Digital Health Drives Conversation and Executive Engagement at #JPM16

W2O Group • Jan 28, 2016

From health information exchange and data blocking, to patient data access and industry collaboration, the key themes discussed at W2O Group’s 2nd Annual VIP Digital Health Luncheon–which took place alongside the 2016 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco–kicked off the event with a bang. With participation from some of today’s most prolific health IT thought leaders and digital health executives, both the onsite and online discussion reaffirmed the industry’s laser focus on achieving interoperability, fostering collaboration and enabling data exchange to improve patient care.

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From left to right: Jonathan Bush, athenahealth; Dr. Michael Blum, UCSF; Paul Markovich, Blue Shield of CA; Susannah Fox, HHS; Aman Bhandari, Merck

Historically known as biotech’s baby, this year’s JP Morgan Healthcare Conference conversation was largely focused on digital health; CMS head Andy Slavitt’s announcement about the future of meaningful use notwithstanding. But just how much of the conversation was focused on healthcare technology versus biotech? As W2O’s technology practice leader, Rob Cronin, anticipated, this was the year that digital health surpassed the biotech conversation on social media—Twitter, specifically.

In looking at keywords related to the topics of digital health and biotech as part of the #JPM16 Twitter conversation, not only did the digital health conversation grow from 2015 to 2016, it nearly doubled. Additionally, it surpassed the biotech-specific conversation.


Similarly, when looking just at hashtag use, #DigitalHealth surpassed #Biotech in relation to the #JPM16 conversation–two times over!


Driving advancement across the digital health spectrum was the key focus of the panel discussion at W2O’s VIP Digital Health Luncheon as well, where Department of Health and Human Services chief technology officer, Susannah Fox, noted that, “if anyone has any big data sets, please come to Washington.” Fox added that she’d love to see if the investor community approaching integrated big data as the government has. “If you haven’t heard about OpenNotes, you should Google it,” she said.

As the executive director of data science and insights at Merck, and former senior advisor to the White House’s chief technology officer, Aman Bhandari spoke to the increasing demand for industry collaboration, specifically highlighting the need for organizations to rethink how they approach working together. “Collaboration in the form of strategic partnerships is key to driving innovation,” said Bhandari, and yet a majority of healthcare companies are still operating in silos.


This disconnected approach is not sustainable, nor in the best interest of patients and companies alike, noted Bhandari, who highlighted that a partnership-driven approach to collaboration is especially critical given today’s increasingly value-based environment.  Fox agreed, saying that we have to be diligent in identifying new and different partnership opportunities. “Some of the best ideas are going to come from unexpected partners,” said Fox.

Assessing how far we’ve come–or have yet to go–in terms of health information exchange, Dr. Michael Blum, chief medical information officer at UCSF, spoke to HIEs as being “a necessary step in the right direction.” However, he also noted that a lot of the focus on HIEs’ successes is to make up for the lack of a unique patient identifier, a hot button—yet federally untouchable—issue in the industry. “I love it when I can now see a patient’s records. But the actual ability to move that data from record to record doesn’t exist yet,” he said.

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Blum also commented on what he called a “crisis” in terms of physician satisfaction under the industry’s new technology normal. “Physicians feel like they’re carrying the burden of the technology movement, and physician satisfaction is at the lowest it has been in a while. We absolutely have a crisis on our hands,” he said.

W2O’s panel moderator–athenahealth co-founder and CEO, Jonathan Bush—referred to the state of healthcare today as a “conundrum,” prompting the panelists to cite what they felt were the biggest opportunities and weaknesses. Sharing his own perspectives on the current challenges with data integration, Bush asked “where are the payers in this journey?”

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Photo Credit: Rasu Shrestha, @RasuShrestha

Blue Shield of California president and CEO, Paul Markovich, discussed the need for the digital health community at large to help drive standards development.  “It’s going to take a lot of collaboration from [payers] to do the not so sexy stuff, and help from you to drive standards,” he said.

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When it comes to data sharing, Markovich believes that “some folks just don’t want to give it up. Others want to but, have legitimate concerns, including data breaches. Our weakest link is whatever vendor happens to have that data. And it’s a point of sensitivity,” Markovich said, while noting that the ability to dramatically accelerate health plans’ willingness to share data hinges on the availability of truly secure third party organizations with which to store the data.

Fox agreed, while giving shout outs to the many others in the data exchange equation. “Payers need to get in on data sharing; in addition to regulators, in addition to EHR vendors,” she said, while also pointing out that the prevalent cultural issues surrounding data exchange should not to be ignored either. “I want to be in the pocket of the ‘we are not waiting” movement.”

As HHS’ CTO, Fox is charged with running the nation’s innovation lab and is currently focused on the Blue Button on FHIR, which she affectionately refers to as the cat door of big data. “If you can open a little spigot, open a little cat door and make a little change in the bureaucracy, it can make all the difference,” she said.

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Made crystal clear by the panel—and echoed by the rise of digital health in the #JPM16 social conversation–the ability for health data access and exchange to improve care and drive quality is great, but the industry has only scratched the surface. At W2O, we look forward to seeing all that’s to come. And if this past year’s digital health luncheon panel discussion was any indication, next year, we’re going to need a bigger venue—and twice the session time.

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Thank you again to each of our esteemed panelists – we’ll see you next year!

*Based on Twitter conversation analysis.