At the end of the Health 2.0 Conference earlier this month, I sat down with the event’s co-founders Matthew Holt and Indu Subaiya to discuss the big trends. I’d been impressed and excited by the innovation demonstrated at Health 2.0. It turns out much of it was driven by Big Data.
Healthcare is a huge, important industry and it’s being transformed by technology all across the board: from the personal health apps that many of us use on our smartphones, to the electronic health records in doctor practices and hospitals, to the emerging revolution of digitized genomic data.
What all of those things have in common is digital data, much of it on the Internet. Indeed there’s so much digital health data now that the term “Big Data” is commonly used to describe it. Another trend is that healthcare is moving beyond the doctor’s office and into the daily lives of consumers, via smartphone apps and new platforms that host health data.
I began by asking Matthew and Indu what, if anything, surprised them over the few days of the conference.
Matthew noted the evolution of natural language processing tools, which combined with Big Data are leading to surprising innovations. An example is a startup called Treato, an impressive search engine for health data that I got an inside look at during the event. Treato effectively scans millions of pieces of unstructured health data on the Web and orders it - for example creating user reviews of medication.
Matthew also noted the rise of “small data making vital connections.” He pointed to one of two winners of the DCtoVC Startup Showcase, Beyond Lucid Technologies. This company offers an electronic health record (EHR) for emergency response agencies (such as ambulances). It’s an example of a health solution that delivers the right piece of information at the right time and place, enabling better on-the-spot decision making. This service potentially saves lives.
Indu commented that big data is also enabling a “new level of personalization and targeting.” She pointed to the winner of Health 2.0 Developers’ World Cup, New York City-based MedTurner. The service uses natural language processing to monitor tweets for health-related information. It then analyzes those tweets and “offers relevant advice and resources.” Use cases include monitoring for signs of depression or suicide, tracking CDC travelers’ health, rare disease clinical trial matching and Medline Plus drug safety and side effects alerting.
One of the most exciting areas of health technology currently is what’s been termed ‘personalized medicine.’ MedTurner is one example, but the most interest is in consumer genomics companies like 23AndMe. The hope is that genomic data will lead to hyper-personalization of disease prevention and treatment.
As Indu remarked, the current era of personalized medicine is “the oppositie of patient social network PatientsLikeMe. There’s no one like me.”
Once again, Big Data is a key ingredient. Indu explained that “in order to have hyper-personalization, you need to tap the crowd and look for the pattern. It’s a kind of closed loop.”
If there is one major concern though, it’s that doctors aren’t adequately trained to use genomic data. Indu called this a “massive gap” in healthcare. However she mentioned there are a couple of apps that help physicians navigate genomics.
The Danger Of Information Overload
One of the challenges of Big Data is that it may lead to information overload for doctors. Particularly when genomics takes off (it’s still early in that era). I asked Indu and Matthew how doctors will cope.
Indu agreed that it’s “a massive problem [and] there is a firehose coming.” But she sees a lot of potential in dashboard tools that help doctors interpret and manage the data inflow. An example for the consumer audience is TicTrac, the winner of the startup Launch! segment during the Health 2.0 conference. TicTrac, currently in private beta, lets you track a variety of health data in one place.
What’s needed is a kind of advanced TicTrac for doctors. “The hope is in some of the organizational tools that are not going to make single dumps of data, but are going to send a pattern,” said Indu. “Or they’re going to allow somebody very quickly to look at millions of data points and visualize [that] this patient needs an intervention.”
Dashboard tools that do this kind of pattern visualization will become “the doctor’s best friend,” according to Indu.
Matthew agreed, adding that post-operative apps that enable healthcare organizations to monitor a patient’s condition after they leave the hospital will also help.
Technology Down The Stack
Which leads us to another trend in health technology: spreading the workload around. Indu noted that “putting technology all the way down the stack,” so that patients or nurses can actively monitor health data, allows doctors to "just deal with things that need [their] expertise.”
In particular, “the prevention part [of healthcare] is moving more to self-management tools” for consumers.
Matthew remarked that this will allow doctors to see fewer patients for longer time periods, because they will be focusing on the patients that need them the most. So for example, instead of a doctor seeing a lot of patients for 7 minutes each (which is the norm these days) they will be able to spend 45 minutes on 7–8 patients per day.
In summary, the Health 2.0 Conference showcased a lot of innovative health technology that will soon be not only in your physician’s hands - but yours too. Big Data is driving much of this innovation. The more health data we have and the better it is analyzed and structured using technology, the more effective our healthcare system will be.
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