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There is nothing like the rush of SXSW in Austin, TX! Every year I am blown away by the innovation, collaboration and depth of talent that comes into town for this iconic festival. Based off this year’s SXSW Interactive schedule 2017 will be packed with incredible sessions surrounding everything from government, VR, sports, journalism, fashion and beyond.

For healthcare professionals it is easy to attend a conference like SX and fall into the temptation of only seeking out panels that directly deal with our industry. However, healthcare is an ever-changing environment which consistently requires leaders to pivot, reinvent and think outside of the box. The beauty of SX is it equips attendees to do just that. Over the duration of SXSW Interactive healthcare pros are granted access to a plethora of industries we usually are not exposed to. Consequently, we benefit from diversity in thought, perspective and solutions that we may have never imagined. This year W2O Group’s healthcare and MDigitalLife teams have sifted through healthcare focused panels and beyond to give you the scoop on our recommended sessions. We hope you add a few to your itinerary!

(Event summaries provided by SXSW.com)

March 10, 2017

2016 Election: How We Got it Wrong!

9:30-10:30am

Sam Sanders, NPR Correspondent, will give his first-hand experience covering the 2016 Presidential Election. Sanders will also discuss how NPR, along with other media outlets, led the country to believe the fate of the election was decided when, in fact the American public proved otherwise. Sanders will review the past 18 months of campaign events and rhetoric that led pollsters and the public alike to presume the success or failure of the next Presidential and Congressional Election.

W2O Group’s 7th Annual PreCommerce Summit

10:00am-6:00pm

The PreCommerce Summit is one of our signature events (one track/one day) and is free to the 350 invite-only attendees. The event consists of a series of brief keynotes, 10-minute TED-like talks mixed with select 20-minute fireside chats and by industry leaders. The focus is on business innovation and spans the health, tech and consumer industries.

Why Aren’t We Shopping for Health Care?

12:30-1:30pm

In contrast to our savvy consumer ways in retail, real estate, and travel, most Americans are incredibly passive when it comes to health care, an industry that impacts not only lives but also wallets. Americans spend 16% of their annual income on health care, nearly 26 million Americans don’t take their meds due to cost, and out-of-pocket health care spending continues to rise and put more people in debt. This panel will bring together diverse voices in consumer health care to discuss why people aren’t doing more to research and shop for health care, as well as what’s it going to take – data, engineering, design, policy, or otherwise – to empower people to make better health care decisions.

To Build in Health, Follow the $, Not the Patient

3:30pm-4:30pm

Starting anything new is hard. Especially in healthcare. With a complex, regulated, multi-sided market, traditional experience-led business design can lead to abject, expensive failure. Customer discovery and following the flow of dollars is critical. But not easy. Hear from founders, funders & advisors about business design in healthcare. Examples are drawn from companies that deliver health services, take on financial risk, analyze care & provide data tooling. Learn from panelists’ experiences: hundreds of millions of dollars in venture money raised and spent, millions of users engaged, Presidential-level policy initiatives, and a litany of failures as well.

The Messy Truth with Van Jones

5:00-6:00pm

Come and watch Van Jones get messy dissecting social and political issues of the day. Van Jones was a stand out during the 2016 election cycle by speaking authentically, often disagreeing with both Democrats and Republicans alike. Van’s passionate on-air debates with his CNN colleagues and his heartfelt appeals to viewers were chronicled by the New York Times, Variety, Rolling Stone, and many more. Van is currently an on-air commentator for CNN and hosts the CNN special, The Messy Truth, where he builds bridges between people divided in the current political climate. He is also is the President of Dream Corps, a thriving nonprofit that seeks to close the prison doors and open the doors of opportunity. His #LoveArmy has become a broad movement for justice in the Trump era.

March 11, 2017

W2O Group’s 3rd Annual Movers & Shapers

10:30am-2:30pm

Movers & Shapers is our newest event and takes us back to our early roots of the PreCommerce Summit. With only 150 people in attendance, this event also leverages the 10-minute TED-like talk format with a few select fire side chats.

The Live Impact: Facebook, Periscope & Journalism

12:30-1:30pm

At the core of a good journalist is the ability to storytell, usually via the written word or a video package, but the emergence of livestreaming through social media has helped transform how stories are told. Further, everyday citizens are going live to share their perspective and help journalists discover untold stories.

