To build this stuff is easy, said Matthew Holt, co-founder of the Health 2.0 conference and host of the Health Care Blog. To get people to use it is not.
This is why so many efforts to capture humans' attention could be seen. There was an online gaming demonstration from Humana, wellness tools from a company called Limeade, alternative therapy advice from rVeda, and a Web site to help pharma salespeople book appointments with physicians from RxVantage, to name just a few. Adam Bosworth, who last year headed up Google Health, debuted his new company called Keas, which from the demonstration looked like WeightWatchers.com on steroids.
Holt attributes the doubling in attendance over last year to word of mouth, sector growth and the rapid evolution of technology. He points out that startups only need a handful of engineers today to build a fairly sophisticated application, so the costs of bringing it to market have come way down.
The heavyweights of last year's conferenceMicrosoft Corp. and Googlehave since come out with their portable personal health records, Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health, to mixed reviews. Both said they continue to be works in progress. Last year, they were joined on the panel by Yahoo and WebMD. This year, a fifth panelist was added: Aetna.
The health plan's president, Mark Bertolini, showed off the company's personal health record, now deployed to 6 million members, and announced a partnership with Microsoft to help with portability. Aetna spends $60 million a year on call centers to assist members on billing and other plan questions, so the online personal health record could mean significant savings, he said.
One fascinating panel focused on Health 2.0 outside the U.S. In many parts of the developing world, text messaging is the primary form of distance communication. Oakland, Calif.-based ISIS, short for Internet Sexuality Information Services, for instance, provides reproductive health information via text message. The U.S. is quite a bit behind every other continent on this, said Deb Levine, the executive director and founder of ISIS.
Some 300 million people in India are paying mobile-phone subscribers, said James Matthews, vice president of business development at Sage Software, noting that mobile phones offer a clear opportunity to connect with people about their health.
Doug Solomon, chief technology strategist at IDEO, a leading Silicon Valley product design firm, said tech companies need to interact with people to develop products that are meaningful in their lives. When you look at what really poor people are doing in small villages with mobile technology, it's mind-blowing, he said.
Despite lots of enthusiasm, like last year, many attendees worried all these great ideas won't help improve healthcare quality, eliminate waste and ultimately reduce costs.
We need to make sure the data can be incorporated into the workflow of the healthcare system, said Robert Kolodner, head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. We have not changed the game yet. We have an enormous amount of work to do.
He added that he is concerned that some Health 2.0 applications are automating current inefficiencies.
Some representatives from traditional healthcare companies seemed amused. Kepa Zubeldia, executive vice president of interoperability technologies at Ingenix, a UnitedHealth Group subsidiary, called the technology he saw cute. He added, I feel like I'm in a Lego demonstration walking around here. All these pieces have to work together.
And what about those decisionmakers who didn't show up? On the provider side, there were few in attendance: Kaiser Permanente and some representatives of Catholic Healthcare West.
With a recession loomingor maybe already hereone would think that payers and providers would be looking to technology to lower healthcare costs, many attendees said.
David Lansky, president and chief executive officer of the Pacific Business Group on Health, said that he offered free registration to 80 major employers. But not a single one came. CDC was here, right? he asked the audience. But not CMS, the largest healthcare payer.
They missed some good demonstrations. The food was better and more plentiful than last year. Cocktails were served on both nights. Attendees could gather at picnic tables covered in festive yellow tablecloths scattered around the conference center for informal discussions.
And then there was the sight of Holt cross-dressing for one panel as Matilda, an overweight, chain-smoking redhead in heels and an ill-fitting yellow blouse and black pencil skirt. It showed the lengths conference organizers would go to demonstrate how online tools can help people change their lives for the better.
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