Robert B. McCray is the President & CEO of the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance. Rob recently spoke with HIT Consultant to discuss some of the key takeaways from this year’s Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance Convergence Summit that was held in May and his thoughts on the growing connected health space.
HIT Consultant: So tell me a little bit more about yourself and Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance.
Rob McCray: Sure. My background is that I fell into healthcare back in 1980. Basically my career since then has been in healthcare. First 15 years, I was in regulatory transactional legal practice in which I helped create a few business, mostly for investor owned companies and medical groups. And that was all a period in the late 80s and 90s of business transformation in healthcare. Managed care MSO arrangements, partners, partnerships between medical groups and doctors and management companies to operate hospitals and surgery centers. That was the transformation that went on then. I came down here to run a venture-based company in that space called HealthCap and we built up a network of mostly contracted positions, IT model in 4 states. Just got to profitability and decided we better sell because that industry, we thought, was going through a fall which it did about 8 months after we sold, so our timing was pretty good and then since then, I’ve been working primarily in and around the space of wireless health and connected health. I was a partner in a merchant banking firm called Triple Tree for 4 years. And I was actually there when I started Wireless Life Sciences Alliance, which is what I lead now and I started with my colleague Don Jones out of Business Development in Healthcare at Qualcomm, the first healthcare hired, and J&J was the other initial financial sponsor.
So Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance really started as a nonprofit member association and structure. But we started in order to bring together executives from healthcare and technology sectors, that up until then, really didn’t realize why they might have something in common. And our simple vision in the earliest days was just to use and promote the use of wireless communications platforms to improve efficiency and quality in healthcare services. Just by having more efficient machine-based approaches to moving data, moving messages and connecting people with either the people they needed to talk with or work with or the information they needed in order to make a decision, whether it was a lab value or a pharmacy order or a consultation.
And my first conference was in 2006. We ran it as purely invitational conference for the first 5 years, kept it to under 150 people. It was mostly a one day affair. Then we added a separate meeting, called investor’s meetings, in which we showcase 12 innovative companies that we would kind of look around the world and pick out some companies, mostly small ones, a few larger ones with interesting operations, and bring them together to start educating the investor community about it and that’s called a convergence summit. Now we’ve combined the efforts. We’ve let reporters and reporters in the same room with operations executives. We’ve kept it pretty small. Limited to about 275 people and we’ve had our 7th convergence summit about two weeks ago and it was a really good lineup of folks and participants. We have about 70 organizational members now and a lot of affiliations with organizations, mostly in the research and nonprofit communities but don’t do membership. Most of our members are companies. They range across the original healthcare technology sectors, but now include consumer branded companies and brands such as Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo. Then we have some nonprofits, and I think that will increase. We have some foundations that funds healthcare and are interested in innovation healthcare for the medically underserved, challenged populations in this country. Also, now that products and services have matured to the point where there is actual stuff that healthcare institutions can use, we will be increasing our hospital and provider membership. Ascension Health has joined us for about 3 or 4 years now. They were pretty early to the party. That will round out a lot of our discussion. I have them more engaged with actual experience taking these concepts and putting them in to action. That’s kind of the rambling background.
HIT Consultant: So in addition to really keeping it very small and limited, what other things do you think separate Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance from some of these other wireless and mobile health hosted events?
Rob McCray: Yea, I guess it’s quality over quantity. Signal over noise. I have a belief that when a really compelling, new business sector or social sector is created, it’s done not by bringing thousands of people or organizations coming together into the same location, but it’s really done by a few handfuls of committed companies of scale that are interested enough to put some real resources into them, into the area or into the concept and then of course, hundreds or thousands of innovators or entrepreneurs and researchers bounce ideas off this stuff, off this community. And try things in the market. Some of them work, but most of them of course don’t. That’s what happened with internet commerce, digital music, and digital media and so, from that perspective, my goal is to get the most committed organizations and committed people together with the best thought leaders and policy makers and search for quality innovators and entrepreneurs and bring them together, physically, once or twice a year for discussions. If you spend a couple of days, whether or not you have any podium time, you’re going to have many, very useful conversations, introductions and some learning that will allow you to find the people in the companies that you can do business with in order to build something. That’s part of our DNA.
Consistent with that, we were very small, as I say, invitational only for several years and then of course, 2010 and 2009, the world started to wake up and create new acronyms, you know, m-health and mobile health and connected health and so forth for this set of concepts that we were focused. So we figured we better expand some. But we still kept it fairly small for this meeting. It’s quite a difference. I want anyone that comes to feel comfortable that they can strike up a conversation with virtually anyone else that is registered to attend the conference and that individual will have some responsibility of scale and or be really value added, in some respect, in this space.
