They’re the questions on everyone’s mind. What is the fate of the Affordable Care Act? If “repeal and replace” becomes reality, what exactly does that replacement look like? And for those at the intersection of healthcare and technology, how will these policy changes that impact digital health investments in 2017 and beyond?

At the 35th J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, W2O Group hosted its 3rd Annual Digital Health VIP Luncheon to find out the answers to these questions and more. W2O’s digital health practice leader, Rob Cronin, teed up the discussion, reminding the audience just how much communications – from media to influencers – still matters in driving policy decisions and broader health IT discussions. “The election taught us a lot, or reminded us a lot, about communications,” he said, where data is at the core and influence is its own form of currency.

But when it comes to how the new administration will influence healthcare policy, while there will no doubt be significant changes, “I think value-based payments will stay,” said Jodi Daniel, partner at Crowell & Moring, formerly with CMS. Daniel spoke to the importance of population health management, noting that “anything that helps population health management will be very much aligned with the policy in Washington.”

Also emphasizing the importance of value, Sean Hogan, general manager of IBM Healthcare & Life Sciences, spoke to the needs of the consumer. Regardless of what shakes out at the policy level, “we need to help consumers make better health decisions,” said Hogan, who also pointed out that achieving success in a value-based environment “calls for tools that can help people deal with the enormous amount of information thrust upon them.”

Enormous amount of information is right. As of 2011, more than 150 exabytes — or 150 billion gigabytes — of healthcare data existed in the U.S alone. That river of information is only going to flow faster as industry interoperability (slowly, but surely) continues to progress.

For IBM Watson Health, this has meant doubling down on the application of cognitive, natural language processing (NLP), artificial intelligence (AI), and now blockchain, to improve care, control costs and advance health globally. On January 11, IBM Watson Health and the FDA announced a new partnership focused on using blockchain to enable the secure, efficient and scalable exchange of health data.

And to advance health globally, the industry needs to have a better understanding of both specific populations and the individuals within them. In fact, Lisa Suennen, healthcare’s Venture Valkyrie and senior managing director of health investments at GE Ventures, isn’t sold on the term population health. “What you’re really doing is personalized healthcare within a population,” Suennen said, reminding attendees that “one program doesn’t fit all. One program fits one in 57.”

The idea that care must targeted at the individual level is not a new concept in the industry. It is also one of the chief reasons that healthcare technology companies are starting to “look an awful lot like healthcare service providers,” pointed out Matthew Holt, panel moderator and Health 2.0’s godfather. Why? “That’s where the money is,” noted Suennen.

It’s also where the savings are – and the ability to guide consumers on the path to better health using a blended tech/services approach. Rajeev Singh, CEO of Accolade, Inc., has seen the impact that this can have on both consumers’ health and their level of engagement. The company’s on-demand healthcare concierge service is transforming how consumers engage with their care, with human compassion playing as big of a role as science and technology. Singh said that eighty percent of Accolade’s employer customers are already implementing some form of value-based payment structure.

“Services are where the solutions are,” said Singh, stressing that “you can’t have a real solution without a component of services in your story.” Singh also feels a shift in mindset needs to occur at the investor level before we see more significant movement. However, he does not believe that pending policy will stifle innovation or oust value-based frameworks – “undoing the private sector’s desire to move in one direction seems to go against the Republican ideology,” he said. Accolade’s latest $70 million series E round in 2016 brings total funding to $160 million.

One reason for the relatively early phase of investor interest in the space, said Livongo’s chief executive officer, Glen Tullman, is that “Silicon Valley tech has typically not understood how to navigate healthcare. Now, there’s a healthier level of respect.” Livongo is working to change the face of diabetes care management by using technology and health coaching to help diabetes patients better manage their chronic condition.

Given that chronic disease — diabetes included — is set to have a global impact of $47 trillion come 2030, the need to have both solutions and services dedicated to improving care and decreasing costs has never been more urgent. Tullman also believes the industry will see massive disruption in the way that technology companies, healthcare providers and healthcare purchasers – employers included – contract and integrate with one another.

Daniel said that we’ll continue to see new players in the healthcare space, but cautioned that the “technology is only as good as the improvement the services allow.” Her 15 years spent with HHS gave her a front row seat to healthcare technology’s growth. Her experience tells her that those tools that help reduce cost, increase transparency of cost and quality data and help consumers make smarter choices will take priority for VC dollars.

Speaking of those coveted VC dollars, as we are amidst one of the biggest shifts that healthcare has seen to date, what types of companies and services will reign supreme moving forward? Moreover, is now a good time for healthcare technology investments overall?

“Under any scenario, the focus on cost will continue,” said Hogan, noting that innovators and investors alike are going to focus on growing offerings that provide a better service at a better price. Singh agreed, saying that these types of technologies are where “there is money to be made and that’s what investors will follow,” regardless of what happens at the policy level.

Suennen was quick to point out that provider insolvency is going to be one of the main reasons that technologies designed for value will continue to see traction. “Value-based companies are making progress because hospitals still need to improve their efficiency,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if they buy in to (value-based care) or not – they’re going to have to.”

Please see here for the full panel replay, and be sure to follow both @W2OGroup and this year’s stellar group of panelists to stay in the know on all things #JPM17 and digital health.

