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Will Healthbox launch offer true innovation, or just more flash?

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, or so the saying goes.

My controversial piece on Silicon Valley missing the point of healthcare last summer doesn’t seem so controversial now, as I recently got some validation from others closer to the action than I am. First, reDesign Mobile analyst Rocky Agrawal wrote in VentureBeat that Silicon Valley might be “too smart for their own good,” building products more suited for highly educated techies than for the masses. Last week, former Apple and PepsiCo CEO John Sculley suggested at the Digital Health Summit at 2012 International CES that technology for its own sake is rather useless if you don’t understand the market you’re targeting.

“”The thing that is missing is getting the people with the domain expertise aligned with the people with technological know-how to turn ideas into branded services,” Sculley said, as I report in InformationWeek Healthcare and in tomorrow’s MobiHealthNews.

After raking Rock Health over the coals in my commentary last summer, I offered qualified praise to the San Francisco-based investor/business accelerator for healthcare start-ups last month on this blog. “I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of the 15 companies are aimed at either healthcare providers—an important constituency largely missing from the first Rock Health class—and on treatment of truly sick patients.” I wrote.

“I never thought I would say this, at least not before the end of 2011, but kudos to Rock Health for making a real effort to figure out the complex healthcare industry and to add some substance to what heretofore had been all style.”

Tomorrow, I am planning on attending the kickoff event for Healthbox, a similar healthcare business accelerator that differs from Rock Health in at least one key way: it is not in Silicon Valley, but right here in down-to-earth Chicago. Does that make a difference? Well, the kickoff isn’t at a hotel ballroom or Healthbox’s office, it’s in an artsy space called the Ivy Room, in the heart of River North, an area usually populated by more tourists than locals.

I sure hope I’m not in for an over-the-top extravaganza that will highlight cool, direct-to-consumer apps with a snowball’s chance of catching on with the entities that actually pay the bills for healthcare. I want to believe there’s something real here, which is why I’m giving up at least a couple hours of my time to see the presentations. Please tell me that Chicago isn’t becoming a Silicon Valley clone, but rather the hub of health IT innovation it could be.

For what it’s worth, here is the list of companies scheduled to present tomorrow: UnitedPreference, DermLink, SwipeSense (“a comprehensive hand-hygiene solution,” whatever that means), The Coupon Doc, CareWire, Iconic Data, PaJR-Patient Journey Record (helping hospitals avoid 30-day readmissions, possibly making it a Big Deal), CareHubs, Corengi (linking diabetics to clinical trials) and PUSH Wellness. I see real potential in at least four of those, possibly more.

 

January 18, 2012 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Rock Health seems to be learning

My first impression of healthcare startup incubator/accelerator Rock Health was not a favorable one. I wrote in MobiHealthNews last July that the San Francisco-based organization founded by some hotshot, young Harvard MBAs demonstrated “yet another example of Silicon Valley arrogance.” I said that Rock Health was mostly targeting the young end of the market with cool, fitness-oriented apps, not the elderly and chronically ill who account for the bulk of the nation’s $2.5 trillion annual healthcare spend. That group wants things that are easy to use rather than fun and hip.

Needless to say, I was not invited to Rock Health’s Christmas party. I did share a quick “hello” nod with Managing Director Halle Tecco when I saw her in a meeting room at the mHealth Summit last month, though.

Even then, I wondered if Rock Health had changed its attitude at all, seeing that even the executives were outfitted in company t-shirts in the buttoned-down world of (just outside) Washington, D.C. (I once had a Capitol Hill press pass early in my career. The rules require members of the media to conform to the same dress code as members of Congress. That means a coat and tie for men, while women have to have jackets if they choose to wear slacks. An unwritten rule of D.C. in general calls for women to wear stockings if they go with a skirt, even if it’s 95 degrees and humid, which it frequently is in the summer.)

Today, though, I saw a clear sign that Rock Health is starting to learn from its earlier mistakes. MobiHealthNews reported on the incubator’s class of 2012, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of the 15 companies are aimed at either healthcare providers—an important constituency largely missing from the first Rock Health class—and on treatment of truly sick patients. One startup, for example, helps people being treated for breast cancer prepare for doctor visits, while another produces an EHR for home-health agencies. Good stuff in my critical eyes, though really, enough with the social networking to get people to exercise. There are too many of these platforms and apps already.