HIT Consultant: In your opinion, what are some key takeaways from this year’s convergence summit?
Rob McCray: A few that come to mind: One, if you listen to Sanofi and Janssen Innovation, which is Johnson & Johnson talking. You might remark that, here are two companies of scale, pharmecutical industry with basically a DNA of working on the most proprietary space as possible. Everything is done behind the walls of IT protection, with minimal collaboration. Collaboration meaning if you find something you like, you buy it and bring it inside the walls of your organization. And both of them were describing their leadership is doing just the opposite. They are looking to open source innovation. Janssen with a specific connected care challenge. Which is an open-source based competition. And some other initiatives they have under way. And Sanofi with their connective IT side of the business, where they are looking to transform what people think about when they see a pharmaceutical brand. Like connecting therapies with direct patient facing tools. You begin to put the patient much more centered than your business. You become much more focused on the patient and actually working for the patient, which is a c-change from the traditional pharmaceutical industry. And that’s one that was important.
Another one that I would highlight, John Doyle, who is one of the senior 3 or 4 senior executives in Ascension Health System, Ascension Health is the largest Catholic hospital systems in the country. They have 75 hospitals, hundreds of clinics, hundreds of thousands of employees, just a big organization. He talked about a couple of things, but one of them I think is extremely interesting. Their joint venture and the relationship they have developed with a heart hospital based in Bangalore. The founder is Debbie Maschete. The organization, I can’t begin to pronounce that correctly right now (Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospitals). But Dr. Maschete set up a hospital in Bangalore in the system now that is focused on delivering the best heart care in the world and to never turn away any patients. And in order to accomplish those twin goals, for 20 years, I think is about the history of the organization, they had to have this completely intense focus on driving out inefficiency in the delivery of services. What’s the relevance of that for a US-based hospital system? And what they’ve announced is a joint venture to create a hospital in the Cayman Islands, which is basically totally underserved, totally unserved for complex care, and put together…And put together…Ascension’s expertise and experience in driving costs out of some aspects of care, specifically, one of the examples is, the maintenance of medical devices and imaging equipment, which is traditionally those are replaced often…and sort of like Microsoft, stop supporting a device or software platform and get people to buy new ones, of course that is expensive and unnecessary with investor equipment. And we kind of brought that to the table and that kind of thinking and Dr. Schete brought his and what John Doyle was talking about is that bringing that knowledge and incorporating Dr. Schete’s approaches and his organization’s approaches into their operations in the US where we are desperate of greater efficiency in healthcare. I thought that was a really romantic, really interesting, concrete example of bi-directional innovation.
We tend to think of innovation as something that the US does and but then other companies adopt it or embrace it or steal it or whatever. But in some areas, healthcare, frugal innovations in the concept being one of them, we have so much to bring to this country from other countries. And that’s a concrete example. So that’s another highlight. A third, maybe just by a stroke of reference, back in 2007 we had a panel discussion and we called it, “What can healthcare learn from Hollywood?” So this was very early on in our space, obviously. And had three television producers, no healthcare providers. Two of them, one was a doctor. But he was there because in the 70s, he produced a doctor show on TV. The other two producers, one had done healthcare shows, the third was Mark Burnett’s partner, early on, and doing reality shows that was interested in the space. And the whole discussion was basically intended to get the healthcare community thinking about the concept of consumer engagement because in wireless health, it was apparent even back then, that meant that the concepts and tools that could be built were only going to work if you were successful in getting individuals to use them on a consistent basis after they left the hospital, after they left the doctor’s office and that gets you right into engagement. And that is one of the things Hollywood is good at doing, is getting you engaged.
So that was major. So that kind of came full circle this year because I had a panel that happened to be our closing panel with Paul Jacobs, head of Qualcomm and Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the X PRIZE Foundation, Henry Tirri who is CTO of Nokia, and Rod Roddenberry who is the head of the Roddenberry Foundation, but his father was Gene Roddenberry, who created Star Trek, obviously entertainment concept. And the reason we had them together, because last January, Qualcomm and X Prize announced the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize and that’s a 3 year competition and the winner will be an organization or group that comes up with a modern Tricorder, which is a Startrek device that can diagnose 15 different states without physician intervention. And at our conference, Nokia Sensing X Challenge was announced and that’s a 2 ½ year competition which will award 3 prizes over the course of the competition for development of particular sensors that relevant to healthcare. And I had a panel with the 4 of them and it’s kind of like Hollywood came to healthcare. Between Rodenberry, the Tricorder and how the XPrize Foundation knows how to attract attention to its competition is very much a different world from your traditional healthcare or technology. So those would be 3 that spring to mind.
