manage chronic disease and promises to reduce those costs.

There are some pretty bold predictions out there about the amount of money the U.S. can save on health care with remote monitoring in multiple disease areas. We’ve heard over $200 billion over a 25-year period. When you see 20-30 percent reductions in utilization of health care services in some of our most prevalent and expensive chronic diseases, it’s easy to see how one can reach numbers like that.

How will the technology that you’re developing change the picture of aging as we know it?

Not only do we have a rapidly aging population with nearly 10,000 people turning 65 every day, but also there is a shortage of both physicians and nurses in the U.S. It is estimated that by 2015, there will be a shortage of roughly 683,000 nurses and 63,000 physicians. This will have serious repercussions on those needing care over the next decade.

Between sensors that monitor activity in a home and sensors that monitor an individual’s vital signs, we can now remotely track things like overall health, medication compliance and physical activity. Having that technology and capability is changing the way we view aging. And it’s enabling the elderly to stay in their homes and live independently longer.

In 10 to 20 years, we’ll know so much more about our own risk factors for a large number of diseases and conditions, and we’ll have the tools to take care of ourselves and our loved ones in a much more proactive and intelligent way. We’ll move away from a population-based medicine approach, to one where the individual’s genetics are analyzed and used to drive specific therapies that are personalized to them.

Will our smartphones become the agent for managing our health, much as it has become central to managing the rest of our lives?

Mobile is the largest technology platform in human history. More people now have access to a cell phone network than electricity, running water or even a toothbrush. The scale is tremendous and it’s going to have a profound impact on health care all around the world.

Soon, we’ll be able to combine different types of data like never before. The phone will become a focal point for wirelessly connecting medical devices, diagnostics and sensors, providing near real-time information while improving care.

Medical apps, now at 40,000 and counting, will become more popular in managing an individual’s health as well. Mobile technologies also will intersect with invasive devices, including devices ingested or embedded in the human body.

How will sensor tech converge with smartphones to change care as we know it? Will the future of health monitoring be invisible, seamless, something we don't have to stop to think about?

There have been excellent strides in biometric sensor technology that are spurring the growth of the mobile health industry. Sensors from Entra (for diabetes), Nonin (for blood oxygen and pulse monitoring) and Bodymedia (wearable technology for monitoring activity levels) are just a few examples of wireless technology that take biometric readings that can be viewed on smartphones and tablets through self-tracking dashboard apps.

Innovators like MapMyFitness(training and track fitness), RunKeeper(running and fitness), Noom (weight-loss coaching) and US Preventive Medicine (prevention, early detection and chronic condition management products and services) have found unique ways to leverage the smartphone’s sensors to mimic the phone as a biometric device.

And new entrants —AliveCor(disease management devices),iBGStar(glucose monitoring), Withings (Wi-Fi body scale), iHealth (blood pressure monitoring), DexCom (glucose monitoring with embedded sensors), and Vitadock (blood sugar and blood pressure monitoring) — are transforming smartphones into serious health tracking devices.

Partners and problems


AliveCor really shows how medical devices are coming together with mobile phones to improve quality of life for patients and their families. The company has an ECG device that fits over the back of your smartphone. That gives you the ability to monitor heart activity right on your phone. Our Qualcomm Ventures team has invested in AliveCor through its Qualcomm Life Fund, a $100 million fund with six portfolio companies to date.

What's Qualcomm doing to accelerate mobile health and expand its reach from payers to pharma?

Stethoscope Money
Stethoscope Money

In 2011, we launched a dedicated health care subsidiary called Qualcomm Life to mobilize health care. Our 2net platform is a wireless hub and service that enables users to transmit device readings and information to caregivers and physicians on a secure cloud-based platform. We’re working with over 100 customers and collaborators. We’re supporting medical device vendors and health and fitness vendors on new embedded cellular solutions, enabling devices to seamlessly transmit health and fitness information.

We’re also helping to develop apps for some of our customers. One example is our work on an application called Macaw, from US Preventive Medicine. It takes a series of data readings and combines them to give the user an overall health score, and this is similar to the FICO or credit score that indicates our financial health. Qualcomm Life also recently launched an app development challenge, allowing developers to access anonymized biometric data to create new applications for consumers and patients.

And we’re accelerating mobile health efforts through different investment channels.

How could wireless transform pharma, from compliance to clinical trials?

The ability to remotely monitor a patient’s adherence to a medication clearly has significant implications for the pharmaceutical industry, especially when you consider that as many as 75 percent of patients fail to adhere to prescribed treatment regimens, adding up to $300 billion each year to U.S. medical costs.

Clinical development of new drugs is extremely expensive, and it is late-stage clinical trials that drive a significant portion of that cost. Ensuring that patients are compliant with trial protocol is a major goal.

One of the biggest challenges and costs associated with clinical trials is the need for patients to regularly visit the clinic to report their results. Allowing patients to report remotely increases the speed of information, the accuracy of the results and encourages more people to participate in the trial because they can do it all from home.

How important is health care to the future of Qualcomm?

Health care is one of the largest industries in the world, representing nearly 18 percent of GDP in the U.S. alone. Wireless technologies can help transform health care, making it more efficient and less costly.

Health care is a global issue that is having a major impact on both developed and developing nations. Standard & Poor's recently indicated that it would take action on the G-20 nations if those countries did not get better control of their health care expenses by 2015.

Chronic disease is now the leading cause of death in many developing countries worldwide. Wireless and mobile health technologies have the potential to make a dramatic impact in not only improving care, but also bringing care to those that have never had access to it before.

What we’re beginning to witness in health care is the concept of convergence, where different technologies are beginning to merge with one another. Whether it might involve an implantable biochip or a genomics app, there are exciting examples out there where different health care segments are coming together to spawn new industries.

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