6 Questions with PCHAlliance EVP, Patty Mechael

Oct 06, 2017

By Michael Joseph

1. As Executive Vice President of the Personal Connected Health Alliance, please elaborate on your mission. Would you also share your professional journey and what interested you in personal connected health?

As an organization within HIMSS, our mission is to make health and wellness an effortless part of everyday life. Our focus is on the personalization of the human health experience. How do we keep healthy people healthy and leverage of many of the emerging tools and innovations at their disposal? How do we support individuals in a very personalized manner, if and when they do get sick? That includes everything from leveraging genomic data to the use of wearables, remote patient monitoring, and telemedicine, as we move towards getting a much more complete picture of each of us as individuals, including behaviors, interests and preferences in the maintenance of our health. 

My background is in public health, and I have been working primarily in global health now for about 20 years, with a strong focus on low and middle-income countries. I've spent a large part of the last 20 years mostly working in Africa, as well as some time in Asia and Latin America. About 15 years ago, I had been working in South Sudan, and I had an experience that really inspired me to focus on communications and how new emerging communication technologies could improve access to healthcare, health services and health information. I was very intrigued with the potential health-related uses of mobile phones to support public health. With the encouragement of my mentor, I entered a Ph.D. program in 2000, when the penetration rate of mobile phones in most countries was only around three to five percent. I don't think anybody could have anticipated the wireless revolution that we've seen in terms of the adoption of mobile technologies or even the emergence of the field of mobile health. I became very actively involved in designing and building the field of mHealth and helped to create the mHealth Alliance, eventually becoming its executive director. 

While at the mHealth Alliance, we started the mHealth Summit, for which HIMSS was an organizing partner for many years. About a year ago, HIMSS leadership approached me to see if I would be interested in the position of executive vice president for the Personal Connected Health Alliance. While the last 15 years were all about mHealth, and the next 15 years will be all about personal connected health. 

2. What do you see as your top priorities in the near term and what are your major obstacles?

The real focus of the Personal Connected Health Alliance is helping to chart a vision for the future of healthcare delivery. This includes rethinking health and re-imagining what that personal health experience should be, to move the needle on a more personalized and consumer-oriented approach to health and healthcare. We serve as a neutral platform for mobilizing collective action and impact; reducing the fragmentation in the field; fostering new and innovative partnerships and collaboration; and developing and cultivating thought leadership. We work with our partners to drive the field forward in a very grounded and sensible fashion. One of the big challenges is that there are a lot of people who are working on different aspects of personal connected health, but no one's really looking at the whole picture. That’s really our primary role as the Personal Connected Health Alliance. Our other areas of expertise are benchmarking and dynamic market research to measure and chart progress, evaluating the impacts of personal connection health initiatives. We also advocate and support policy initiatives that are in the interests of individuals and in their own ability to take care of their health needs. 

3. What is your business model and how do you coordinate and collaborate with PCHA member organizations?

We do sponsored initiatives, such as the Academy for Healthy Longevity. We surveyed communities and experts in the field, and we asked for one health issue area that we could focus on as the Personal Connected Alliance. Unanimously, everybody cited aging, because there are numerous interesting opportunities to engage in personal connect health and innovation around healthy aging. How do we keep people healthier longer? Increasing personal satisfaction with life, sense of purpose, and connectedness, which we all know have a strong impact on how well people are going to age. We also help mobilize resources from the community that guide us to where the opportunities are, do the market research and reveal insights that can help provide better services and technologies into the market that are going to have a greater impact. And now we’re seeing so much more willingness for healthcare organizations and various entities to collaborate within communities around patient engagement, in acknowledging the necessity and urgency to move towards health outcomes-based business models. It's the whole notion of technology as a service and that really measuring the value in terms of quality of life and health outcomes. 

4. Digital health is a key driver of personal connected health. How would you characterize the pace of digital health transformation? What are the primary challenges and barriers to user adoption? 

This is really all based in social and behavioral science. How do people interact with the world? It also involves economic theory. How do people spend resources? What do they consume and why? How do they engage with different types of services? How do they interact with society and the community in terms of their own health and what resources are available? Are they being encouraged to engage in physical activity, which is one of the best things that people can do to stave off disease, prevent illness and live longer and healthier? Physical activity is a huge driver and determinant of health. 

The wearable device industry is growing, but user adoption is not sustained or consistent. So, we’re not getting the full value of the technology. It needs to be plugged into a much larger set of interactions to encourage people to continue using their devices so that we validate behavioral change through measurable results and positive impacts.  

I think one of the saddest things I learned in the public health arena is that our zip code is now the leading indicator of health life expectancy. So, where we live is a key determinant of our ability to stay healthy. This is directly correlated to income levels and access to resources; the wealthier zip codes are going to do better while the poorer are not. These are the inequities in our society. One of the biggest challenges and my frustration in the U.S. is that we don't view health as a human right. Whereas in most other societies, health is largely viewed as a human right, but in America, it’s viewed as a business. I think that is a huge shame because the focus is on financial measures rather than what is in the best interest of people, for maintenance of health, access to health and information on wellness and prevention. 

The business of healthcare and the delivery of healthcare is immensely complex and contemplating how to integrate technology into that or reshape it is an epic undertaking. So it's been very slow. If you look at most businesses, they allocate at least 10% of their budget to technology; if it’s a data and information intensive service, you would allocate perhaps 30% to technology and innovation. In the healthcare industry, we're barely getting to 5% of budget allocation going into technology innovation. So we really need to rethink this space and acknowledge that technology can improve health outcomes; the evidence is growing in a broad range of areas like remote patient monitoring and telehealth. We know it works and we know we can improve outcomes, we can save money and we can improve access to services. Meanwhile, we're not getting the same level of investment in these types of technologies in the same way that other sectors like the finance industry just do it naturally. And we always come at the conversation from the provider and the health systems perspective; we're not coming at the conversation enough from the patient perspective.

90% of health happens outside of the healthcare system. So, the fact that we spend so much energy, time and money focused on the healthcare delivery system compared to far fewer resources focusing on people and engaging people in their everyday health is problematic. When I was approached for this position, just the words “Personal Connected Health” speak volume about what we need to be doing and where we need to allocate resources. The term “Digital Health” does not capture the imagination. It’s very focused on technology. To me, personal connected health, at its core, is really about people. 

5. Aside from the obvious synergies, what are your expectations in merging the Partners Connected Health Symposium and PCHAlliance's Connected Health Conference?

We are thrilled to bring the best of both of these events together into one comprehensive event. Partners Connected Health Symposium has done very well in engaging with providers and health system perspective, while our Connected Health Conference has been focused on innovations for the consumer. Bringing these perspectives together is an exciting opportunity for everyone.

This year's theme is the Connected Life Journey, and we're really looking at every age and stage of life, to discover where and how different types of personal health devices and innovations can actually start to come together much more comprehensively to really improve the life journey for individuals. 

6. Where do you see the state of personal connected health 10 years from now?

I see people becoming much more actively engaged in their health, accelerating the transition from the health system being at the center of gravity for healthcare to individuals becoming the center of gravity for their own health and well-being. The concept of healthy longevity will become mainstream, as people start to make decisions much younger in life that will have an impact on them as they go through the aging process. So there are a lot of things that people can start doing now in terms of really understanding their genetic predisposition and looking at the ways in which different connected devices can encourage healthier behaviors and activity. By integrating that information with the electronic medical records, genomics data and health history, we will have personalized information to make proactive health decisions. Technology will bridge and facilitate those interactions.