A Q&A with 2012 Data Design Diabetes Innovation Challenge Judge Larry Irving
I recently had a chance to speak with 2012 Data Design Diabetes Innovation Challenge judge Larry Irving to discuss how technology innovation is expanding the reach of healthcare solutions to new areas of the population.
Larry Irving is President and CEO of the Irving Information Group, a telecommunication and information technology strategic planning and consulting business based in Washington, D.C. Prior to founding the Irving Information Group, Mr. Irving served for almost seven years as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), where he was a principal advisor to the President, Vice President and Secretary of Commerce on domestic and international telecommunications and information technology issues.
Mr. Irving is widely credited with coining the term the digital divide, and with sparking global interest in the growing problem it represents. He was the principal author of the landmark Federal survey, Falling Through the Net, which tracked access to telecommunications and information technologies across racial, economic, and geographic lines.
Q: According to a new study from Pew Internet & American Life Project, 46% of Americans now use smartphones. How do technological developments have the potential to create broad access to new healthcare solutions?
A: The mobile adoption rate is unprecedented in our technological history, and the smartphone rate eclipses that of mobile devices generally. As noted, in March 2012, Pew found that 46% of Americans now use smartphones. Just less than one-year prior, in May of 2011, only 33% of Americans owned a smartphone. Moreover, the increase in smartphone penetration is found across all demographics and shows no signs of abating. A majority of phones sold in the US this year will be smartphones. As the technology-consulting firm IDC recently forecast, the mobile Internet will grow by a compounded rate of 16.5% through 2014.
Smartphones and tablets are game changers. We have not begun to explore the potential benefits of mobile computing and Internet access. Think of it this way - four years ago, no American consumer had downloaded an app for a mobile device, because the App Store did not exist. Since 2008, one million apps have been created for the iOS platform alone, and over 25 billion apps have been downloaded. It’s clear that we have barely scraped the surface of what is possible in terms of using mobile devices for education, monitoring, data dissemination, and numerous other tasks and solutions.
In thinking about the possibilities of this mobile revolution, imagine what cloud computing – where applications and services are available on any connected device at any time and any place – and “big data” analysis will add to our knowledge base and to our capabilities. The challenge now is to put technologists together with healthcare providers and behavioral specialists, to optimize our use of these technologies. It’s beginning to happen and it’s exciting to watch.
Q: For the 54% of Americans without smartphones, do technological developments further the divide between those with and without access to effective healthcare solutions? If so, how might innovators resolve this gap?
A: I think there is reason to have a short-term concern about furthering the divide. Long-term, however, I believe the divide will be less problematic than the divides we saw with regard to PCs and the wired Internet. First, some of the communities least likely to access the traditional Internet or to have computers are the most likely to have and use smartphones; this is true for both African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. In addition, the traditional “digital divide” impacted entire households. In other words, if the house wasn’t connected, no one in the family had access. In some traditionally at-risk communities, no one in the entire community was connected to the benefits of the Internet. By contrast, today almost 7 of 10 Americans aged 18 to 35 have a smartphone.
With the smartphone revolution, there is likely someone in the family, and almost certainly in the nearby community, who will have access to the mobile Internet. In addition, virtually all healthcare and other service providers will utilize smartphones or tablets, and thus will have more and more sophisticated tools at their disposal when working in at-risk communities and with at-risk populations. Mobile devices will allow for more efficient and effective analysis, diagnosis, treatment, data collection, and communication. Innovators should and, I trust, will use all of the assets in the community, including local clinics and healthcare facilities, community centers, schools, churches, temples, and other similar facilities to ensure that all populations benefit from forthcoming innovation.
A major caveat and concern must be noted with regard to rural America. For many reasons, including income, demographics, and infrastructure build-out, rural America is most at risk of being left behind or left out as mobile technologies proliferate and are more widely used. Special attention must be paid to ensure Americans who live in rural communities share the benefits of the emerging mobile solutions.
Q: What should technologists understand about people with diabetes across the nation to help shape their approaches to healthcare innovation?
A: Most technologists, like most Americans, don’t know very much about diabetes. Technologists need to understand the demographics of diabetes. While all Americans and all American communities are affected by diabetes, there are specific communities where diabetes is more prevalent. Innovators need to understand the impact that lifestyle, diet, and exercise can play in assisting the diabetic community. They need to understand the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Most importantly, innovators need to understand that people with diabetes, and people who are at risk of being diagnosed as diabetic, will need to adjust their behavior for the rest of their lives. One of the most important recent medical trends – perhaps the most important trend – is the increased emphasis put on preventive medicine. Preventing a disease is more easily accomplished than arresting or “curing” a disease. Innovators can help us identify who is most at-risk so they can minimize their risks. Innovators can help us monitor and modify behavior and make smart choices about exercise and diet so as to reduce the impact of diabetes. And, innovators can help us understand diabetes so we can reduce the number of people who are affected by it.
I want to thank Larry for both sharing his perspective and participating in the 2012 Data Design Diabetes Innovation Challenge. Be sure to check out the semi-finalists live online tonight as they present their concepts at Demo Day in New York City.