Value-based healthcare is an increasingly hot topic, as shown by recent debates on drug pricing and Amgen’s risk-sharing agreement last week with Harvard Pilgrim Health Care for its expensive PCSK9 inhibitor Repatha.
But amid all the talk of limiting spending on drugs, one piece of the puzzle is often forgotten. “The only way to prove outcomes is to have data,” says Rick Valencia, general manager of Qualcomm Life, the healthcare-focused subsidiary of the wireless technology company Qualcomm.
The company is heavily involved in the data side of health, both at home and, more recently, in the hospital through its September acquisition of Capsule Technologie. But Qualcomm does not produce patient monitors itself – it is more of a middle man, ensuring a smooth interface between the data collected by these devices and hospital or doctors’ records.
Hospital to home
In the hospital Qualcomm’s technology allows data to be transmitted straight from vital signs monitors to electronic health records. There are two reasons why this is important, Mr Valencia says: “Doctors and nurses are not happy that they’re spending a bunch of their time manually data-entering results into the medical record; and the accuracy of the data and the speed in which the data get into the systems is an issue.”
Although vital signs monitors have been mainly used in critical care settings, this is being expanded into other parts of the hospital, and momentum is building for home monitoring, particularly for patients with chronic conditions.
So far, the uptake of home monitoring has been slower than anticipated. But the takeover of Capsule and its hospital-based platform should help speed things up, Mr Valencia believes. “We now get into 2,000 hospitals around the world, so we’re dealing directly with the provider organisations and we have the ability to begin disrupting from within rather than just waving our arms and waiting for healthcare to change.”
Next, Qualcomm is creating a platform that cuts across all patient settings, from the hospital to the home and everywhere in between, so that data can be captured wherever the patient is.
The company’s technology can be used with “virtually any manufacturer’s medical device” and this, along with the fact it is a relatively new entrant into healthcare, gives it an advantage, according to Mr Valencia. “We’re not a hated competitor of anyone – we’re like Switzerland.”
This has helped Qualcomm in its aim of signing up as many partners as possible. Its current roll call of collaborators includes Roche, Philips and Novartis – with which it has a joint investment company. It is also working with health IT specialist Cerner and drug store chain Walgreens, among others.
Another plus for Qualcomm is that there is “not a whole bunch of competition at the moment”, Mr Valencia adds. He cites Nanthealth company iSirona and Cerner as having hospital connectivity platforms, but claims that no one else has an end-to-end offering across the entire care continuum.
Do other tech companies like Apple and Google, which are upping their healthcare offerings, pose a threat? “To some degree I’m sure they will be [rivals],” he replies. “But a lot of those companies are more consumer-oriented – I don’t see them as direct competitors. They’re focused more on engaging the consumer in their care, while we’re more focused on enabling providers to use the technology to their benefit.”
But while many believe that home monitoring is the future, proving its benefit has not always gone smoothly – results from some large studies have been mixed including the UK’s Whole Systems Demonstrator trial, which concluded in 2013 that telehealth was not cost effective.
Implementing and funding such monitoring has not been straightforward either, which has proven frustrating for companies like Qualcomm. “Healthcare is a very different industry to the mobile industry, or technology in general,” Mr Valencia says. “It moves at a very different pace, the decision-making process is very different, the business models are very confusing – the buyer isn’t necessarily the user or the beneficiary.”
But he is confident that current issues can be overcome. “Healthcare needs the innovative technology companies – they’re going to play an important role in the transformation of healthcare onto a more sustainable, affordable path.”
And the eventual rewards should be obvious: “In an outcomes-based world, everybody benefits. The patient benefits by staying well and the system benefits because costs are reduced if you’re monitoring patients on a more regular basis and they’re not ending up in the emergency room.”