by Caitlin Overstreet | Nashville based reader, occasional writer, and life enthusiast.
The healthcare industry lags behind in useful adoption of data sharing technology, but Health:Further speakers and attendees are working to change that.
When I arrived at the Health:Further festival on Wednesday afternoon, I wasn’t sure what I’d gotten myself into. I work as a sourcing consultant for a global science and technology company, and I don’t personally have a strong background in health. (I generally avoid going to the doctor and intermittently panic online over WebMD’s predictions of my untimely death.) Having been invited to the festival last-minute, I wasn’t necessarily anticipating an afternoon of riveting content. Fortunately, my expectations for how engaging the event would be were about as accurate as my ability to predict whether or not a new freckle is imminently fatal.
This year’s festival brought together 185 presenters and 1700 attendees in Nashville. Speakers from across the industry gave presentations on what’s next in healthcare, focusing particularly on how advances in tech can improve outcomes for patients.
In the first session I attended, Trevor Brown of Relatient and David Vivero of Amino discussed obstacles presented by healthcare regulations and what their two companies are doing to improve access for patients. Both companies take a patient-centered approach to their services. Relatient improves doctor patient communication with a text-learning model that simplifies the payment process. Amino takes historical healthcare data and pairs patients with doctors in their area who have a high match to their specific needs — sort of the Match.com of finding a doctor. Through information sharing, both companies are enabling engaged and informed patient populations.
Immediately after, I heard Mark Harris of Concert Genetics speak about the work his aptly named company is doing to radically scale up precision medicine. He is a passionate advocate for a high performing Genetic Health Information Network, the foundation for which exists currently in many unlinked data formats. Echoing the sentiments of Trevor Brown & David Vivero, Dr. Harris noted that disparate medical data storage systems present one of the key challenges to realizing such a network. The healthcare industry as whole has yet to identify a way of broadly sharing patient health data without compromising individual privacy. But judging by the conversations taking place at Health:Further, some companies are working hard to change that.
In the afternoon plenary session, several discussions maintained a sense of levity. CrossFit founder Greg Glassman’s colorfully worded speech urged listeners to “get off the carbs, get off the couch.” Mary Mirabelli, VP of Hewlett Packard, opened her remarks with a sheepish request for attendees to help her recover her left pump heel shoe — which she’d been carrying in her purse before her segment in the spotlight. Several federal-level speakers touted the recent shift towards paying for medication based on efficacy — a shift that should create immediate benefits for patients. One of my favorite talks was Planned Parenthood’s Alencia Johnson, who highlighted the urgent need to de-politicize access to reproductive healthcare. Listening to her impassioned speech I couldn’t help but wonder if the many people who filed out just before she came on stage had done so for political reasons. Whatever their motivations, they missed, in my opinion, the most important talk of the event.
So how can we motivate patients to show up to the doctor sooner, receive diagnoses earlier, and improve their odds for positive outcomes? Not every patient can be invited to a health festival to have the importance of their role in the process illuminated for them. However, as with many other tech advances, if we can understand patient behavior then we can understand how to drive changes to that behavior. Federal regulations designed to protect patient data could be slowing advancements in healthcare, thus any changes to our current system will have to come about through partnerships at the federal level. Connecting the dots between insurance claims and treatment outcomes could clear the way for precision medicine that’s funded based on efficacy. Community events such as Health:Further can bring together key players to form partnerships of mutual benefit, but the work can’t stop once the festival ends. To paraphrase Marcus Whitney, valuable ideas can come from anywhere, and anyone who cares about healthcare is needed within this community.