I never thought I would say this, at least not before the end of 2011, but kudos to Rock Health for making a real effort to figure out the complex healthcare industry and to add some substance to what heretofore had been all style.

December 20, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Health Wonk Review, unadorned but chock full of health IT

In the latest edition of Health Wonk Review, hosted by Chris Fleming on the estimable Health Affairs blog, there’s not much in the way of a fun theme, but that’s OK. It’s still full of some good perspectives, including more than the usual share of health IT.

My post that aggregated a bunch of tweets from the Health 2.0 Conference made the biweekly blog carnival, as did a much longer-form way of covering the event, David Harlow’s series of video interviews. Harlow got 18 different people on camera, including HHS gurus Todd Park and Dr. Farzad Mostashari.

Elsewhere, patient advocate Jessie Gruman,  president and founder of the Center for Advancing Health, took on mobile apps as a means of changing patient behavior, Tom Lynch of the Workers’ Comp Insider blog discussed predictive modeling in healthcare claims administration and Healthcare Economist blog author Jason Shafrin wonders why patients don’t seem to care much about healthcare quality.

In particular, I invite you to share Shafrin’s short post, if for nothing more than a conversation starter.

October 13, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Health 2.0 by Twitter

Here’s my version of Short Attention Span Theater (which is pretty much what Twitter is anyway), of the recently concluded Health 2.0 Fall Conference, as I reported via Twitter. Note the juxtaposition between observation, commentary and snark.

Preconference sessions on Sunday:

Irony: RegisterPatient is on same #health2con panel as DrChrono after DrChrono called its pt history collector "groundbreaking." #mhealth
@nversel
Neil Versel
RT @: Still waiting for a demo to blow me away or provide impressive insight on adoption rates at Doctors 2.0. #health2con #toosoon?
@nversel
Neil Versel

Monday plenary sessions:

Following thoughtful keynote from @ boss Mark Smith, live launch of HealthTap at #health2con threatens to turn mtg into pep rally.
@nversel
Neil Versel
This got someone from HealthTap to misinterpret what I had said:
So much enthusiasm on health! @ After keynote from @ Mark Smith, launch of #HealthTap at #health2con turns mtg into pep rally
@HealthTap
HealthTap
To which I replied:
@ @ That was meant as a caution, not as approval. Too much enthusiasm and you lose sight of reality. #health2con
@nversel
Neil Versel
(For the record, @CHCF is not the correct handle for the California HealthCare Foundation. It’s @CHCFnews.)

I also had an important question for HealthTap, one that so far has gone unanswered.

@ says 5k docs signed up. I wonder about liability from giving #medical advice online to #patients they don't know #health2con
@nversel
Neil Versel

I retweeted/commented on many others’ tweets, too.

AMEN! RT @: Need #healthIT solutions to be more geared toward real source of need in our population: the elderly #health2con
@nversel
Neil Versel
RT @: stickK has users commit money toward their goal, spends it on their 'anti-charity' of choice if they don't meet #health2con
@pjmachado
Paulo Machado
RT @: Love Mark Bertolini's comment that people should be able to fit healthcare into their lives & not other way around #health2con
@pjmachado
Paulo Machado
RT @: RT @: Jim Hansen of Dossia: 85 year olds don't like sexy interfaces. Keep it simple #health2con
@ekivemark
Mark Scrimshire

I found quite a bit of news and lack of news being announced on stage.

Aetna will have #mhealth app for #patients to make #physician appointments next spring. #health2con
@nversel
Neil Versel
Pls don't tell me about another untethered #PHR. Nobody uses them. #healthIT #health2con #fail
@nversel
Neil Versel

And don’t take kindly to vagueness about the word “solution.”