This panel brings together journalists and social media strategists inside the news bubble to discuss the state of the livestreaming union, how it has changed their perspective of covering stories, what it has done collectively for journalism and where it will go next. These experts will also provide best practices for “going Live” and answer your questions.

Interactive Keynote: Jennifer Doudna

2:00-3:00pm

Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D is a professor of molecular and cell biology and chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, where she holds the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair in Biomedical and Health Sciences, and is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. As a co­inventor of CRISPR­Cas9, a process that revolutionized gene editing, she has received numerous honors including the NSF Waterman Award, the FNIH Lurie Prize, the Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Gruber Prize in Genetics, the Massry Prize, the Heineken Award, the Gairdner Award, the Nakasone Award, and the L’Oreal­ UNESCO International Prize for Women in Science. She is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the National Academy of Inventors, and a Foreign Member of the Royal Society, and she was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2015.

Extreme Medicine: Quality Care Anywhere

5:00-6:00pm

How would you treat a kidney stone on the way to Mars? What if a climber developed an excruciating headache on Everest? How would you know whether a serious respiratory infection is viral or require antibiotics in a field clinic in Malawi? Providing quality healthcare in extreme environments presents challenges and opportunities. Medical technologies must be portable, minimally invasive, and easy to use and maintain. Devices must be robust and require only low power and consumables. Meds need to be very stable and safe for a long time. Healthcare solutions meeting these high standards have commercial advantages in driving revolutionary care for more traditional settings. By setting the bar high, we are driving border-less innovation in medicine, and creating new business opportunities.

W2O Group’s 8th Annual GeekaCue

6:00-10:00pm

This eight-year long tradition started with 50 employees and clients out at local BBQ legend, The Salt Lick and has evolved into a 700-person party. This year’s event will be at the historic Scoot Inn and will feature Terry Black’s BBQ and two amazing bands (to be announced shortly). Oh, there will also be plenty of liquid refreshments and our mainstay photo booth.

SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event: Health & Warables

March 11-12, 2017

Technologies focused on human-centric health applications that connect the “health optimizer” and those with illnesses, their care teams, primary and specialist clinicians, inpatient and outpatient facilities, benefit providers, and corporate wellness programs to share timely, relevant health data and drive better outcomes at affordable and sustainable cost levels.

March 12, 2017

Community Comes First: The New Retail Norm

9:30-10:30am

Put it down to whatever generational developments you like: community experiences are the new product that brands and retailers need to sell. Whilst fashion still matters, the millennial value is positioned on this kind of emotional empowerment – and nothing forms a stronger bond than the sharing of an experience through community. Today’s retail environment is changing what happens instore, and through collected, integrated fashion happenings, brands are building a future retail experience to satisfy the inspired (yet distracted) minds of their key audiences. Effective approaches to this require innovation and insight, and in this session, we’ll consider community from a fashion tech perspective.

Four Walls: Using VR to Drive Social Action

11:00am-12:00pm

For 83 years, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has restored health, safety, education and well-being to areas of conflict and disaster – issues that outsiders cannot truly understand or feel. For outsiders, this is not their reality. Until now.

The IRC used interactive virtual reality to tell the stories of Syrian refugees in the most realistic manner possible. This session will showcase how the IRC used VR to give the world the most in-person experience possible, revealing the realities of the refugee crisis. Exposing social injustices, sharing why VR matters to solving social issues and discussing how individuals and brands can use tech to prompt action and change.

Personalized Medicine: Trends, Challenges & Future

12:30-1:30pm

As “one size fits all” care gives way to treatments based on the patient’s genetic makeup, the possibilities—and potential pitfalls—are enormous. We will see seriously ill people clamor to have their genes edited by powerful, new technologies as more consumers order genome sequencing and biomarker tests to uncover looming health risks. Yet answers to key ethical questions lag about handling potentially devastating information—and paying for it. Our expert panel, including an ethicist, the founder of a pioneering gene editing firm and a direct-to-consumer testing company, discusses the challenges and future potential posed by this new age of personalized medicine.

