The mHealth Summit is the largest annual gathering dedicated to mHealth in the world and convenes a global group of researchers, health professionals & industry. As a media partner for the Summit, iMedicalApps will be presenting an exclusive series of interviews with keynote and prominent speakers titled “mHealth leaders speak to iMedicalApps” between now and the December meeting.

The West Wireless Health Institute (WWHI) has emerged one of a few highly innovative organizations catalyzing growth in wireless health through the aggressive investment in talent and technology. In this iMedicalApps interview with Don Casey, CEO of West Wireless Health Institute, I asked him what he foresaw as the major breakthroughs in consumer health technology over the next 5-10 years and, to Mr Casey’s credit, I am able sum up his vision for you in three words – infrastructure independent care.

The interview with Mr. Casey took place prior to the announcement of the West Health Investment Fund this past week, so I was unfortunately unable to ask him details about the fund’s investment strategy or about their initial portfolio. In my opinion, the fund takes everything WWHI is trying to accomplish to the next level, by allowing them to get into the business of providing risk capital to entrepreneurs and technologies they believe fit well within the infrastructure independent care model they are developing.

In his new dual role as Managing Director of the West Health Fund and CEO of WWHI, Don Casey has clearly emerged as one of the 2-3 most important individuals driving the future of digital medicine. Look for big things to come out of the initiatives under his direction.

[editor’s note-the following interview has been edited]

iMA: Why are you participating in the mHealth Summit and what do you hope to get out of it ?

Don Casey: We felt participation in the first year was important for us as a learning experience and this year we are spending a lot of time and energy around participating in different panels. We have a booth that will be very significant there just because we believe it’s a unique opportunity to engage a cross-section of important stakeholders from government to industry groups. We are very excited to be a part of the mHealth Summit and are looking forward to learning and sharing our experiences in Washington this December.

iMA: What are the near term, mid-term and long term prospects for the business of mobile health?

Don Casey: I think the business of mobile health reached a critical mass about a year ago. You can see this in the growth of the number of health apps in the Apple App Store, somewhere near 13,000, you can see the growth in the Android marketplace, which is a bit more consumer oriented, you can see it in medical professional and clinical arenas as you see organizations like Continua take hold, and importantly you can see venture capital starting to change, whether its Patrick Soon-Shiong, or other folks who are starting to really invest in the industry. In sum we see the prospects as very bright for the industry, its gone from “someday it all going to be about wireless”, to now its starting to happen that way. We believe mobile health has gone from potential to performance.

Why do we believe “mobile health” is a sector that will be an industry with billion dollar, if not tens of billions of dollars in potential from a business model perspective? Its because we believe healthcare costs will be the biggest challenge we face as a society for the next 50 years, and we think the current system of acute management of chronic conditions in a hospital does not fit with where the future will be. So we perpetually talk about how we can design a health care system for the future, and designing the health care system of the future is going to be about how we manage chronic disease. The way to manage chronic disease in our opinion is moving away from infrastructure, expert driven, location-centric care to infrastructure independent care – how do you give people the right treatment, when they need it, where they are? We think the answer to this question is mHealth.

iMA: How do you think mHealth is currently received by physicians? What will be the impetus that affects the culture change necessary among physicians for mHealth to become truly pervasive?

Don Casey: I think a lot of physicians now are looking at it as a novelty. They are very happy to have iPhones iPad Android devices to augment their practice, but they think of them merely as ‘practice helpers’ much like they enjoyed the advent of the Fax machine to facilitate practice management. Most physicians haven’t crossed over into the idea of, ‘how can I use these devices to improve my medical practice’, and I think that is the next big shift that has to happen. This is going to demand that physicians become much more comfortable with having a lot more data readily available, whether its electronic medical records or patients pushing data to them, physicians are going to need to become a lot more comfortable with that. To date this has been a slow process.

What I think is going to change is that, according to our data, 50-percent of physicians in the US have some form of Smartphone. As their comfort level grows with these devices we believe usage will go from ‘practice management’ to practicing medicine, and we see that happening. However, there is no killer app right now, but five years ago you had less than 9-percent of physicians using electronic medical records, now that number is pushing well into the 30-percent range, and if the trend continues by 2015 it will probably be closer to 80-percent adoption of electronic medical records among physicians. In my opinion this will be a game changer because these electronic records will make a ton more information available on the spot, at the point of care, where they need to make critical decisions.

iMA: Does the WWHI work directly with entrepreneurs and how would an entrepreneur engage the WWHI to take advantage of your resources?

Don Casey: We absolutely do work with entrepreneurs, and in the four years since our founding WWHI has interacted with over 400 companies to provide advise and counsel a strategic perspective. We also have 25 engineers ranging from software engineers to biomedical engineers that can help companies begin to solve some of their technical challenges. Our ability to interact with them has been facilitated by Gary and Mary West giving us $100M in philanthropic gifts, allowing us to focus on what companies bring the technologies we believe will be transformative in lowering the cost of healthcare. We actually have a chief of outreach strategy, Dr Mohit Kaushal, who is the individual to contact with regard to engaging the institute.

iMA: That is great, I have talked to a lot of entrepreneurs that really want to work with WWHI but don’t know the proper channels to navigate, I am sure your booth will be inundated with entrepreneurs at the mHealth Summit.

Don Casey: That is great, we welcome them. We have put together a group of venture capitalists that we work with and while we are not going to provide direct grants and funding, we can certainly help them access our network of resources, whether its angel funding, or early series funding many of these potentially disruptive startups need to get to the proof-of-concept stage, which is so hard for many startups to get to.

iMA: You mentioned Patrick Soon-Shiong before, and since he is my favorite topic to write about I thought I would follow up and ask you what you think about the NantWorks experiment and his ideas for a Silicon Beach?

Don Casey: Dr Soon-Shiong is putting together an interesting collection of companies that are going to be able to provide services from early stage diagnosis and patient risk identification through some sort of monitoring and hopefully come up with some outcomes. He has been successful in the past, lets see how he does here. Its a very, very early stage industry. We like to say its not really the Wild, Wild West, but its certainly the Wild West.

iMA: Do you see one company or technology out there that could lead to the break out of mobile health as a business?

Don Casey: I think the company that is leading the breakout is actually Apple. They are taking a consumer-oriented device between the iPhone and the iPad and they are opening a platform for everything from how you manage your weight to how you manage your diabetes into one device. Look at AirStrip Technologies for instance, a very interesting application for iPad, but its not the killer app, we haven’t seen that yet. In my personal opinion the big opportunity is going to be in who manages the data coming off of these devices. In my mind that is the company we haven’t seen yet that will be the big, big winner. You can talk to any doctor and they will all tell you there is no way they want every daily reading of a patient’s vital data, but they do want to know when the data demands they give their attention and potentially take action. So the idea of taking an informatics company that can offer the specificity and sensitivity around an alarming system, I think is going to be the big winner.