Now in its eighth year, the annual Health 2.0 Fall Conference has evolved from a showcase for not-ready-for-prime-time apps that wouldn't exist a year later to a self-congratulatory Silicon Valley pep rally to a more mature event that seems to be addressing real-world healthcare problems.
Health 2.0 Conference co-founder and CEO Indu Subaiya, MD, opened this year's conference in Santa Clara, Calif., by identifying the four stages of health 2.0. The original definition of health 2.0, now considered stage 1, is user-generated care. From there, users connect to providers to send their data, form partnerships to reform care delivery and, ultimately, use data to drive healthcare decisions and discovery.
Like the rest of the healthcare industry, the health 2.0 movement is on the second stage – namely, connecting disparate systems so that data can flow where patients and clinicians want it to. As with everyone else, it appears to be a formidable task; plus, so many new apps risk creating new data silos.
"Integration is key," said Adam Pellegrini, vice president of digital health at drugstore giant Walgreens.
Plenty of app and EHR vendors have released application programmer interfaces to make electronic connections, a step Pellegrini said was necessary but not sufficient. Data integration is as at least as important as the API and user interface, he said, because a typical 70-year-old with multiple chronic diseases will not want to spend an hour configuring a new gadget or app.
"We have to make it really, really simple," he said.
"People who are sick aren't going to set it up," Qualcomm Life General Manager Rick Valencia added. "You'd better find a way to get the medical devices directly connected or you're never going to get the data (other than by reading it over the phone). We're using technology to get people to not to use technology."
Davide Vigano, CEO and co-founder of Sensoria (formerly called Heapsylon), a Redmond, Wash.-based startup that makes fitness trackers embedded in garments, demonstrated his company's "smart socks" and related app that collect data with minimal effort on the part of the wearer. He said the socks are for more than just fitness; they can help with fall detection and rehabilitation by measuring gait as well as fitness-related metrics.
That clearly was a hit with the audience. Valencia noted there are fewer "flaky, flighty" ideas now than at previous Health 2.0 conferences. Among companies that presented at the inaugural event in 2007, about half were not in business a year later.
Still, with nearly 200 app and product demos at this year's conference, plus somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 launches, there were bound to be a few duds, including plenty of copycats.
Conference co-founder Matthew Holt said he's been told by 11 different companies in the past year that they were the "Uber for healthcare," referring to the car-on-demand app that is becoming legendary for its customer service and ease of use. Organizers rejected approximately 300 proposals to demonstrate products, so there is still plenty of hype out there.
Perhaps the most digitally literate physician in America, Scripps Health Chief Academic Officer Eric Topol, MD, said during a keynote address that "there really is an Uber of medicine." He noted that one co-founder of Uber, Oscar Salazar, also co-founded Pager, a year-old venture that provides house calls on demand in New York City.
Topol also commented on the new iPhone 6, saying that Apple sold 10 million units over the past weekend in a great example of the "democratization of technology" and of Moore's Law. "I was a little bit disappointed because the Apple Watch didn't really have a whole lot of health loaded into it other than heart rate, which isn't all that useful," he added.
Another speaker, Maureen O'Connor, president of the Mosaic Health Solutions innovation arm of Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina, advised health IT entrepreneurs to "stay focused on developing new technologies and launching new companies that will make healthcare better."
Take time to learn how healthcare works and make products about "the whole person," O'Connor said.
(Editor's note: This story has been edited from the original version, which appeared in Healthcare IT News, a sister publication of mHealth News and part of the HIMSS Media Group).
Neil Versel is a freelance health IT journalist based in Chicago.