Health Tech Happy Hour @ SXSW

5:30-8:30pm

Cambia Grove, athenahealth & TMCx casual cocktail party and networking night for the healthcare community at SXSW, including 15-20 early-stage companies showcasing their innovative healthcare solutions

March 13, 2017

Digital Discovery: Health Research in Virtual Labs

9:30-10:30am

The future of medicine is being shaped by engineers and data analysts as well as chemists and biologists. With social media and the latest technology (ie biosensors, WiFi and cloud computing), people can participate in medical research remotely and share feedback instantly. Clinicians can get a real-time view of how patients cope with disease and respond to treatments. These insights can accelerate delivery of new medicines that are cost-effective and patient-focused. Join leaders from big pharma and disruptive tech orgs for an interactive discussion on virtual health research. (Spoiler Alert: Bring your iPhones!)

Doctoring Up Your Social Media Advocacy

11:00am-12:00pm

When activated employees share brand content, organizations see an exponential leap in overall engagement, increased exposure to new audiences, and almost 24 times more shares. But what if your employee audience is constantly mobile, distributed, and providing life-saving care to patients? This panel will reveal key takeaways from physician and employee engagement initiatives taking place at Baylor Scott & White Health and Mayo Clinic and how each leveraged their size and physician influencers to build brand loyalty internally and externally, including how each organization got buy-in from their medical staff and leadership and what tools have been most effective.

Fighting Crime with Data in the US and Abroad

12:30-1:30p

Governments around the globe increasingly are using data and evidence-informed policymaking tools to address public safety; Mexico and Colombia are using the power of data and evidence to promote their criminal justice initiatives, with the strong political support of local leadership. This echoes efforts across the United States in cities big and small. While data-informed policing techniques are increasingly being adopted globally, some critics warn that policymakers must be careful to ensure that data is not used unfairly to target vulnerable populations, such as low-income residents or people of color, ensuring that whole communities don’t suffer for the criminal actions of a few.

It’s Like Uber for Healthcare

5:00-6:00pm

We talk about the high costs of healthcare. We talk about patients not taking their medications. We talk about the poor patient outcomes. But these could all be avoided if patients simply had access to on-demand transportation needed to make their doctor’s appointment, show up for a necessary treatment, or pick up their prescription. What happens when we put talk into action? Hear from the teams that are developing the technology to support on-demand healthcare transportation, the doctors whose patients benefit from such services, and the healthcare systems that support them about how something as simple as getting a ride is improving healthcare.

March 14, 2017

Reimagining Death, A Design Challenge & Movement

11:00am-12:00pm

Dr. BJ Miller’s call to “let death take us, not lack of imagination” reflects a growing hunger to reimagine the personal experience of the end of life. Our final chapter, long the domain of family and spirituality has become shrouded in taboo and medical process. A growing movement to reimagine dying has emerged and was strengthened by the global conversation and collaborative innovation of OpenIDEO’s End of Life Challenge. This panel of diverse co-conspirators – an IDEO visionary, a health system innovation officer, a palliative care physician-agitator, and a health policy guru – discusses how seeing death as a design challenge is giving life to patient-centered movement for better endings.

Making People Accidentally Enjoy Learning

12:30-1:30pm

GIFs, cat pictures, memes and 12-word “listicles” dominate the internet landscape, so it would be easy to assume that millennials simply don’t care about learning or reading, but we know conclusively that that isn’t true. Millennials are just as likely to devour a 4,000-word educational piece as they are to look at a funny picture of a dog on a skateboard – they just want to have fun while doing it. This conversation explores the different ways smart content creators across the Internet make learning into a guilty pleasure.

Euthanizing our Global System of ‘Sick Care’

12:30pm-1:30pm

In an era of exploding population growth, chronic illness and new pandemics, our healthcare systems cannot scale, and demands outstrip global resources. But, are we facing a global healthcare crisis or is this an age of unprecedented health-care opportunity? Find out why our current systems of ‘sick care’ fail us and how digital can help scale healthcare for the future. Discover how a human-centered redesign to our healthcare systems can drive new, proactive models of care that mesh better with people’s lives, support physicians and caregivers, reward positive behavior, improve health outcomes and protect human dignity, privacy and security. Part of the IEEE Tech for Humanity Series.

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With the growing use of electronic cigarettes in global markets and age groups, public opinion on their use has ranged from acceptance as an alternative to other forms of smoking (and potentially as a smoking cessation aid) to growing concerns about long-term health effects, especially in teens. To cut through the noise it is vitally important to understand what medical professionals really think about “e-cigs” and the associated public health issues.

