In late May, the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance (WLSA) held its 8th Annual Convergence Summit in San Diego. While we were unable to attend, we did get a chance to catch up with the CEO and Co-founder of the WLSA, Robert McCray. Here’s our conversation about the summit and wireless health in general.
Shiv Gaglani, Medgadget: Can you describe the formation of the WSLA?
Robert McCray: The Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance was formed in 2005 to convene executives in the healthcare and technology sectors. The original focus was on fostering cross-sector knowledge and relationships that would accelerate the creation of innovative approaches to healthcare. My co-founder, Don Jones, and I had been working on wireless health concepts since 1999.
The WLSA hosted the first Convergence Summit in 2006 as an invitational meeting for about 125 people. The principal financial supporters were Qualcomm, where Don was a vice president; Johnson & Johnson; and TripleTree, where I was a partner.
Medgadget: How has it evolved since its inception 8 years ago?
McCray: The WLSA has grown in scope and scale as the wireless health – or as we call it now, connected health – space has developed. Among milestones, we:
- Added a separate annual Investors Meeting in 2007 and merged it with the Convergence Summit in 2009.
- Expanded membership from the healthcare, technology and consumer sectors and continued to conduct the annual Convergence Summit for 150 attendees through 2009.
- Increased Convergence Summit attendance to 275 people and added an annual Wireless Health research conference in 2010.
- Created a WLSA staff in 2010.
- Began collaborating with other programs and associations, including CTIA, mHIMSS, CEA and Continua Health Alliance.
Now we have achieved our original goal of encouraging convergence in the commercial sector, and wireless is but one type of technology that is relevant to our mission. Our current focus is on connected health – a broader category. We are working to:
- Identify the quality offerings in a very “noisy” sector and helping them succeed via partnerships and relationships.
- Encourage cross-sector collaboration of health and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) researchers to deliver the benefits of sciences and technology to healthcare, through our Wireless Health conferences.
- Change the conversation throughout society via what we call the Engaged Health Consumer Initiative. We believe that citizens, industry and government must embrace health – not only healthcare – as a shared goal, and that individuals need to reconnect with their own health as knowledgeable, engaged and empowered consumers – not only patients. We are focused on certain policy matters and the recruitment of new organizations, capabilities and thought leaders.
Medgadget: What was the primary focus of this year’s conference? How were the speakers selected?
McCray: The 2013 Convergence Summit will spanned the full range of the connected health sector in a fast-moving format with more than 60 presenters and many scheduled private meetings for attendees.
The engaged health consumer was one key focal point. Another was sharing lessons learned from the real world implementation of connected health products, services and applications.
Speakers are selected in a multidimensional process. WLSA leadership chooses presenters from within and outside its membership, including those who have made important contributions or are exciting new entrants to the field. Twelve companies are selected for the TripleTree iAward in a competitive process. Thought leaders are asked to recommend and recruit presenters for their managed sessions.
Medgadget: Were there any events that you were particularly excited about? Generally speaking, are there any industry trends you can speak and provide data on?
McCray: The Convergence Summit is like an iceberg. The programming is very informative and engaging, and much of the value comes from the private discussions and relationships that occur during breaks, breakfasts and dinners.
In a few especially noteworthy sessions:
- All participants took part in an interactive session to create an actionable inventory of themes that will promote the key benefits of connected health to seven specific audiences.
- Dean Kamen, founder and CEO of DEKA Research & Development Corporation, and Ralph Simon, founder and CEO of Mobilium International, spoke about different aspects of remote monitoring and connected health in the developing world.
- Jeff Arnold, co-founder and CEO of Sharecare and co-founder of WebMD, led a panel discussion of the engaged health consumer.
- Some of the best new-to-the-market companies, such as Sotera, AliveCor, DuoFertility and TicTrac, highlighted their products.
Medgadget: Medicine is infamous for being slow to change. What signs, if any, have you seen to indicate broader acceptance of mobile/digital health technologies?
McCray: There are a few promising signs (see below). However, I do not believe that the healthcare sector will be able to restructure itself any more successfully than other sectors that have been transformed by digital technology or external competition, including publishing, music, retail and the U.S. auto industry. Change will need to come primarily from outside of healthcare, from the consumer sector.
Among the promising signs:
- Healthcare institutions that are creating ACOs and other risk-based systems are becoming more focused on the evaluation and purchase of tech-enabled solutions that improve the quality and efficiency of their services. The hospital industry generally is accepting the concept that its future depends on improvement.
- There is a growing category of consumers – engaged health consumers – who are willing to spend their own funds on products, services and lifestyles that they believe contribute to a healthy life. This development is gaining the attention of the consumer sector and offers growth opportunities.
- With recognition that unchecked Medicare and Medicaid spending will drive U.S. deficits and spending to unsupportable levels, there is more attention being paid in policy and regulatory circles to accelerating the adoption of innovative tech-enabled solutions.
- The success and buzz associated with health incubators and accelerators, and a survey of their participants, suggests that health and healthcare are attractive to an educated class of young entrepreneurs. Nearly all of the thousands of startups will fail, but some individuals will stay in the game and another Amazon, Google or Facebook is likely to emerge.
- Strong positive results have been found in scientific analysis of some (though certainly not all) connected health devices, such as implanted defibrillators.
- The retail pharmacy industry is investing deeply in the expansion of primary care services.
- Some market studies indicate that individuals with chronic disease are more aware of mobile health apps and more willing to use them. If these consumers and others show the same propensity as music lovers, for example, to ignore convention and law and to utilize products and apps available through the Internet, the disruption of healthcare institutions will be accelerated.
Medgadget: What is your background and how did you become interested in healthcare/technology?
McCray: I have been in healthcare services since 1980 as adviser, CEO, investor and investment banker. I took a brief and partial detour into digital music in 1999-2003. Understanding the inefficiencies of the healthcare system and the opportunities presented by digital cellular systems, I began to work on identifying opportunities in 1999. I am also wired to want to improve institutions that serve human needs and to leverage technology and alternate points of view to disrupt established ways of thinking and institutions where appropriate.