Qualcomm (Second) Life: a conversation with Jim Mault

One of the surprises for this Editor, and for others attending the mHealth Summit, was to see the sizable presence of Qualcomm Life on both the exposition floor and during the sessions. From a near-nil presence at ATA 2014 and gone dark on news, the floodlights snapped on last week with new partners and a new emphasis: coordination of chronic and transitional (hospital to home) care management (CCM/TCM).

On the show floor, the spotlight was on the partner companies which mixed the established with (mostly) the early and mid-stage. Readers will recognize names such as AliveCor, Telcare, OMRON, Nonin and Airstrip; not so well known are Vaica, Orion Health, Monitored Therapeutics, IMPak Health, Vital Connect, Care Connectors, toSense (CoVa), Dexcom, InteliChart, TruClinic, ForaCare, VOXX, vitaphone (outside of Europe), Propeller Health and Noom Health (a NYeC Digital Health Accelerator 2014 graduate). The partners occupy different parts of the management continuum, integrating communications, record sharing, population health management, sensor-based monitoring, traditional and non-traditional vital signs monitoring, medication management, behavioral change methodologies and PHRs. The 2net Hub is still present for data transmission, sharing and storage, but more prominent is Qualcomm Life’s HealthyCircles platform which provides the clinical management ‘glue’: secure communications, record sharing and care team coordination. HealthyCircles was purchased in mid-2013. Founder James Mault, MD, FACS joined Qualcomm Life as VP/Chief Medical Officer.

We had some post-mHealth Summit reflection time by telephone this Wednesday while Dr Mault was in Boston.

I asked first about how quiet Qualcomm Life was this year, particularly at ATA. He attributed the lack of ATA presence to timing decisions, as it came right after HIMSS and the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance (WLSA) meeting (Qualcomm is a WLSA founding partner). A lot of their energies were focused around building out their partnerships, including those on a global basis. They are not diminishing their support for ATA which has been substantial over years.

Why the change in approach? I commented that in recent years, mention Qualcomm among the digihealtherati and the response would be chipsets, hub and hardware, though the 2net hub was about healthcare connectivity. He then commented on why providers haven’t found connectivity to be enough, and what they really want:

Dr Mault: The reality is that device connectivity is one piece of the puzzle. Qualcomm Life initially launched 2net, and the device ecosystem has continued to build. Despite that, providers need more than to be handed connectivity solutions. If we place the burden on them to piece it together, it won’t happen; it’s not what they do. Qualcomm Life started to see a need for a more complete solution. Acquiring HealthyCircles was an important part of going from tech widget to a more complete solution.

Providers want solutions managing chronic disease and preventing patients from winding up back in the hospital. It’s not about connectivity but a solution: not only collecting data, but also communicating and coordinating with a virtual care team. We also have to connect with the people who are interested in paying for it.

About that global basis…will this approach be viable internationally? The variety of health and payment systems ex-US, as well as demographics, have defeated more than one entrant with the best intentions (and, we can add, vice versa). Qualcomm Life has set up dedicated international teams and is also relying on their internationally based partners such as Japan’s OMRON, Israel’s Vaica and Germany’s vitaphone. “What is interesting is that global companies working with us not only have ‘feet on the ground’, but also give us the benefit of their local insights.” Their international timetable centers on North America (US/Canada and possibly Mexico) and Western Europe + UK this year and early 2016, with Australia, Japan and the ASEAN countries in 2016 and after.

We ended with the ‘crystal ball question’. One week out from mHealth Summit, what did Dr Mault now see as the forecast for 2015-16? 2015 is, to him ‘the year of going forward’. If that sounds anodyne, this wasn’t:

Most important, it’s the beginning of the end of ‘death by pilot’. We are seeing less and less interest in the market wanting to do pilots, where they don’t have a budget or a plan. This is good news that they are evaporating. In their place, we are actually seeing legitimate plans and budgets for enterprise-wide telehealth and telemedicine initiatives.

What has been implemented with hundreds of patients will now be thousands; there will be rollouts of telehealth programs in terms of tens of thousands, even to hundreds of thousands. There will be global deals and multi-billion dollar companies moving forward.

He sees a reluctance to place big bets on startups, with far more interest in investing and advancing existing solutions and content. A caveat: no one yet has done this on enough scale to be perfected.

And one last prediction: they’ll be more Qualcomm Life announcements after the New Year, timed around International CES 6-9 January.

Many thanks to Dr Mault and to Emily Friedman of WCG for organizing the call.

Editor’s note: If one believes that Dr Mault is not being realistic about the numbers, PERS alone in North America is a billion dollar business (Frost & Sullivan, year 2013) with subscribers on average paying $35/month. In Europe the market for what is increasingly called technology enabled care services or TECS already serves hundreds of thousands by country. This recent Tunstall release has some intriguing (for the US) details: in Spain, Tunstall Televida assists over 245,000 users. The Spanish Telecare system uses telecare proactively adding outbound IVR. The instance here is how Barcelona Provincial Council’s system integrates personal medication reminders, information about nutrition, social and health issues, and intervention in cases of extreme temperature and natural disasters. The technology is already there to make the Spanish approach dated. The conditions still cluster around the FBQs which this Editor has kicked around since 2010 and hopes one day to put to rest: who pays, how much, who’s looking at the data, who’s actioning it, how data is integrated into patient records and workflow.

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