Last year, in an effort to broaden our collaborations with academic researchers, the MDigitalLife team at W2O Group collaborated with Dr.  Gary Wilcox and Elizabeth Glowacki from the University of Texas Center for Health Communication and Moody College of Communication, to conduct a study of how physicians on Twitter might be discussing electronic cigarettes differently between the United States and the United Kingdom.

e cig 1

In this study, 5,516 social media posts were pulled from profiles in the MDigitalLife Health Ecosystem over a 1-year span (June 2015 to June 2016) and clustered by topic to assess differences between the two groups of physicians. We are pleased to announce that the study by lead author Elizabeth Glowacki was published in the February 2017 issue of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, and is available at here. The abstract from the publisher’s website is available below:

Medical professionals are now relying on social media platforms like Twitter to express their recommendations for the use or avoidance of products like electronic cigarettes (e-cigs), which may have long-term health consequences for users. The goal of this study is to compare how physicians from the United States and the United Kingdom talk about e-cigs on Twitter and identify the topics that these groups perceive as salient. Comparing tweets from the U.S. and U.K. will allow for a better understanding of how medical professionals from these countries differ in their attitudes toward e-cigs. This information can be also used to inform policies designed to regulate the use of e-cigs. Using a text-mining program, we analyzed approximately 3,800 original tweets sent by physicians from the U.S. and the U.K. within a 1-year time span (June 2015 through June 2016). The program clustered the tweets by topics, which allowed us to categorize the topics by importance. Both sets of tweets contained debates about the degree to which e-cigs pose a threat to health, but the U.S. tweets emphasized the dangers of e-cig use for teens, while the U.K. tweets focused more on the potential that e-cigs have to be used as a smoking cessation aid. Doctors are using Twitter to share timely information about the potential risks, benefits, and regulations associated with e-cigs. Evaluating these tweets allows researchers to collect information about topics that doctors find important and make comparisons about how medical professionals from the U.S. and the U.K. regard e-cigs.

E cig 2

Several interesting findings emerged from the study. US physicians tended to post more frequently about concerns over teen e-cig usage, and FDA regulations for e-cigs. A recent study on high school students in Connecticut has underscored some of the concern in the US over teen e-cig usage and the need for improved regulations. However, UK physicians tended to not focus on teen usage, and instead tweeted more frequently about using e-cigs as a smoking cessation aid and as an alternative to other forms of tobacco use. A broadly publicized recent study in the UK found that e-cig users had much lower levels of certain toxins and ties into regional campaigns to bill e-cigs as a healthier alternative to certain types of smoking.

It is strongly in the public’s interest to be aware of differences (regional or otherwise) in the online messaging around public health issues by healthcare providers. The MDigitalLife team is proud to help with important research into physician online discussions, and we look forward to more exciting collaborations in the future.

Follow Yash Gad, PhD on Twitter: @dryashgad

Follow MDigitalLife on Twitter: @MDigitalLife

Like MDigitalLife on Facebook: facebook.com/mdigitallife

To learn more about MDigitalLife’s Online Health Ecosystem Database and we can help you to understand (and ultimately engage) the audiences you care about, contact us!

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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.

Every year, healthcare IT plays an even more prominent role at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. In fact, JPM-related conversations that fell under the digital health topic umbrella surpassed that of biotech on Twitter at last year’s event.

As San Francisco prepares for its annual invasion of healthcare and biotech visionaries, W2O asked Senior Managing Director of Health Investments at GE Ventures, Lisa Suennen — otherwise known as the Venture Valkyrie — to share her perspective on the state of the industry today and what she is most looking forward to at this year’s event. Below, she discusses what needs to happen for the community at large to realize that when it comes to healthcare technology, “Trendiness does not equal value. Technology does not equal good.”

Q. What conversations/discussions around digital health advancement are you most looking forward to having/hearing while onsite at JPM this year?

A. I am most looking forward to hearing about real success stories, particularly those that demonstrate how the confluence of IT and pharma, or IT and medtech, have meaningfully improved clinical outcomes and reduced cost while doing so. I’d also like to hear some evidence of how all of this big data/AI/machine learning work is resulting in actual activity to change physician behavior, particularly around improved diagnoses and avoidance of medical errors. So far, most of the talk has been about technology and too little of the talk is about results.

Q. What individual (or group/company) in the digital health community has inspired or impressed you in the past year? Why?