WTF is a solution? RT @: Or just solutions! RT @: Ppl dont want a PHR, they want tools 2 help solve health problems
@nversel
Neil Versel
I hate hate hate the use of "solution" as a synonym for "product" or "service." #health2con #healthit
@nversel
Neil Versel
Good health. MT @: WTF is a solution? RT @: Or just solutions! RT @: Ppl want tools 2 help solve health problems
@grapealope
Rachel Kalmar
@ @: ok! people want good health without having to invest time into it, that's the bottom line.
@grapealope
Rachel Kalmar
(I get the sense @grapealope is among the many Silicon Valley cheerleaders who came not to a conference but a pep rally. I bet the Kool-Aid tasted great.)

So true. RT @: How many social networks will people participate in? I find it hard to keep up with one. #health2con
@nversel
Neil Versel
What about the unmentionable of the digital divide, that people who need help, can't afford the tools we are building apps for #health2con
@rdesain
Rachel de Sain

Then came the lamest presentation of them all, in a plenary session no less, a demo of an overly cutesy “life game” called Mindbloom. The presentation was accompanied by distracting sound effects of birds chirping the entire time, and the game itself featured a guide character called the “enlightening bug.” My impression?

More touchy-feely bs. Time for a group hug. #health2con
@nversel
Neil Versel

Others weren’t so harsh, but at least had questions about the purpose and appeal.

Mindbloom interesting idea - just wondering how many people will take the time to manage this digital Tamagachi... #health2con
@pjmachado
Paulo Machado
@ I say nobody. Too cutesy.
@nversel
Neil Versel
Some will use - will have high drop off rate... RT @: @ I say nobody. Too cutesy.
@pjmachado
Paulo Machado
@ Yeah, that sounds right.
@nversel
Neil Versel

I later asked fellow realist John Moore of Chilmark Research this question:

@ Ready to join hands and sing Kumbaya yet? #health2con
@nversel
Neil Versel

At least I wasn’t the only one worn out by having to separate the wheat from the chaff.

At odds with myself after a long day at #health2con. So much great stuff, but so much shiny hyped iVapor too. Let's make it REAL folks!

I did tone down my rhetoric a bit on Tuesday, though.

Lots of people seem to be gulping the #health2con Kool-aid. Is your enthusiasm realistic? As an objective observer, I'm seeing hits & misses
@nversel
Neil Versel

OK, maybe only a bit, especially after Microsoft’s Mike Raymer said, “It was good to have two companies create a marketplace,” in reference to Microsoft’s HealthVault and the soon-to-be-departed Google Health.

#MSFT #HealthVault and #Google Health didn't create #PHR marketplace. CapMed started in 1991. #health2con
@nversel
Neil Versel
GH didn't have any users. RT @: Love how Microsoft Health Vault has a welcome page to former Google Health users. #health2con
@nversel
Neil Versel

I highlighted what I saw as good points:

RT @: Non invasive blood glucose monitor unveiled at #health2con in SF. very cool! Is it accurate? http://t.co/XIBm2i8f
@2healthguru
Gregg Masters
Sona Mehring of CaringBridge: #Facebook is the 3rd largest country in the world. #health2con
@nversel
Neil Versel

And I asked a question that I’d love to hear an answer to:

Deep Thought: Maybe there needs 2b differentiation between health 2.0 and fitness 2.0? #health2con #mhealth
@nversel
Neil Versel

I would be less likely to tune out certain sessions if there were more related to healthcare and less to personal fitness and wellness. Of course, others have different viewpoints, which is why it might make more sense to separate the two into different conferences or at least different tracks.

September 30, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Mixed feelings about health 2.0

I’m in San Francisco for the fifth annual Health 2.0 Conference. I attended the first two, missed the last two, but this year, I have several reasons for being here, not the least of which is to help out MobiHealthNews with coverage.

I’ve always been conflicted about this conference, and about the whole health 2.0 movement. In some ways, it represents the cutting edge of health IT thinking and consumer engagement. In other ways, it represents Bubble 2.0, with lots of interesting ideas that won’t catch on with the public and/or the healthcare community, as well as companies with no readily evident revenue model. (You know how I feel about style vs. substance.) But the positives generally outweigh the negatives.

