I endured what very few people could (or would) do in the past ten days: I traveled to New Orleans to the annual conference of HIMSS, the Health Information Management Systems Society, which features hundreds of suppliers to the health care information technology industry. I returned home to kiss my family hello and goodbye, and a day later flew to Austin for the annual South-by-Southwest conference for music, movie and digital folks. The health track at SXSW has grown over the past five years, and provides a start contrast to “health care” as embodied at HIMSS, and “health” translated through SXSW’s lens.
That contrast represents the confounding nature of the the chaos and creative destruction, as Eric Topol has coined it, that the health/tech industry is undergoing.
It’s also the opportunity for the two ends to, in the words of Lennon and McCartney, come together, right now, over “me” — with “me” being The Patient, Person, Consumer. Pick your noun, but whichever you choose, it’s about “Me,” the health citizen.
At HIMSS, the audience is health providers, hospitals and physicians, both segments of which are feverishly working to accomplish Meaningful Use of electronic health records systems to earn the incentives earmarked in the HITECH Act of the American Reconstruction and Recovery Act (ARRA), aka the Stimulus Package. At the same time, health care providers continue to batten down their hatches to improve security of peoples’ personal health information, which gets hacked and breached on an ongoing basis, stories strewn throughout local newspapers throughout the U.S. My session at HIMSS focused on patient engagement, and was titled, Building Patient 2.0 and detaileed how consumer-facing health IT bolsters health engagement. My fellow panelists were Christine Robins, CEO of BodyMedia, and Sandra Elliott, Director of Consumer Health Technologies from Meridian Health System in New Jersey.
At South-By, it’s a totally different take on personal information compared with HIMSS, which is institutionally-focused: the themes here are open data, DIY, a maker faire for living every day. The panel on which I sat was called Sitting Will Kill You: Can Mobile Save Us? Our panelists included Sharon Mandler of Saatchi Wellness, Fran Melmed, developer of the HotSeat app and principal with Context Communications, and Peter Katzmarzyk, expert researcher on the sitting disease.
Although the intention of each of these panels was on personal health engagement, the audiences couldn’t have been more different: at HIMSS, the spillover crowd of attendees the session (over 500 people) were generally new to the concept of consumer self-health tracking, with only a handful of them knowing ‘who’ BodyMedia was. In fact, BodyMedia is one of the most mature companies in the Quantified Health space, and is a Class II medical device regulated by the FDA. Most self-tracking health devices currently marketed to consumers are not FDA regulated.
At SXSW, attendees to our panel on the perils of sitting on health outcomes and wellness were well acquainted with self-tracking and health engagement. Questions were very specific about which technologies have been useful in getting people moving, and audience members contributed both personal and population health data points to the conversation.
Both meetings had near-record attendance, with digital health growing in terms of both thee supply side of developers and the demand side for new and evidence-based technologies that improve individual and public health.
Health Populi’s Hot Points: Over a long lunch with a collegial health venture capitalist whom I consider both friend and colleague, we brainstormed the role of SXSW in health and the opportunities for creative disruption in the health care system. We talked about how, in the developing world and BRIC economies (less the Russian “R”), there’s much going on in terms of leap-frogging past the U.S. in very consumer-facing “healthcareDIY” technologies. In Brazil, India and China, the emerging middle class is engaging in health markets for insurance, pharma and medical innovations more transparently than the U.S. middle class in 2013.
I hearken to the Beatles: I think SXSW and HIMSS had mutually reinforcing messages that must Come Together – the importance of the health ecosystem, transparency, open standards, and consumer empowerment with regulatory regimes that both protect consumers and foster fast innovation.
For now, siloed segments in the health care ecosystem still threaten this Holy Grail. We need to foster conversations and development across segments — health plans and pharma, consumer advocates and technology developers, doctors and patients. More cross-pollination between the SXSW and HIMSS bedfellows could inspire meaningful creative destruction and more meaningful health-tech development.