A. There are many here, but I am particularly inspired by the people who truly care about serving the entire spectrum of people, and especially those whose situations make healthcare access and use more difficult due to socioeconomic status, ethnicity and language differences, age, disability, etc. Using digital technologies to empathetically and effectively serve underserved communities is essential to the successful improvement of our healthcare system. There are a number of people and companies focused on this, finally, and as we incorporate social determinants of health into effective care delivery, we will all be better for it.

Q. What area of digital health do you feel is ripest for innovation/primed for growth going into 2017

A. I think we are going to see a lot more uptake, vs experimentation and dreaded pilots, for the “beyond the product” activities of pharma and medtech. The results are starting to come in for some of these products and there is evidence that some of them can make a material difference in clinical outcome and cost, as well as improve patient experience. Any product that can demonstrate those results in less than 12-month time frames will gain traction.

Q. As a new Administration takes the helm, what is your outlook for digital health progress and HIT advancement over the next few years? 

A. It’s impossible to guess the impact of the administration as there are too many variables. What we know is that no matter who runs the place, we need to find our way to better value in healthcare. I think that the convergence of IT and healthcare is here to stay and the trick is making it useful not cool. Trendiness does not equal value. Technology does not equal good. We will see advancement in this field as long as the technology can demonstrate it is an effective tool to advance the delivery of better results by clinicians on behalf of patients. Hopefully we will also start looking for ways to more effectively align our financial interests to advance products and services that focus as much on prevention as treating the sick. The next few years will be about evidence of efficacy because the whole Field of Dreams approach to digital health (if we build it, they will come), has, unsurprisingly, proven to be entirely wrong. I also think we will soon see an end to the term “digital health.” In our US economy pretty much everything is digitizing and yet we don’t call it digital banking or digital transportation. We healthcare people need to get comfortable that technology is as much a part of the everyday armamentarium (or the medical bag) as are drugs, devices and services.

Be sure to follow the #JPM17 conversation on Monday, January 9, from 12:40pm – 1:45pm PST, as W2O Group hosts its 3rd Annual Digital Health Panel Discussion in San Francisco. Lisa will be joining a dynamic group of industry leaders to discuss market changes, challenges and opportunities across the ever-changing health IT landscape. Learn more about Lisa’s incredible work by checking out her blog and her podcast!

The health care industry has been talking a lot about patient centricity lately, but no one is completely sure what it means. Is it enough to use language that is accessible at, say, a 4th-grade reading level?  Should our goal be to help patients have “better” conversations with their physicians? Is it about arming patient advocates with up-to-date information about clinical updates or treatment access? Giving a voice in the regulatory process?

I am coming to those answers the hard way. This week, I received word that my mother’s advanced breast cancer has spread to her spine. With my years of experience doing communications in the oncology space, it’s too easy for me to again skip ahead as her prognosis continues to worsen, reciting statistics and listing off treatments and investigational compounds in the pipeline to extend her life as long as possible.

After all, that’s what the industry has been built to do: prioritize survival and determine, as often as possible, what the objective “best” course of action is.

So I must make a concerted effort to think not about Kaplan-Meier curves, but what is actually important to my mom, the person, not the diagnosis. That has meant weighing the impact of every move not only on the tumor burden, but also her severe mental illness, which includes debilitating anxiety, bipolar mood swings, and, at times, delusions.

In short, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about quality of life, a phrase that has historically been pooh-poohed as “soft endpoints” that were either subjective, unimportant or unreliable. The good news is that the tide is changing. This is in part because patients have been empowered, both by the flood of information available to them, as well as the financial realities of insurance plans that often force tough decisions into families.

The Food and Drug Administration is calling for more patient input and more latitude in reviewing quality of life and patient-reported data, and even drug-pricing watchdogs are incorporating patient input to determine whether those whose lives are on the line see “value” differently than the economists. Not surprisingly: they do.

As a health care communicator, it’s my job to help define those endpoints and give voice to those experiences, and my personal travels through the health care system have given that undertaking much, much more meaning. The next generation of health care, despite the increasingly precision of our science and our medications, will be far more complicated because patient centricity—matching treatments with patients, not with diagnoses—will not be a buzzword, it will be reality. And we all need to be ready to make that happen.

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W2O Group’s Future Leaders in Healthcare Fellowship, created in partnership with The LAGRANT Foundation, has given me the necessary exposure to know what it’s like to work within an agency.

