Passionate, energetic participants drive the interdisciplinary fusion of technology and medicine — computer sciences, information science, electrical engineering with medicine and public health — into the digital health movement.
However, many of these participants remain ensnared in silos delineating traditional academic departments in different institutions – a significant barrier to this important collaboration.
Robert McCray is President & CEO of the Wireless Life Sciences Association. The San Diego-based WLSA is a nonprofit trade organization that seeks to bring together not just industry and academia, but also different innovators across different disciplines. Mr. McCray is additionally Chairman of Alliance Healthcare Foundation, and an active advisor to several companies. McCray also served as director of Caremark Physician Resources, co-founded OnCall Medicine Inc., and served as managing partner in law services to the healthcare industry.
Here, he shares with us his unique perspectives on the future of mobile health and insights to help guide aspiring clinician-entrepreneurs and innovators.
What is the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance (WLSA)?
Rob McCray: We’ve always been [about] getting people and businesses to come together to create solutions for real problems. [With our] academic conference, [we have a] peer-reviewed selection of papers, posters, plus keynotes, speakers, and panel discussions, [and] all of them go through a quality filter. None of them are influenced by sponsorships or dollars. We don’t do trade shows.
We worked hard to get the technology and healthcare sectors together around 2005 with our first meeting. In 2010, we brought together more STEM [(science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)] and research communities [with our Wireless Health conference] series. This year, we “declared victory” with [our] original mission [of getting] healthcare and technology together.
So what’s next for the WLSA?
Rob McCray: Now the problem has shifted…to the problem of validation: how will [digital health] actually work, [reach out to] consumers with real diseases, and [form] real businesses? How do we address the issues that prevent consumers and institutions from adopting these solutions? So, we’ve pivoted to focus more on those issues [because] now, we have confusion in the marketplace. There are thousands of offerings. What can work? Who will pay for what?
How can researchers, academics, and healthcare professionals get involved in the WLSA?
Rob McCray: The 2014 Wireless Health meeting will be on the campus of the NIH in Bethesda, MD. [We are] recognized as a high-quality cross-disciplinary conference including all the research disciplines to get all of them to talk the same language…while still bringing industry which has to take these innovations to turn them in to real-world products & services.
We [have] had a full convergence of the behavioral health research and scientific communities in terms of leadership, the call for papers, the content that was presented.
[Note: researchers can submit papers & find other ways to participate at http://www.wirelesshealth2014.org/call-for-papers/ ]
What’s the problem with the way research is being done?
Rob McCray: Research is a challenge – you have communities [of researchers in]… their own silos. To advance in computer sciences or engineering or behavioral research, [researchers] have to publish in the right papers, go to the right meetings, and those are all vertically oriented by discipline. How can you come up with an engineering solution to a medical problem, unless you have the engineers and the physicians collaborating? You [can’t]! It’s a real problem.
So that’s why we set out to bring those disciplines together and, over time, allow this convergence of connected health. We want researchers to excel in their research careers, in their academic careers, in the area of convergence and not fall back to their core discipline. [But] there’s no place [for them] to publish. …Until you have these converged…you have to work hard to get people from different groups [to collaborate].
What advice do you have for iMedicalApps readers who are interested in developing healthcare technology and launching their own ventures?
Rob McCray: The basis for my advice for people like you who share that perspective and interest is to focus on who the customer — the user — is going to be in the future, NOT now.
It’s a bit difficult for us to predict the future, though.
Rob McCray: So I’ll give you my prediction: the health market in this country is going to be bigger than the healthcare market at some point in the future. In 10 years, 20 years, it’ll be very big, very powerful. It’ll be very broad, not just the healthcare community as we know it. So if you believe that’s the direction we’re going, then I think you want to focus on the problem of “what will a consumer-centered health market…and health care industry need?” What will be the products, services, service platforms that will create that? That will be the winners. If you create a business, you have to [make] 1-, 3-, [and] 5-year plans.
I think health is becoming kind of cool. When I see all the incubators, tech was cool. The Internet is cool. Health is cool. I’d love to see young health professionals jumping into Rock Health [(a healthcare start-up accelerator)] and try to [make] a program or smart device. They’ll learn, get hooked on the opportunity, the sector, the value.
To me, there’s more chance of breaking out of the pack if you’re involved in this emerging area of consumer health and consumer-oriented healthcare than if you are in the existing [core] medical device healthcare IT hospital industry. That doesn’t mean there aren’t great things to do in the core, but odds are there are more interesting things to do around the edge.
What else do you predict will happen in healthcare’s future?
Rob McCray: [Look at the] family medicine-centered home. [The business trend is] you want to push healthcare services towards the right area of expertise: pushing it lower when possible. If you can push it safely from a hospital or surgical center, you should do it. It’ll be cheaper to do it; it makes sense.
[Likewise,] if you take something out of the clinic and put it in a home, it saves more money [and leads to] higher satisfaction [rates]. So the patient-centered home fits part of that trend. The other thing is that as we build connected health devices and intelligent systems, we enable more generalists like family medicine practitioners to do more.
About WLSA: The San Diego-based WLSA is a nonprofit trade organization that seeks to bring together not just industry and academia, but also different innovators across different disciplines. Their conferences include the annual Convergence Summit in San Diego, California and their more recently-launched Wireless Health Academic & Industry Conference at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. We have previously covered some of the WLSA’s work in our interview with Paul Sonnier and our previous call for participation in their Johns Hopkins University conference.