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Data Take Center Stage at Health 2.0 Conference

SAN FRANCISCO — If the Health 2.0 movement is perceived as an ongoing conversation, the first four years could be seen as determining who was going to be talking and what the means of communication was going to be. Now, in year five, the focus is turning to what, exactly, everybody’s going to be talking about.

“Data is everything,” said Health 2.0 cofounder Mathew Holt at the Fifth Annual Health 2.0 Conference this week.

Raw information — the gathering of it, collating, crunching and ultimately putting it to work — was a major theme of this year’s event.

“If we see data in health care as this huge glacier, we really are just now coming to see the tip of the iceberg,” said Indu Subaiya, co-founder with Holt. Together, in 2007, they launched the first Health 2.0 event aimed at sparking innovative ways to get consumers involved in actively managing their own health care. Between 400 and 500 people (“mostly techies and nerds,” according to Holt) showed up for the first conference. This week, more than 1,500 people from several countries attended.

“We’re getting to the stage that is kind of the holy grail of Health 2.0, where the rubber meets the road,” Subaiya said. “This year at Health 2.0 we’re really beginning to see the intelligent mining of big data that can truly change how the system works. It’s all around us, this data, but we have so much more work to do to link it and make use of it.”

The kind of data examined during the conference ranged from tiny sensors and devices to monitor heart rate and glucose levels to “Big Data” gathered by the government and huge corporations to analyze big-picture situations ranging from flu epidemics to payer and provider databases.

“Data at every level is going to be what drives things forward,” Holt said. 

“Almost everything we talk about here is being generated and displayed on the Internet, and we’re only talking about a small, tiny fraction of what’s out there,” Holt added.

Government Embracing Health 2.0

What started as a grassroots effort to get patients involved with health information technology has landed the federal government as a partner. Two HHS representatives participated in the Health 2.0 event this week — Farzad Mostashari, national coordinator for health IT, and Lygeia Ricciardi, senior adviser for consumer eHealth at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

“We are embracing this with the passion of a recent convert,” Mostashari said during a patient-centered panel presentation. “We come to this community with humility. This is not something that I’ve been at the forefront fighting for, but I really do believe we’re on the right track.”

Ricciardi urged attendees to check out the government’s new offerings at, including a new educational campaign, “Putting the I in Health IT.”

“We had this big formal launch in Washington two weeks ago as part of National Health IT Week,” Ricciardi said. “One side (of the site’s home page) is set up for providers and professionals and the other for patients and families. There’s a whole body of information on health IT for the general public to understand it better,” Ricciardi added.

Health 2.0 and ONC announced the launch of another in its series of challenges to health care technology innovators — this one an invitation to multidisciplinary teams of developers to create a user-friendly way for patients to manage cardiovascular health using health IT. The project is part of the larger Health 2.0 Developer Challenge, a partnership between ONC and Health 2.0 designed to spur innovations in the use of technology to improve health care outcomes.

Earlier this month, ONC and Health 2.0 launched two competitions to encourage development of health IT applications to improve outcomes in patients transitioning from hospital to home and to facilitate reporting of adverse events related to medical devices.

‘About To Change the World’

Although health care faces many obstacles in trying to bring the industry into the 21st century, the people and ideas involved in Health 2.0 are “on the verge of doing all the things that are about to change the world,” according to Mark Smith, president and CEO of the California HealthCare Foundation and the conference’s keynote speaker. CHCF publishes California Healthline.

Compared to other parts of modern life, such as banking and research, “in the trenches of American medical practice, we are still about 20 years behind,” Smith said.

The good news, Smith said, is that technology is maturing and policy is evolving. The bad news is that time is running out in the race to fix an “enormously complex” health care system with “perverse incentives.”

Smith pointed to Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, investment banks that folded in the credit crisis of 2008, as examples of “what happens when you run out of time.”

“The fact of the matter is we’re seeing lots of niceties in health policy swamped by fiscal realities,” Smith said. “The amount of time we have is dwindling.”

In November 2010, CHCF launched a $10 million fund to support health care innovation.

“We are interested in helping to stimulate innovations that can get some kind of market traction,” Smith told a room full of entrepreneurs.

To illustrate the kinds of ideas that don’t get traction, Smith showed a slide of the cartoon South Park’s Underpants Business Model:

  • Phase One — Collect underpants
  • Phase Two — ?????
  • Phase Three — Profits!!!

“For a lot of health care ideas, that’s really what the business model amounts to,” Smith said. CHCF wants “to fund successful companies because we’re tired of seeing good ideas dying on the vine.”

The CHCF Health Innovation Fund invests in for-profit and not-for-profit companies and organizations, with a focus on start-ups. Investments range from seed grants of $50,000 to as much as $3 million over the life of a company or service.

Sampling of Launches, Rollouts

Dozens of new products, projects, partnerships and campaigns were announced during the two-day conference, including:

  • Health eVillages, a partnership between the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and Massachusetts-based Physicians Interactive Holdings. The project aims to get mobile phones and handheld devices to medical professionals in poor, remote and underserved parts of the world. So far, the organization has mounted pilot projects in Haiti, Uganda, Kenya and the U.S. Gulf Coast;
  • Society for Participatory Medicine, which encourages patients to take an active role in their health care and encourages physicians to make that happen, announced a campaign to get 10,000 physicians enrolled in a program to receive the Society Seal, proclaiming their compliance with three basic tenets of the organization — providing patients with all medical data, convening a patient advisory group, soliciting input from patients and providing resources to patients; and
  • Clarimed, billed as a “first-of-its-kind” health care rating organization, launched its online rating service. Calling itself the first independent rating agency for medical devices, diseases and health care products and services “in the gap that exists between scientific portals and medical websites for consumers,” Clarimed was formed in April, launched a beta site in June and went live this week.

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