Top 10 from Health Innovation Week

On my journey into the world of healthcare technology, I’ve been reading industry blogs, books, papers and learning too many acronyms .  I have begun tracking my blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol in HealthVault and will be blogging about the devices and applications I’m finding helpful.

Healthcare technology obviously encompasses a lot – I’m focusing on consumer facing tools and consumer owned and managed healthcare data.

It was time to get out of the office and start meeting real people in this industry so for the first time in my career, I took out my own checkbook and paid for one of those crazy-expensive multi-day conferences that we always expect our bosses to just approve.  Turns out you get considerably more out of a conference when it’s your dime 😉

San Francisco Health Innovation Week was October 3 – 10, I attended the following 3 events:

Instead of attempting to summarize the sessions, speakers and companies I encountered, I am going to try to distill what I learned to 10 fundamental points.

So here they are, my top 10 takeaways from Health 2.0 – in no particular order of importance.

#1.  It’s not just a job, it’s personal.

This conference had a very strong consumer facing technology start-up feel to it, similar to other Silicon Valley events.  But a key difference from my past experiences in other industries is that a lot of people in this space are coming to the table with very personal and poignant stories of their experiences in the healthcare system.  For many of the folks that I met and talked with, it’s not just a job – it’s personal.

Here’s the rub: I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

#2. Health 2.0 – look in the mirror.

In healthcare 1.0, you get sick and then you go to the doctor or hospital and get treatment and hopefully you get better.  Healthcare 2.0 is about moving the center of responsibility for managing one’s health from the doctor to the man in the mirror.  Managing one’s personal finances is an analogy that works for me:  From about the age of 15, managing my finances has been my responsibility.  I’ve gotten plenty of help from experts and leveraged  various tools and online resources; but it’s up to me, not my accountant, to ensure my wealth.

#3.  It’s not rocket science, it’s behavior science.

Changing our lifestyles and habits is hard, very hard.  A doctor prescribes a diet, and when you don’t stick to it, a drug, and when you don’t take it regularly, an angioplasty, and on it goes.  In order for healthcare 2.0 to take hold and make a difference it must help people identify and change habits that lead to poor health.  Instructions from a doctor are not good enough.  By 2020, 3 in 4 people in the US will be overweight or obese.  Given all we know about the health implications of obesity, the problem is still growing.  Changing habits is hard.

#4.  Public data: the government can actually help.

Todd Parks, the CIO of HHS wants to turn HHS into NOAA – kind of.  It turns out that HHS has kazillions of bytes of useful public health data that they are making available for free with the hope that innovative technology companies can turn it into useful information for you and me.  Do you want to buy your next house in a “fat” neighborhood?  Or would you rather live next door to someone like Todd, who by the way seems to have enough energy for all of us.  Public data can help enable consumers in all sorts of interesting scenarios.  One of the themes of this conference and the associated Developer Challenge and Code-A-Thon was to highlight this HHS “data liberacion” effort and spur innovation.

#5.  Private data – MIA.

Private healthcare data ranges from the simple to the ridiculously complex.  Consumers need a way to manage and share the right information with the right people over the duration of their entire lives.  In order for this to work, the data has to be owned and controlled by the consumer and it has to be portable/liquid.  My labs and vitals for the past 10 years are mine.  The fact that I’ve lived in 3 states and have been covered by 4 different medical plans in that time shouldn’t matter.  In addition, the source of the data must expand to personal tracking.  The blood pressure readings I take every day are more important and telling than the reading at the doctor’s office every other year.

I’m afraid however that the problem of healthcare data being stuck in silos is getting worse and not better.  Consider that there are something like 6,000 health related applications in the Apple App Store, almost every single one of them with a separate database.   Microsoft HealthVault, Google Health and Dossia theoretically provide solutions to this data silo problem, but only 2 or 3 of those 6000 apps are using these platforms.

What’s going on here? What are the problems holding back adoption of this personal “data utility layer”?  Why is nobody stepping up to lead this effort?

On this topic, I was disappointed with the lack of questions being asked and answered.

#6.  It’s the economy, stupid.

Out-of-pocket healthcare costs are going up for everybody.  Like cigarettes and gas, this has the potential to be an advantage because when all else fails to drive behavior change, dollars work.  Currently, we don’t typically “shop” for a blood test or an MRI based on price and we don’t negotiate hospital bills, but Castlight Health and Bill-Doctor are 2 examples of companies helping put consumers in greater control of their out-of-pocket costs.   And although it may be the case that organic vegetables are more expensive than a Big Mac, the true cost of a McDonalds diet probably includes your co-pay for Avandia.  We all need to more clearly see the financial implications of our lifestyle choices.

#7.  Don’t be patient.

Healthcare needs to start now, before a visit to the doctor is necessary.  The ownership of our health must move, not from the doctor to the patient, but from the doctor to the consumer – the average, every-day, healthy person who doesn’t need a doctor or a prescription yet.  In addition to helping patients, healthcare 2.0 technology will help consumers maintain their not-a-patient-yet status.  The trick with this of course is that bad habits are even harder to change if they haven’t yet resulted in negative consequences, especially if you are under the age of 30 and haven’t realized yet that you are not actually going to live forever.  This is a hard audience to reach and therefore a tough business problem.

#8.  Your boss cares.

Employers already get it.  Healthy, vital employees improve the bottom line.   And employers have the leverage to affect change – direct deposit. Limeade.com for example provides a wellness product to employers who bribe their employees into participating.  So employers are an important audience for technology companies bringing wellness applications to the market.   I don’t really like this reality because it seems like my healthcare options are already coupled too tightly with my choice of employer, but if it works it works.

#9.  Make it simple, ask Steve J if necessary.

Windows Mobile 6.1 = healthcare 1.0.  iPhone = healthcare 2.0.  Consumer focused, fun, addictive, complicated made easy.  Enough said.

Wait, Einstein can help here: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

Interactions with healthcare providers are complex, healthcare data is complex, eating healthy is hard, everything to do with health is hard.  Technology absolutely needs to make it easy, intuitive, seamless and fun.   It all starts and ends with user experience.

#10.  It’s social, and it’s private.

Support, friendly competition, public goals, friend’s friends, bragging rights… Our social networks have a profound impact on our lives.   Many agree that learning to leverage social, gaming and community capabilities will be the key to success of healthcare 2.0.  But as powerful as the social aspect of healthcare can be, it is at the same time an intensely private and personal topic.  Finding the right balance and enabling individuals to tailor that balance to their own liking is going to be critical.  Missteps with private data can set the entire industry back by scaring away potential consumers.

So there you have it, my top 10 from Health Innovation Week in San Francisco.  Thank you to all of the conference organizers for putting together a series of events that was well worth my time and money.

About Mark Feinholz

Software developer, architect, technical product manager. Inspired by technology to help us live happier and healthier lives.
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