Different from my previous experiences, W2O Group taught me what it means to serve the client first. While internalizing this new knowledge, I have learned how to hone in on fundamental skills such as minding the details within my work and managing the expectations for the workload that has been given to me.

Before joining the team, I had previously worked for nonprofit organizations and corporations. This was the first time that I worked for an agency. While at W2O Group, I sat in on client meetings to learn about strategic planning efforts and researching relevant industry and competitor news coverage in the pharmaceutical and biotech space. Learning more about specific disease states was very informative for me. I have also been tasked with developing media monitoring reports for our clients, satellite briefing books, Brewlife blog edits, film shoot set-ups, social media copy, etc.

Interestingly, it has exposed me to where various publics convene to discuss issues of importance to them concerning their health. For example, while developing social media content for a specific client, I observed the specific aspects of a disease that were not being discussed openly in the public. From this observation, I compiled research that was used to inform the strategic direction of my team.

The experience of working with W2O Group gave me a greater understanding of and drove me closer to my passions. Being exposed to the pharmaceutical and biotech industry through the lens of an agency has given me a broader perspective about the bigger players in the healthcare space. As it has been my aspiration to better educate African Americans and Hispanics about the importance of maintaining their best health despite apparent barriers, I will use the experience I’ve gained as a fellow to lead in that charge.

I thank W2O Group and The LAGRANT Foundation for giving me this opportunity to work and grow in my career. Overall, I have gained new perspectives and intend to use all the experiences and guidance I have been given to succeed at the next level in the healthcare profession.

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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

The recent Zika infection of 14 people in a Florida community near Miami – the first case of U.S. transmission from local mosquitoes – has further raised fears that the U.S. will face a large domestic Zika outbreak. With increased news coverage on the domestically transmitted cases as well as the upcoming Olympic opening ceremonies on Friday, August 5th in Brazil, a country hit hard by Zika, there is likely to be a large amount of public discussion about the looming domestic Zika threat.

Studies have shown that physicians are one of the most trusted sources of online health information, so it is likely that patients will be turning to their physician to understand how concerned they should be about Zika and the steps they should take to avoid contracting the virus. But what are physicians saying about the Zika virus?

At W2O Group, we set out to answer that question by querying the MDigitalLife Health Ecosystem Database, the world’s first database to link physicians’ online content to their national physician identifier records, to gain insights into the networks, relationships, and social activities of online physicians.

A Brief Review of Physician Zika Conversation Timeline

Specifically addressing Zika social conversation, there have been over 51,000 posts from more than 4,700 unique physicians since January 11, 2014. U.S. physicians contributed over 29,000 posts from 2,700+ authors and Non-U.S. physicians contributed more than 22,000 posts from 2,000+ authors.

Zika Timeline With Callouts Dark

Physician Zika conversation grew rapidly on January 11th of this year when the first Zika case in the U.S. was reported in Houston, TX. A doctor led the charge with this news as Dr. Umair Shah, Executive Director of Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services, shared the news via his personal twitter account as the news was released to the public. The Houston Chronicle quickly picked up the story (and included quotes from Dr. Hotez), followed by Sarah Begley’s piece in TIME and then similar pieces in nearly every other outlet. Conversation was driven higher on January 16th after Hawaiian officials announced the first baby born in the US with microcephaly linked to Zika and the CDC officially advised pregnant women to avoid traveling to areas where
Zika is spreading. Physician conversation continued to rise on
January 28, when Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, announced that “the virus was detected in the Americas, where it is now spreading explosively”. Conversation reached its current peak between February 1-3, when physicians posted over 3,300 times after the WHO declared the Zika virus and related links to possible birth defects an international public health emergency.

Watch Monthly Physician Conversation Evolve From 2014-2016 In The Interactive Map Below

ZikaGifAfter global physician conversation peaked with over 15,000 posts in February, conversation began to decline; US physicians maintained an average of 3,400 posts per month while ExUS Physicians contributed an average of 1,700 per month between March and July. U.S. Physicians did see a small uptick in conversation in April when the CDC confirmed the link between microcephaly and Zika. Additionally, there was a rise in conversation in July as the first case of US transmission was announced in Miami. We expect to see a significant spike in global conversation as we approach hurricane season in the U.S. and the Games kick off.

