The seventh annual Health 2.0 conference took place under the shadow of major health care news last week: the opening on Oct. 1 of the state and federal health insurance exchanges and, on the same day, the start of the first government shutdown in 17 years, a result of continued congressional Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
The California HealthCare Foundation, which publishes California Healthline, was a sponsor of the conference.
The conference, staged in the heart of Silicon Valley from Sept. 29 to Oct. 2, has grown exponentially since its early days. This year, it drew about 2,000 attendees, 140 demos and 200 speakers to the Santa Clara Convention Center. As in past years, developers and entrepreneurs dominated the stage and the audience. But the confab also attracted a mix of industry leaders, including large hospital systems, policymakers, medical device companies and insurers.
Matthew Holt and Indu Subaiya, conference co-founders, identified five major trends this year:
- Self-tracking health and fitness milestones;
- Applying new high-tech inventions to health care;
- Provider system engagement in new technologies;
- Products that link health with spirituality and social group support; and
- The influence of top-down policies on payment reform and price transparency initiatives.
“Application developers can churn data and present [them] to users in very meaningful ways,” Subaiya said of new transparency initiatives, such as the release in May of chargemaster data for the 100 most common Medicare inpatient diagnostic-related groups.
All five of these trends share an overarching goal: to easily fit into people’s lives. Whether that product is a platform to monitor patients after hospital discharge or a device to track sleep patterns or a tool that comparison shops for insurance, conference presenters sought to make their products easy for providers, payers and patients to use.
That’s been a sticking point for Health 2.0 developers in years past. And one they are still struggling to overcome: how do all these apps, dashboards, platforms and devices dovetail with the health care system?
Walter “Buzz” Stewart, chief R&D officer at Sutter Health, said obstacles remain to getting these technologies into the workflow of hospitals.
“It’s much easier to see adoption around population health management rather than point-of-care decisionmaking,” Stewart said. “Standardized data is still an obstacle … Cracking that nut, to me, is going to be very, very important.”
The sheer volume of data being generated and collected is creating “inertia,” said Tom van Gilder, chief of product development at Humana-Anvita Health, a subsidiary of Humana. Health care needs to move from a “spoke-and-wheel” model to an ecosystem model with the patient at the center, he said. “Three principals to changing the model are: data simplicity; actionable data; and ease getting data into the workflow of the case manager and physician and the life flow of the patient.”
For some presenters at the conference, engaging patients and providers means pairing new technology with old outreach methods.
Vree Health, a subsidiary of Merck, has a care coordination platform around preventable readmissions, called Transition Advantage, that is accessible to physicians, patients and other care team members. The website allows patients and clinicians to track daily medication adherence, vital signs, lab results, weight and physical activity. Additionally, call center workers act as “transition liaisons” to coordinate post-discharge plans and reach out to patients over the phone.
Lena Lattanzi, director of product development at Vree Health, said the “technology is providing a central portal for everyone to get information about that patient.” And the call center aspect ensures “that people not disposed to or who don’t have access to the technology receive a high level of service and care coordination.”
Reaching people in their “life flow” is a central goal of the state health insurance exchanges and participating insurers. Making enrollment and education simple and painless will drive participation, said Scott Osler, vice president of business development at GetInsured.com, which built the software platform for some of the state exchanges, as well as a user-friendly Web portal for consumers to compare plans.
Some companies are literally putting their products in consumers’ paths. SoloHealth, a maker of self-service health kiosks, announced at the Health 2.0 conference a strategic partnership with eHealth, parent company of ehealthinsurance, to make health plan selection and enrollment available at SoloHealth kiosks. About 130,000 people use SoloHealth kiosks at retail centers nationwide to check their body mass index, blood pressure and other metrics. “We are trying to reach people where they are in a relevant manner,” Bart Foster, CEO and founder of SoloHealth, said.
Similarly, the Department of Veterans Affairs presented on its partnership with Walgreens to share data on seasonal flu shots. The “retail immunization care coordination program” allows VA to better track flu shot adherence among veterans. For instance, in Florida, where VA has 80 clinical facilities, the partnership with Walgreens brings in another 800 access points for flu shots, officials said.
With the avalanche of Health 2.0 products available today, providers are developing ways to sift through and test them to see if they can enhance their care delivery.
Rich Roth, vice president of strategic innovation at Dignity Health, said the San Francisco-based hospital system borrows from a technique used to teach toddlers to swim to test new products. “Run, run, jump” is a game where a toddler steps from a pool ledge onto a foam mat floating on the pool surface, runs to the end holding a parent’s hand, and then jumps in the water.
“Kids have to jump in, but they need to do it in a way that is safe and tested,” Roth said.
Using the “run, run, jump” method, Dignity Health tests a new product with one team in a specific geography — the first “run.” If that product passes the first test, Dignity Health will try it again in a different geography and team on a second run. “If it works with both runs, then we jump,” he said.
Products that have passed the “run, run, jump” test include Airstrip‘s ONE OB, which allows clinicians to check fetal heart rates using smartphones. Another example is Propeller Health, formerly Asthmapolis, a mobile platform for respiratory health management, Roth said.
One company is taking the notion of weaving products into people’s lives quite literally. OM Signal, of Montreal, Canada, was the audience favorite in this year’s Launch! segment of the Health 2.0 conference, in which 10 companies launch their products on the main stage and the audience chooses a winner via text message.
OM Signal blew away the competition with a shirt that has embedded sensors to track heart rate, breathing and activity. The shirt is synched to a mobile app that displays the data in real time on mobile devices. “There is magic in seeing your own biometrics on the screen and reacting to that,” said OM Signal co-founder and CEO Stephane Marceau.