Editor's note: this week the Health 2.0 Conference was held in San Diego, CA. The following is a review of the event, by Bill Allman from HealthCentral.com.

Anyone who struggles with healthcare in America – and that’s probably just about everyone – has a pretty good grip on the myriad problems facing doctors, patients, and health institutions. It’s a long list: finding a doctor when and where you need one; getting your health questions answered; finding trustworthy, reliable information online; worrying about getting quick and easy access to your health records (while at the same time worried about keeping them away from a too nosy-somebody else); and just getting a simple hug and a little support from a sympathetic friend or ally who knows what you are going through.

Despite the legendary intractableness some of these issues, at this week's Health 2.0 – “Connecting Consumers & Providers” conference in San Diego, there was no dearth of tech adventurers with an idea of solving some small corner of the puzzle. Orchestrated by health gurus Matthew Holt and Indu Subalya, who founded the event last year (click here for Holt’s Health 2.0 blog), the conference was quickly sold out, and the hundreds of attendees were treated to a host of presentations, ranging from trendy health-oriented social networks to “wired” doctors to the storing, managing and protection of Patient Health Records.


Matthew Holt questioning Matthew Zachary - photo by sprigley

Setting the stage on the first morning was Susannah Fox of the Pew Internet and American Live Project (her blog), who championed the idea that patients have to take – and be given – a stronger role in their health care. She also pushed the assembled entrepreneurs to carve their role in creating a doctor-patient partnership, in what she called the “space in between ‘doctor knows best’ and ‘leave the e-patient alone and he/she will find what is needed’" (her quote is from doctor/pioneer Charlie White, founder of www.eDocAmerica.com.). Fox also launched what turned out to the be the leading “meme” of the conference – summarizing her position in a “seven-word wisdom” mantra that inspired dozens of similar efforts by other presenters:

  • Recruit doctors
  • Let e-patients lead
  • Go mobile

Consumer Health Portals

First up to try to fill in that “space in between” were three consumer health sites that are breaking the mold of the traditional health portals: One is www.Trusera.com, founded by former Amazon exec Keith Schorsch, and which officially launched today; another is www.WEGOHealth.com, founded by former Yahoo Health exec Jack Barrette, which is now in beta; the third is the site I am the General Manager of, www.healthcentral.com. All start with the premise that the experience and learning of patients can be crucial to helping patients get the knowledge and support they need.

Trusera.com is a visually pleasing social network platform, designed to be a place where patients blog and can tell their stories to others. WEGOHealth.com takes a different approach, using patients to help suggest and rate various Web sites for different conditions. HealthCentral.com takes a further, different approach, hiring hundreds of “expert patients” to blog, react to breaking news, answer questions, and give support.

Finding Doctors / Health Providers

Finding, evaluating, and making an appointment with a doctor or health provider is a ever more crowded space, with Healthcare.com, Xoova.com, Healthgrades.com, Vitals.com, and Carol.com all offering variations on the theme of enabling users to research local health resources, get reviews of them, and even book and appointment online. And several companies are rolling out ideas to make those visits easier, or in some cases not as urgent.

The tech company Phreesia.com introduced a cool electronic tablet that doctors can use to electronically sign-in patients, the first foray in the quest to eliminate the tedious process of repeatedly filling out medical forms. American Well and Organized Wisdom are rolling out online applications where patients can chat live with a physician to get basic care questions answered. Both companies emphasize that their sites are not a substitute for a visit to the doctor, but instead could make that visit more effective by giving peace of mind and prescreen for potential problems.

Pioneering MDs

The most intriguing -- and perhaps frustrating presentations -- of the day came from a few pioneering MDs who have set alternative examples of how to set up shop.

Jordan Shlain founded the San Francisco On Call Medical Group, a group of doctors who make house calls almost anywhere their patients want to see them (home, office, even cruise ships) using a souped-up, hi-tech version of the doctors’ venerable black bag.

Jay Parkinson is aiming to be the “small town doctor of Brooklyn ,” using video camming, text messaging, email and chat to help treat his patients.

Both Jordan and Jay showed how different the standard model of health care can be -- but also revealed the huge gap between the existing system of health care and the state-of-the art technology that potentially could be harnessed to serve patients at an ordinary level. In the end, this gap is the core dilemma facing the Health 2.0 efforts to transform the industry.

Conclusion

As David Sobel of The Permanente Medical Group noted, the innovations seen at Health 2.0 are “merely a band-aid” to deeper issues facing the nation’s healthcare system. The technology of the nation’s medicine is perhaps the most sophisticated on the planet -- but a big part of its focus is mostly on managing the last year of a person’s life. Keeping the rest of us healthy, wealthy and wise in an affordable and effective way is a need yet to be met, but the efforts shown at the Health 2.0 conference are at least the first steps in how this might be accomplished. Or, to channel Susannah Fox:

  • Health care
  • Thorny, tangled mess
  • Tech helps

Bill Allman is General Manager / Chief Content-Creative Officer at HealthCentral.com