Conversation Over Time

Zika NGram Graph2

We tracked five different keywords throughout the course of the conversation to examine the evolution of the language used by physicians discussing Zika. During late 2015 and early 2016, a significant portion of the tweets contained some mention of “Brazil,” the origin of the outbreak. The volume of tweets mentioning the word “women” was proportional to the overall volume of the U.S. physician Zika conversation, underscoring the relevance of this conversation to women’s health. In April of 2016, tweets started emerging that contained the word “funding,” with many questioning the level of government funding to combat the growing outbreak. July saw the introduction of both “transmission” and “Florida” at a high rate, correlating with many reports examining the transmission of Zika and the rise of domestic cases in Florida.

Going Back to the Start

So who actually started the online physician conversation about Zika? The first post we recorded from a U.S. physician was by Dr. Peter J. Hotez, Founding Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital Chair in Tropical Pediatrics & President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, on August 3, 2013. Dr. Hotez’ initial post shared a study released in the Journal, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, which discussed the emergence and spread of Zika in Africa and Asia. The initial post picked up a small amount of traction with four retweets. This did not cause a blip on Twitter’s radar. Though perhaps more people should have been paying attention, since Dr. Hotez proved to be rather prophetic with his post in March 2014 on Zika.

Conclusion and Acknowledgements

Our analysis demonstrates how the online physician conversation about Zika has grown over time, and evolved both geographically and linguistically. It is our hope that monitoring this conversation can be helpful to both physicians and the public at large in keeping abreast of the current issues being discussed in the ongoing Zika outbreak.

This post was co-authored by Dr. Yash Gad, Chief Data Scientist for MDigitalLife.

As a part of a larger research initiative and partnership, we thank our colleagues from the lab of Dr. Wenhong Chen at the University of Texas Austin who provided insight and expertise that contributed to this article.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Dr. Hotez first tweet on Zika was in January 2014.

At this year’s ASCO meeting, thousands of abstracts were presented demonstrating both foundational and pioneering research that will no doubt advance our understanding of cancer.  However, we still don’t have a cure and there is more work to be done. Great scientists, companies and institutions are working every day to help discover new treatment approaches and pathways – from activating the body’s own immune cells to understanding how combination therapies could exponentially improve outcomes for cancer patients.

Over the years, W2O’s Social Oncology Project has profiled some of the most influential physicians, advocates and patients engaged in the oncology conversation online. The key finding in this year’s report was that while the conversation volume continues to grow, there have emerged clear communities that own the dialogue and serve as trusted resources for professionals and patients alike.  These influencers are responsible for helping us cut through the clutter of hashtags and facilitate productive discussion to drive the next breakthroughs in cancer.
The Cancer Research Institute is an organization founded on harnessing the immune system’s power to conquer all cancers. Their work helped to pave the way for one of the most foundational shifts we have seen in cancer treatment today – the field of immunotherapy.  However, their influence goes far beyond facilitating research: CRI was one of the 4 most-shared domains for both patients and advocates in the online cancer conversation this past year.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Jill O’DonnellTormey, chief executive officer and director of scientific affairs for CRI and ask her about the future of oncology research and the important role research plays across the oncology ecosystem – from physicians, advocates, patients and the company’s invested in this area.

What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing oncology research today? 

Advances in technology, as well as exponential growth in our fundamental understanding of human biology and cancer biology, have helped to accelerate research and discovery, enabling scientists to do much more, more quickly, than ever before. This has produced significant leaps in cancer treatment, particularly in the area of immunotherapy or immuno-oncology, and has initiated a shift toward personalized medicine based on individual patient profiles. But as the field achieves greater magnitudes of complexity and sophistication, the challenges increase. Scientists must wrestle with the bounty of opportunity, developing keen tools to help them prioritize research directions, so that from the near infinite number of possible therapeutic strategies that are emerging today, we pursue the ones that are most likely to produce the greatest benefit for cancer patients.

What role does the broader oncology community play in supporting cancer research?

Physicians, patients, advocates, and media understand the importance of research, particularly clinical research. Physicians who are treating patients understand that they’re able to do so thanks to advances made possible through research. And those who are conducting clinical trials are themselves integral to the research process. Patients, especially those whose cancers are unlikely to respond to standard treatments, look to research in hope that something new and untried might benefit them. And, of course, patients are essential to carrying out clinical research. Advocates help in many ways, such as encouraging their communities to seek out and participate in clinical trials, shaping broader research agendas to help meet unmet needs, and effecting policy changes to facilitate patient access to promising treatments. The media also play an important role, educating the public about advances in research, as well as the challenges involved in changing the cancer treatment paradigm.