Last week, W2O Group conducted its Fall Social Commerce Days at Syracuse University as part of the W2O/Newhouse Center for Social Commerce.  The Visiting Executive Forum  featured Tony Cervone, Senior Vice President, Global Communications, General Motors Corporation (GM), and Chairman, GM Foundation.

In addition to participating in several classes addressing such topics as Research, Campaigns, Writing, and Crisis, Tony was involved in a panel discussion attended by over 150 students titled: “Why Should I Care?  How GM Engages People on its Products, Perspectives, Technology, and the Future Transportation.”

Among the key take-aways from the discussion were:

  • GM is aggressively moving to become a Technology-oriented company as it competes for talent across the technology spectrum with the likes of Google, Amazon, IBM, Apple, etc.
  • From a communications standpoint, PR and marketing are connected like never before but refinement is still needed around influencer engagement and storytelling.
  • The lesson for Corporate Communications today is the need to “knit together an overarching story” vs. just telling stories if the organization is to achieve relevance.
  • From an influencer standpoint GM is working to discern between “larger conversations that drive opinion”  vs.  smaller conversations that may have volume but don’t generate specific actions or behaviors important to the company.
  • The game today lies in the “Pivot.”  Analytics need to uncover insights that determine the evolution of audience behaviors to understand when people pivot to the next thing.  For example, when young buyers pivot from information gathering to dealer visit or actual test drive.
  • As communicators, three areas are essential for growth and success: 1) Employing analysis and insights into planning, execution, and assessment; 2) clear and articulate writing skills and 3) global understanding of business, markets, customers, employees.
  • To be relevant, organizations and brands have to be “self-aware.”  GM is working hard to be smarter about who and what it is both internally and externally.  This transcends every decision it makes about products, services, people, market, etc.
  • Answering “Why your company exists” is probably the most critical task for communicators and marketers today.
  • Regarding Purpose and the GM Foundation, Cervone told students that GM thinks about Purpose as a foundation that eventually drives reputation. A focal point for investment is around STEM or educating the next generation of professionals in science, technology, engineering .

The W2O Group/Newhouse Center for Social Commerce is now recognized as the standard for industry-academic partnerships and in 2017 we will be celebrating our five-year anniversary!  To date, we’ve welcomed Chief Communications or Marketing Officers from Chevron, GM, Verizon, Medtronic, and Delphi as Visiting Executives to the Center as well as dozens of W2O Group staff from each OpCo.

The Center was created by Jim and Audra Weiss, both SU grads, to positively influence and inform the next generation of the profession.  It’s an important component of the W2O Group ecosystem blending staff, clients, notable brands, perspectives with students, professors, and a fresh curriculum.  The Center is fast becoming a beacon of progressive and practical thought leadership for the profession.  Maria Russell, professor of public relations at Newhouse and an icon in the communications field and I serve as co-directors of The Center.

All of us at W2O Group and its related firms are proud of the work being conducted at the Center for Social Commerce and our relationship with Syracuse University and the Newhouse School of Public Communications.  More importantly, we are excited about the future being shaped for students by faculty and professionals alike.



On Tuesday, October 18th, I spoke to a group of healthcare leaders at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Health Forward Summit on “innovations in healthcare”.  Here is my view below and my slides.

We have three key drivers of transformation change occurring simultaneously in healthcare, which I frame like this:

The Information Genome – we are learning how to harness the power of big data.  As we get better at ingesting and interpreting different data sets, we will start to create an “information genome” that will greatly improve the intelligence of providers, patients and the healthcare system.

Artificial Intelligence – we are just learning how to adapt AI to healthcare.  As an example, if we can study the brain waves of a person who is paralyzed, AI can help us see patterns far faster that we could via normal technology approaches.  Scaling the data made available from our own bodies will lead to breakthroughs we don’t fully understand at this point.

The Human Genome – we continue to learn about how own bodies work, how genes are expressed, which pathways we need to shut down or open up and much more.

The result is a new era where technology and healthcare together will lead to exponential advance in how we approach medical issues.  For example:

If we combine semiconductor and pharmaceutical technology, we can build an ingestible sensor that can accompany a drug and tell us what is happening inside our bodies during the journey of a single pill.  This is Proteus Digital Health.

If we utilize new technology platforms like CRISPR-Cas9, l we can edit genes and, over time, eradicate disease.

If we utilize virtual reality in new ways, we can help veterans deal more effectively with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The deck has more examples.  The key here is that it takes both disciplines together to create the next generation of breakthroughs.

All we have our challenges, which is why I ended with the four things that entrepreneurs need most to succeed in how they innovate in healthcare.  They are the following:

Clarity of Rules – we need to know what the regulations are, so we know the hurdles.  Just like a track meet, we can’t move the hurdles in the middle of the race.

Clarity of Payment – yes, pricing is an issue and always will be.  But to invest, you need to be able to estimate what payments will occur.  Consistency matters.  Entrepreneurs stay away from unstable situations.

Ability to Learn Together – It’s time for FDA and entrepreneurs to learn together from the beginning.  We all need to ramp up our knowledge and not wait until an application is made to start thinking through a new advance.  We can greatly improve here and this requires both groups to try harder to learn together.

Ability to Evolve Together – innovation will surely require change.  Let’s get educated together and evolve the regulations and rules that are necessary to improve or create as a team.

We’ve never had a better time to innovate in healthcare.  The only question is whether companies and regulators can move with the speed of the market.   Patients are certainly hoping we do so.

Best, Bob