My 2 cents on Healthcare Datapalooza 2014

Rishi Saurabh

“I may be wrong on the specifics but I think I will be directionally right”~ Vinod Khosla

The quote from Vinod Khosla very aptly sums up my experience at the Healthcare Datapalooza this year in Washington DC. The conference witnessed over 2000 registrants, an amazing line up of top thought leaders in the healthcare industry from the United States and the UK, and a host of incubators. Amongst the 2000 registrants I had the privilege to meet a lot of healthcare startup firms, innovation leaders of provider organizations, forward thinking payer networks, as well as representatives of large corporations. The two day conference also drew enough attention from the Government bodies such as HHS and CMS. Although this was my first time attending the conference, I felt really comfortable discussing my view points with others in the audience and we unanimously agreed on one thing “right data at the right time in the hands of providers, payers, and most importantly patients is the key to fix the broken healthcare delivery system”.

In the last 5 years more and more locked data has been released by the healthcare ecosystem than it has been done in the last 50 years of US history! Post data liberation, the big challenge the industry faces can be summarized in these 3 questions:

1. What problems will we solve?
2. What data sources do we trust?
3. How will we solve these problems?

Various startups and large corporations are trying to pick top problems that promise good returns on technology investment. A majority of the problems can be summarized into 3 buckets: patients’ access, provider/system efficiency, and social impact. CareSync, Inbox Health, Care Predict, and were some of them that caught my attention in terms of impact on consumers. We all agree that it is much harder to solve problems that increases provider/system efficiency or reduces waste-but firms like Aver Informatics, Maxwell Health, and Predilytics are doing a great job in using data to help answer some difficult questions. It is also encouraging to observe that we are not losing track of the ultimate social cause behind healthcare and companies like Purple Binder continue to keep us honest.

On one hand there was consensus on the problems we are trying to solve, I did witness a lot of discrepancy around level of trust on various data sources. In fact, prominent healthcare industry thought leader- Dr. Atul Gawande believes that we do not have the right data sources today and we need to create the data to solve the problems. Ariadne Labs is attempting this in a novel way by collecting data through the noble endeavor of supporting patients’ at the most critical moments in lives-birth, critical surgery, and serious illness care during last stages.

Ultimately, the onus lies on this ecosystem of healthcare vendors (startups, large corporations, consulting firms), health systems (hospitals, physicians, and payers) and most importantly the top customer-Government to fix the broken healthcare delivery system in the United States. It is fascinating to observe some of the incubators working hard to add startups into the mix that bring fresh perspectives to the industry. I was specifically engaged with Startup Health for a couple of days where they brought in 20+ startups to give a 59 second pitch in front a broad audience of corporates, colleagues, providers, and investors. Startup Health also organized an event at the White House where we met with the representatives and discussed current challenges in healthcare innovation and how policies impact it. These incubators provide the right platform for the startups to grow and make an impact.

What I did not hear at Healthcare Datapalooza?

On one hand, it is encouraging to observe interesting data analytics engines being built out that can leverage various data sources. On the other hand, I personally think we are making a BIG assumption that the data is readily available for churning. Based on my discussions with health system executives – a vendor providing an analytics platform/tool is not enough. There is additional cost to populate the database in order to perform the ‘analytics’. The combination of purchasing the analytics platform and indirect cost of resources to populate the database is beyond what the currently strained health systems can afford now.

A winning formula would be a vendor that provides a turnkey solution: provide the resultant reports and/or provide the analytics AND the data specific to organizations as a package. Maybe even extend this offer to not just be a capital model but possibly a risk-share or SaaS model. Solving for the insights behind the 150 Exabytes of data requires a strong service plan along with products to run algorithms. According to Boston CIO’s data, the healthcare data is growing at 1.2 to 2.4 Exabytes per year globally! This is a lot of data to manage- the herculean task will be to find what data is relevant and which ones help us solve the real problem. The vendor community needs to partner with providers and payers to collect, analyze, and deliver outcomes based on the data.

Finally, I strongly believe that there are multiple reasons the healthcare vendor community should be excited about the potential entrepreneurial opportunity in front of us. Some of these reasons are:

  • We are in an era where new payment models are forcing the health systems to be smarter
  • Record EHR adoption in the last 4 years- the groundwork has been laid out
  • Government bodies along with commercial payers have released more data in the past 5 years than in the last 50 years
  • Patients now have the ability to get their own data

Now that the debate on healthcare coverage is over, it is time for us to go fix the broken healthcare system. Success in this arena would lie in making data the most important resource for clinicians and patients to reduce waste and improve outcomes.

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