Today, there were some pre-conference sessions. The one for doctors seemed like a dog-and-pony show, where various vendors paraded their products in front of an audience. This was my only real astute observation, as posted on Twitter:

Irony: RegisterPatient is on same #health2con panel as DrChrono after DrChrono called its pt history collector "groundbreaking." #mhealth
@nversel
Neil Versel

It sounded like the Patients 2.0 session was more compelling. Check this Twitter search for more details. Engaging patients is a great idea, but my personal feeling is that the session may have been a little heavy on the kumbaya. To wit:

@ I like the term "health citizen" instead of the disempowering & reactive term "patient" #patients20 #health2con
@seanahrens
Sean Ahrens
"Love needs a billing code!" reminds us @ #patients20 #health20
@rzeiger
Roni Zeiger

I’m liking these tweets a little better:

Great points #Patients20 Let's develop tools for soliciting & curating patient&family expertise to provide to patients newly diagnosed.
@mcuthbert33
Melinda Cuthbert
Good read, More health consumers look to pharmacists and pharmacy staff for health-related services http://t.co/RhZhzwwX #patients20
@rsgold
rsgold
#health2con #patients20 health literacy and "actionable" information means being able to meet people where they are.
@maisybones
marymcain

This post is a little heavy on the Twitter for a reason. I expect to be tweeting a lot more than blogging the next two days, mostly due to time constraints. Check out my Twitter feed on the right side of this page, or just go here.

September 25, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

An easy link to many of my health IT stories

One of these days, I’m going to build a page with all my professional information and a collection of stories I’ve written over the years. In the meantime, I recently discovered a decent source for tracking some of my work, a service called uFollow.

My page on this site, which I did not build myself, contains links to pretty much every story I’ve written for InformationWeek, going back to the beginning of the year. It also includes links for the five posts I did for the BNET Healthcare Blog in 2009 (which earned me the whopping sum of $250 total). But there’s nothing else currently there, even though my bio references the work I did for three Fierce Markets titles in 2009-10. I’ve asked uFollow either to update the feeds to include my work for titles like MobiHealthNews, Healthcare IT News, Health Data Management and others, or tell me how I can update the page myself. Stay tuned.

Since I’m talking about myself here, I’ll let you know that I’m making plans for a lot of conference coverage this fall. I’ll be attending the Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco in a couple of weeks, bravely wading into the back yard of the same Silicon Valley community I roundly dissed in July and have since taken a couple more swings at.

Next month, I’m expecting to be at the MGMA annual conference in Las Vegas. Last year was the first time in 10 years I missed that one, but I’m planning a return. Later that week, I’ll either be at TEDMED in San Diego or the CHIME Fall CIO Forum in San Antonio, a decision I’ll make in the next few days. Unfortunately, AMIA’s annual symposium is the same week on the east coast, so, regrettably, I’ll have to skip that one.

The first week of November, I’m scheduled to moderate a couple of panels at the Institute for Health Technology Transformation’s Health IT Summit in Beverly Hills, Calif. There may be one more speaking/moderating gig that month, but I’m not ready to announce it yet.

Publicists, you might be salivating now that you have an idea about my schedule this fall. Don’t worry, I won’t have time for all the vendor meetings you are going to propose, and I’m more than happy to ignore all but the very best pitches. I may even come to you to request a meeting if I think it would help me pay the bills, since I’m usually covering my own travel expenses. However, I know that especially at something like Health 2.0, there will be a lot of vaporware, hype and companies with no business model among the many good, solid ideas. I have a very good B.S. detector, honed over a 19-year career, and I’m not afraid to use it. Consider yourselves warned. :)

September 13, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Journal to examine gaming in health

You know a topic has arrived in healthcare or medicine when there’s a peer-reviewed journal for it. Now officially here is the field of gaming as a tool for healthcare, legitimized by the presence of a new journal, Games for Health, from well-known publisher Mary Ann Liebert Inc.

