West Wireless gala, World Economic Forum raise specter of elitism in m-health

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You may have noticed that this week's issue is heavy on the news coming from San Diego. We've got one story on some important developments at the La Jolla, Calif.-based West Wireless Health Institute and another featuring an interview with three key figures on the burgeoning San Diego mobile healthcare scene.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg. Plenty more is happening in m-health along the Southern California coast, and some of it concerns me. It seems as if the industry is in danger of being co-opted by the business community's elites, possibly to the detriment of small entrepreneurs, consumers and the spirit of transparency.

Why do I say this? Well, Thursday after announcing another major round of funding from the Gary and Mary West Foundation and a partnership with the Carlos Slim Health Institute, the West Wireless Health Institute held a gala grand opening that's been described as a "swanky soirée." There's nothing inherently wrong with that. But couple that with the next big mobile health event in the San Diego and you'll see what I'm getting at.

Next Monday, no less than the World Economic Forum--the group behind the exclusive annual meetings on global business and policy in Davos, Switzerland--is hosting its first-ever mobile healthcare summit. In San Diego. WEF's Global Agenda Council on the Future of Mobile Communications is chaired by Dr. Paul Jacobs, CEO of San Diego-based telecommunications equipment-maker Qualcomm.

I found out about this event from a Qualcomm publicist, who's offered me phone interviews with some of the participants. (Don Jones VP of business development in the Health & Life Sciences division of Qualcomm also mentions it in a post on the company's blog.) But you won't find too much else about the WEF m-health meeting online, or, for that matter, from the independent press like FierceMobileHealthcare. You see, it's a closed-door meeting, and press are not invited.

Let me repeat. A foreign organization, based in Geneva, Switzerland, is coming to these shores to convene the Billionaire Boys Club, and is shutting out the press. WEF is a private organization, so I can't play the First Amendment card, but what's going on does seem to be un-American.

I'm not privy to the attendee list, but I'm told you have to be a member of the World Economic Forum or an invited guest to be allowed in. A key source of information on the event, Atlanta-based I.E. Healthcare's Steve Cook, who posted some of the meeting's goals on Twitter, isn't invited either. His company is a small consultancy in the field of social media, not a multinational behemoth like Qualcomm. Cook's not a billionaire like Slim or Gary West. But that's what you get when the WEF is involved.

It's ironic, then, that the West Wireless gala was followed by an appearance at the institute by federal CTO Aneesh Chopra, a proponent of open government and transparency. We're not getting much openness or transparency from the elites who seem to be taking control of mobile health in the key San Diego market. And at least with the WEF event, this journalist is on the outside looking in. - Neil