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.

There are few academic institutions in the world with a reputation for excellence and prestige that matches the University of Chicago. During my interview with Eric Yablonka, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of University of Chicago Hospitals & UC Pritzker School of Medicine, it was very clear he has a deep appreciation for his employer’s rich history of academic achievement and innovation and takes it as a personal challenge to spend his tenure at UChicago making his own permanent mark of progress on the community.

Yablonka’s message echoed that of Don Casey, CEO of the West Wireless Health Institute, the first mHealth thought leader featured in this series leading up to the 2011 mHealth Summit in early December, that a critical element in the design and deployment of next generation wireless mobile connectivity is the ability to leverage a common infrastructure for all connected care solutions, both wired and wireless.

“Wired to wireless we want to leverage a common infrastructure because its more cost effective, it will lower the cost of delivering care, not increase the cost, and then you want to get a leveraging piece over on the infrastructure and the deployment, which is what we did at our Children’s hospital six or seven years ago.”

One comment Yablonka made, which caught my attention and has been spinning around in my head ever since, was his matter-of-fact assertion that at long last;

“Connected medical devices are not just ‘nice to have stuff’ anymore, proving themselves to be truly life saving stuff now.”

I feel like years of excessive hype and repeated under-performance have created a apathetic culture among physicians and health care professionals that has been very difficult for device makers to overcome. Yablonka’s statement leaves me hopeful that, at long last, the connected medical devices which promise to revolutionize health care delivery and business models have once and for all broken through the market barriers they have struggled so long to overcome.

Read my extended discussion with Eric Yablonka below.

iMA: Why are you participating in the mHealth Summit?

EY: I am coming to the conference primarily to learn and share, and I think DC is a great forum for that because it brings together all of the relevant stakeholders. The FCC and FDA are critically important stakeholders and the industry is going to have to work together with them. They are really smart people required by law to deal with these issues, and its a very difficult set of issues for them to deal with.

iMA: It’s amazing how many generations of tablets there were on the consumer market when the iPad launched, but now its like tablets have been reinvented.

EY: That’s very true, the tablet is not new. Our chair of radiology was using a tablet 7-8 years ago, which I believe was an HP or Compaq tablet running Windows software, but all of a sudden you have a new form factor and a new operating system that causes consumers to wet their pants and then all of a sudden, whether you are a government agency or medical device manufacturer you are asking yourself, “What do I do with an iPad? How do I get it into my ecosystem? Is it a medical device or isn’t it? What do we do about the software developers vs the hardware developers?” All of these are very new issues and quite frankly a lot of the medical device manufacturers, including Phillips, Siemens, Welch Allen, GE, you can only imagine that in a couple of years a lot of their devices are going to be Android powered. There are reasons for this shift. First, you have a common platform. Second, you can cut your manufacturing costs by getting out of proprietary solutions. So I definitely see medical device manufacturers going to Android as the future software platform, which will help them significantly lower costs and consolidate product development under one common architecture.

iMA: You mentioned having worked in four hospitals before settling down here in Hyde Park, do you have a medical background or are you purely a technologist/informatician? And now that you are the CIO here at UChicago, what do you love about your job?

EY: I have been in health IT since 1984, prior to that I was in insurance for three years before I got out of college. When I landed my first job in a health IT shop I found my true calling and have been involved in it ever since. Its always been very interesting work, I appreciate the health care sector, its very mission oriented. We do this stuff for the patients, we consider ourselves part of the care team, and while we don’t lay hands on the patient, we support the people who do. So our staff is very committed to the organization and its evident in what we do.

There are a couple of things I love about the job. We have the most brilliant faculty, we do the most amazing things for our patients. Our patient care is excellent, I have worked in five hospitals and this is simply an exceptional institution, and the fact that our patients are so important to us, and we have such committed faculty, many of whom both teach and do independent research, is a very powerful combination. Simply, its a very stimulating environment doing great things with great people.

iMA: The research aspect of informatics is very useful, and as you said as an academic medical center you have unique access to practitioners also conducting their own research. How do you think your job here has given you a unique understanding of the research element of informatics and how do you think the availability of this data has fundamentally changed the practice of medicine?

EY: I think its a very stimulating environment, in that we are not merely looking at the proven treatment protocols for patients, but with their consent and agreement we are looking at clinical trials and other types of research protocols which are new science, and in many ways being in that type of environment where we are bringing research from the bench to the bedside is very very exciting. Its true translational research, and some of our research informatics initiatives we have going forward will truly enhance our translational research capabilities, allowing us to use our electronic medical record data in ways we haven’t been able to in the past, so in that respect its very exciting. From an IT perspective we have a very robust infrastructure, both on the wireless side as well as our services-oriented architecture and other technologies to improve the quality of care to our patients and our physician workflows, while leveraging the same infrastructure to support our researchers. There are probably not three out of four hospitals in the country doing that type of work, which is very exciting. We have the ability to innovate, not only on the medical side through our faculty, we can also innovate on the IT side, which is why I am here.

iMA: So you see a lot of alignment in the organization?

EY: I think we have a lot of interest in doing great work and we bring our leading edge thinking and critical thinking to that, as well as the faculty and physicians bring that to patient care, and when you put that all together it can be a very powerful combination. So, as you alluded to, its just different than a community hospital, it’s even very different than a major teaching hospital in a true academic medical center. There are things that go on that are just incredible.