In healthcare, the ability to collect data does not mean that we should. As mobile health tools become increasingly sophisticated and pervasive, both physicians and patients alike will soon to face an avalanche of data without any guidance on how to use it.

Qualcomm Life’s announcement, at its annual Uplinq conference, that on August 15th they would release a software development kit (SDK) for the forthcoming 2net App could change that by enabling developers to access the rich data stream of the 2net network. In addition, they announced a developer challenge to encourage the development of innovative apps using this SDK.

In addition to the excitement around the possibilities this announcement raises, there are also two more subtle points of interest. First, the SDK is limited to the development of consumer applications, which presumably means apps that are not subject to FDA regulations – a clear limitation of the types of apps that can be developed. Second, the worth the initial SDK will be available only for Android; much like Kaiser’s Android-first app release, this raises some interesting questions about iOs and Android in healthcare.

Since its announcement at the 2011 mHealth Summit, the 2net platform has become the thoroughfare for an incredibly rich set of biometric data. From AliveCor’s single-lead ECG tracings to Telcare’s glucose measurements, there is an enormous amount of data being collected on patients. (For a complete review of how 2net works, read our article on the announcement)

Since its announcement, 2net has accumulated an incredibly broad range of partners including:

  • AliveCor (single lead ECG tracing using an iPhone case)
  • Asthmaopolis (“smart” inhalers that track use)
  • Telcare (blood glucose monitoring)
  • Zephyr (heart rate, respiratory rate, and a range of other vitals)
  • A&D Medical (weight, blood pressure, activity monitors)
  • Nonin (pulse oximetry)
  • And that is just a handful of participants; there are dozens and dozens more. The range of data available, both traditional and novel, is incredibly broad. With the availability of this SDK, the collective energies and imagination of anyone interested – physicians, nurses, IT professionals, patient advocates, safety advocates – can now be applied to figuring out how we can use this data to improve the lives of our patients.

    One obvious limitation, as noted above, is that the SDK is limited to consumer applications only. Presumably, this means no apps that interpret data in any way or advise patients on actions to take based on that data – doing either would likely subject the app to FDA review. This point, however, is not entirely clear and something that requires further clarification. What we can certainly expect though are tools that empower and engage patients in their own health in imaginative ways. In addition, apps that target weight loss, smoking cessation, and other similar behaviors are likely to emerge as well.

    Going one step further though, its not hard to imagine apps that do help manage difficult diseases. One may choose to pair a few vital signs with activity level and a symptom checklist to try to catch heart failure earlier. In others, monitoring of inhaler use may be paired with educational material to help reduce asthma symptoms and exacerbations. Or one may even simply equip a patient population with a set of mobile sensors to better understand their disease.

    A footnote to this announcement is that the SDK will be released for Android first, with an unspecified release in the future for Windows and iOS. This may simply be a reflection of the fact that Android has an overall greater marketshare than iOS among smartphone users, though that would ignore the dominance of iOS in the tablet market. Or it may reflect the more open nature of the Android platform, where developers are given far more flexibility and can get to market faster. Finally, it may be a meaningless coincidence.

    As Rick Valencia, VP and General Manager of Qualcomm Life put it, “We’re very interested in encouraging development of innovative apps that will improve accessibility to, and usability of, biometric data, which ultimately will drive adoption and utility of wireless health tools.” This announcement certainly is a step in that direction.