The bimonthly journal launched in July, and the first issue is due out this fall. According to Liebert’s press release: “Games are rapidly becoming an important tool for improving health behaviors ranging from healthy lifestyle habits and behavior modification to self-management of illnesses and chronic conditions to motivating and supporting physical activity. Commonly used applications include mobile phone-delivered games that track daily exercise and ‘exergames’ that require physical exertion in order to play (e.g., on platforms such as the Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation Move, and Xbox Kinect). Games are also increasingly used to train healthcare professionals in methods for diagnosis, medical procedures, patient monitoring, as well as for responding to epidemics and natural disasters. ”

This is a tricky industry segment. If it’s something patients have at home such as a Wii or Xbox, they’ll use it. If it requires people to purchase new equipment or software, they may not, since the direct-to-consumer market for interactive healthcare technologies remains a tough sell beyond the hardcore fitness fanatics. If we’re talking about training clinicians, then we might be on to something.

I can’t wait to see how this develops.

August 23, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Someone else takes a swing at Silicon Valley hype

You may have heard that I’ve been a little harsh on the Silicon Valley crowd this week. Well, I’d like you to know that healthcare isn’t the only place where people are being sold unicorns and rainbows. This still could apply to just about any industry reliant on technology, so, pretty much any industry.

Besides, we all could use a little laugh for a Friday, no? (Yeah, the time stamp says it’s still Thursday, but the server is in Las Vegas. It’s already Friday here in Chicago. Chances are you won’t read this until Friday anyway. Happy weekend!)

P.S., I love Xtranormal. FWIW, I see the company is not based in Silicon Valley, or even the United States. It’s from Montreal.

 

July 21, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

An American conquers France

For the Fourth of July, how about a little story of an American conquering France, with a health IT spin?

Smith College in Amherst, Mass., is still an all-female school, so, needless to say, I did not go there. But a graduate I  know showed me the most recent issue of the alumnae magazine, Smith Alumnae Quarterly. There, on the cover of the Summer 2011 edition is a familiar face, Paris-based health IT consultant Denise Silber, a 1974 graduate.

You may recall, I did a podcast with Silber in 2007. We talked about health IT initiatives in Europe in general and in France in particular, and compared progress there to that in the U.S. Since that time, though, Silber has brought the health/medicine 2.0 movement to Europe, in the form of the Doctors 2.0 and You conference. I also learned through the Smith article that Silber in April was admitted to the French Legion of Honor, an order founded by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte, apparently becoming only the second Smith grad to be so recognized. The first was Julia Child.

How cool is that?

July 4, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Bosworth: PHRs need to do more than just store data

You may have heard news of Google essentially putting its Google Health PHR platform in cold storage. Whether it’s true or not, the “untethered” PHR—one not connected to a health system’s EHR—has been a non-starter for years. I’ve been particularly critical of the undeserved attention Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault have received, when many smaller companies have been working on PHRs for much longer.

The original head of the Google Health project, Adam Bosworth, left the company in 2007 under suspicious circumstances—did he quit or was fired?—prior to the way overhyped 2008 introduction of this vaporware. Bosworth has gone on to start a new company, Keas, that produces a PHR that incorporates care plans. Keas got some undeserved hype itself, in the form of an October 2009 story in the New York Times that, from what I understand, was suggested by a Times editor who also was advising Keas. (That editor is no longer with the Times.)

Keas itself hasn’t gained much traction, either. I reported in September 2010 that Keas abandoned its original plans to sell direct to consumers in favor of partnering with insurance companies and large employers. That was the last I had heard about Keas until last week, when TechCrunch TV posted the following short interview with Bosworth, entitled, “Adam Bosworth On Why Google Health Failed”:

Bosworth said that Google simply didn’t offer anything the public really wanted. “They basically offered a place to store data,” he said. “Our data shows people don’t really want a place to store data per se. They want to do something fun and engaging. If it’s not fun, if it’s not social, why would they do it?” Yes, that makes sense.

Bosworth said that people need encouragement and even peer pressure to practice healthy behaviors. Bosworth said he lost 22 pounds in 18 weeks by walking 4 miles each way to and from his downtown San Francisco office four times a week, and he credited the encouragement he got from checking in on Keas.

That’s a great sign, but I wonder how many other stories like his there are out there? My guess is, not many. I’m thinking online communities of like-minded people or those facing similar health issues have been far more successful. Last night’s post is a prime example.

Feel free to prove me wrong.

June 6, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.