Web 2.0 is no longer a new concept - I've been writing about it for a couple of years now - but at conferences like these, it is refreshing to see the Web 2.0 technologies and mindset being applied to create actual solutions that will directly benefit both physicians and patients. Not to mention the health plans, and eventually, big pharma, which is where most of the real money resides in this sector.
The ideas and solutions on display at the conference were exciting! It is mind-blowing to think about the ways in which technology is going to change the practice of medicine and health management in the coming years.
The healthcare field, more than most, has always been fragmented into many discrete groups: physicians, nurses (and Physician Assistants), caregivers, patients, patient family/friends, pharmacists, medical researchers, health plan administrators and pharmaceutical company employees. The primary changes from Health 2.0, I believe, will come from applying the "4-Cs" principles - communication, collaboration, community and content - to this field, leading us into an era of unprecedented information-sharing and collaboration among all of these diverse groups, enabling them to work together seamlessly using these new tools.
These features of collaboration and community can be applied to any type of activity that physicians get together and perform. With the appropriate tools, physicians can get together quickly and easily to discuss and consult on unusual medical cases; detect, diagnose and treat conditions that span multiple specialties; address rare conditions; and so on.
As an example, look at the web site: syndicom spineconnect - a community purely focused on the issues faced by spine surgeons. This type of niche solution is going to become increasingly common. So the only pediatric spinal cord surgeon in a small town will be able to connect with peers across the country when she faces a patient with a rare complication.
Overall Trends at Health 2.0, San FranciscoThe conference has been covered in detail at many other places (including on my friend Charles' blog ). On my way back, I started thinking about the overall trends I had observed over two days, which were the following:
Community is in! The number of startups at the conference focusing on building communities - for physicians, patients, caregivers, and others - was astounding. Many of them have surprisingly rich sites with large user networks. With the prevalence of Wikis and low-cost community-building solutions like Ning, this is no surprise, but it remains to be seen how many of these sites can build sustainable business models, especially in the current economic environment.
2. Wellness and Preventive Health Management
For purely economic reasons as much as anything else, the healthcare industry is beginning to put a great deal of emphasis on preventing health problems and on increasing patients' health in general, as opposed to treating them in a clinic or emergency room after they've had a problem. Overall, this is a good thing, although there is the risk of undesirable side effects once the health plans get into the act. (Mandatory exercise and ice cream rationing, anyone?)
3. Power to the People!
With today's unparalleled access to information on the World Wide Web (especially free, high-quality sites like Wikipedia), today's patients are singularly well-informed about their own conditions. The patient has the advantage over the doctor, in that he or she has to only learn about their own condition or illness, and that knowledge can go very deep indeed! This causes a power shift in the patient-physician relationship; in the past, it was a given that the doctor knew more. Therein lies the business opportunity: patient-education sites are on the rise.
Most physicians, however, are still uncomfortable with this shift, and unused to patients second-guessing them (which is understandable). Get used to it, Doctor - this is a one-way change, and there's no going back!
4. Remote Visits / Tele-medicine
A number of companies presented solutions that enable patients to gain access to a physician instantly on the web, 24x7x365. The remote physician could be based in the United States or in another country; as long as the physician was certified, she could write a long-distance prescription. This could make medicine affordable to a larger percentage of the population and reduce healthcare costs; on the other hand, actual physical examinations still require a real visit to the doctor. While the presentations in this area were very well-received, it remains to be seen how quickly these types of solutions will gain traction and how popular they will prove to be.
5. Mobile Healthcare
Health plans and pharmacies are experimenting with software solutions that enable automated phone calls to patients for a variety of reasons: to remind them to take their medicine (compliance), to remind them to get a refill and order it during the phone call, to communicate test results, to provide encouragement and feedback on wellness programs and so on. Several startups in this area made presentations in the Tools for Consumers segment of the conference.
6. Privacy Concerns
HIPAA notwithstanding, all this collaboration and information-sharing makes people nervous. Accordingly, there was a great deal of discussion at the conference (a lot of it offline) centered around HIPAA-coverage, security breaches and data privacy strategies.
If you had detailed knowledge about your specific genetic heritage and the health conditions you're predisposed to, would it help you to tailor your lifestyle and take precautions to manage the risk of contracting those health conditions? Companies like 23andme believe so and are already producing solutions in this space. The price point is still somewhat high, in my opinion ("$399 and a tube of saliva!" according to the company's web site), but should come down as it becomes more popular.
8. Public Policy
Is the healthcare model in the US broken? As healthcare costs spiral out of control, what can the government and public organizations do to change our course? The final panel of the conference, made up of thought leaders in this space, discussed this topic at a high level and exhorted the audience to carry the discussion forward within their own communities. I came away with the strong impression that public policy on healthcare is likely to change sometime in the near future because there is really no other choice.
The knowledge and application of Medicine marches forward - as it always has in history, since the time of Hippocrates - and there has never been a better time to obtain medical treatment, especially for a rare condition or disorder. Nevertheless, as physicians and healthcare workers start using these new tools to collaborate even more strongly amongst themselves and with their patients, I have a strong hope that we will see discontinuous improvements in the practice of medicine in the near future!