HIT Consultant: What companies and organizations do you feel are the leading trailblazers in the connected health space, coming out of that summit?
McCray: Well, I live in this space. So, I see it. Of all the big companies, the one that’s been most important, most committed has been Qualcomm. With respect to various wireless health and connected health using especially a wide area of communications platforms. They’re a real leader in that space. That’s one that’s there. Some of the…I just come back to people say,”What’s really happening in wireless health?” And one of the things I point out is that there are three companies that actually aren’t members now, but Medtronic and St. Jude have embedded better wireless communications in many of their cardiac implants or defibulators.
And we had one of the thought leaders from the clinical site, Leslie Saxon, participate in the conference, she is one of our advisors as well. But she didn’t talk about it at the conference, she published a study last year that looked at and compared about 165,000 patients, the benefits of having connected defibrillator, those are the ones that would automatically update a website or cloud-based platform whenever they were or the patients were on the bedsite, the bed basically. You know, versus a traditional model of going to see the doctor and have them download the information from the device. And after 5 years, the connected patients had a 50% lower mortality rate than their unconnected or disconnected. And I use that pretty regularly. Because it’s scientifically validated, it’s a large group and demonstrates very strongly the importance of connectivity in managing chronic disease and risks.
We had Eric Topol gave a good talk. He is a true thought leader. He’s been a good colleague, good supporter of ours. Spans in his career, cardiology and building the Cleveland Clinic into the world’s top-rated cardiology center along with been taking leadership and Genomics and leading the Scripps Transitional Science Institute and now last few years, since he came to San Diego, really getting engaged in wireless health which really helps bring all of this together. So those are a couple of individuals I would highlight.
HIT Consultant: With the connected health ecosystem, really in its infant stage, what in your opinion are some of the key dynamics that will make a successful connected health model and what are some of the challenges for achieving that?
Rob McCray: So, there are two sides of the same coin. Successes will come as we deploy more of the services-end of the market and get the real-world results. So, you know, I mentioned the difibulator, connected versus disconnected and, you know, I think it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to justify implanting a disconnected difibulator, at this point, giving the trade offs. Those kinds of results drive, demand and change the market for these products. The challenge has been the lack of that proof. That’s why I said it’s two sides of the same coin. I could give you a list of 8 other things that would stand in the way. The top of those things would probably be the key to service system we use for medicare and private systems in this country which are little incentive to make investments that actually improve efficiency.
I would say that, next on that list would be is actually having licensed professionals. You know, 50 states with 50 cents of standards for doctors and nurses and highly restrict the scope of practice and it’s all well intended and it ends up being anti-competitive, anti-innovation. The FDA would also be on that list. In caring out its charge to protect public safety against unsafe devices and therapeutics, on the other side of that coin it makes it more difficult to innovate and really get out there and find what works.
The golden standard would be to move healthcare to kind of a virtuous cycle that we have in consumer electronics where new products are introduced into the market and over time quite quickly become both better and cheaper. That’s how the consumer electronics sector works. We’ve all done very well with that. Healthcare doesn’t work that way. I mentioned three of the reasons why it does not. We have to try to challenge some of that in different ways of thinking. Indeed we need to protect the public safety, but it makes a better environment for innovation, for trying things, failing quickly and rebuilding and moving on, which is what works. That would be it.
About Rob McCray:
[schema type=”person” name=”Rob McCray” orgname=”Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance” jobtitle=”President & CEO” url=”http://www.wirelesslifesciences.org/” description=”Robert B. McCray is the President & CEO of the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance, Special Adviser to TripleTree LLC, Member of Midmark Corporation Board of Directors, Member of Board of Directors of CONNECT and an active adviser to several companies. Rob leverages over 25 years of experience as a business owner, senior operating executive, and legal and transactional adviser to private and public companies.
Rob has served as President, COO and an early investor in Digital On-Demand, Inc., a retail services technology company that operates under the brandname RedDotNet in chains including Barnes & Noble, Circuit City, Best Buy, Blockbuster and Fred Meyer. Previously, he served as Chairman, President and CEO of HealthCap, Inc., a venture capital-backed physician practice management company that returned 90% CAGR to its investors. Rob also served as Managing Director of Caremark Physician Resources, directing its formation during its initial high-growth years prior to its sale to MedPartners, Inc. He also co-founded OnCall Medicine, Inc., a medical house calls company. Prior to his success as a business operator, he was a Managing Partner in his law firm and a partner in a predecessor and transactional legal and consulting services to the healthcare industry for over 20 years.” country=”USA” ]