What is one of the most successful collaborations you have seen in oncology research? 

Collaboration is a cornerstone of the Cancer Research Institute’s strategy to make immunotherapy an effective treatment option for all cancer patients. Our multi-year partnership with Stand Up To Cancer to co-fund the CRI-SU2C Cancer Immunology Translational Research Dream Team is one example of how CRI leverages its expertise in cancer immunotherapy and its fundraising power to speed the translation of laboratory discovery into novel cancer therapies and diagnostic tools. SU2C’s Dream Team model has demonstrated its power to bring diverse, multidisciplinary, multi-institutional researchers and supportive roles together and align them along a shared research mission. Our Dream Team united two of the most promising areas of cancer immunotherapy research today: checkpoint blockade and cellular therapy. Experts in these areas are working together to rapidly develop new treatments that harness not only the strengths of each therapeutic approach individually, but also the synergistic effects that can be produced through smart combination strategies. SU2C has applied this Dream Team model across different tumor types and patient demographic categories, and has done so in collaboration with many nonprofit partners. It’s a model that is to be commended.

What would you like to see media who follow oncology reporting on in cancer research?

The media could play a more direct role in advancing cancer research by featuring the nonprofit organizations that are making possible this research and the cancer treatment advances that result. Immunotherapy is one recent example, and one that is of course central to the Cancer Research Institute’s mission. Here we have a field of research that has garnered significant interest and enthusiasm thanks to some dramatic successes seen in treating patients. But, this is only the beginning, and a tremendous amount of research needs to be done if we are ever to realize the full potential of immunotherapy in more and eventually all types of cancer. Public support is the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations like CRI, and most of these organizations can’t afford expensive PR campaigns. Media are in a unique position to raise public awareness of the role of nonprofits and, hopefully, stimulate new interest in and support for these organizations so that they can continue carrying out their lifesaving work. Including the nonprofits in the story isn’t just good journalism; it’s also good corporate citizenship.

How will the future of cancer research help us better define the value a treatment or treatments can bring to patients? 

Value is a complex topic, especially when talking about patients’ lives. What’s the worth of an extra month, an extra year, an extra five years of life, or a complete cure that a treatment might give you? What’s the quality of life a patient will have during and after treatment, and how do you quantify the value of that? That’s an important topic of conversation and one that we believe needs to discussed among all the stakeholders: patients, physicians, insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and patient advocacy organizations. The role of cancer research funding organizations like the Cancer Research Institute is to find the treatments in the first place. Our singular focus on funding the best science is the only thing that has enabled us to contribute so significantly to the body of knowledge that has made today’s treatment breakthroughs possible. Value isn’t within the scope of what research organizations do. But it is an issue that they can affect. Through smarter application of technology and knowledge, we can help to minimize the financial risks associated with drug development by creating treatments that convey optimal benefit on patients—that is to say, a return to a normal, long, cancer-free life. That’s the return on investment CRI seeks, and it’s one we can make possible with continued research.

Are you seeing blended interaction from different communities in oncology when it comes to oncology research and what impact has that had on advancing oncology research?

One of the most remarkable developments in oncology community interaction has been—at least for those who have been in academic research over the past several decades—the willingness that academic and industry entities now have to work together more closely. It’s a willingness borne of necessity, which itself springs from the increasingly complex and nuanced drug discovery and development landscape. Nonprofit organizations have found a new role in brokering relationships between academic and industry agents. CRI’s Clinical Accelerator is a perfect example of this. It harnesses the power of industry and academia to drive innovative clinical research that seeks to answer the most pressing scientific questions, while also delivering the most promising treatments to cancer patients. Speaking of patients, they and their advocates, have become much more proactive in inserting themselves into the clinical research process. The emergence of patient-centered outcomes research, which includes patients, caregivers, clinicians, and other healthcare stakeholders in the process of planning clinical trials, is testament to the increasingly influential role the patient community plays in clinical research.

What’s next in cancer research?

There are many avenues of cancer research, but since my view skews to immunotherapy, I can share some thoughts on that. Much has been made (and deservedly so) of the remarkable clinical responses immunotherapy has produced in some patients. The question before us now is a simple one: why does this patient respond, but that one doesn’t, and what is different about them? To answer this, we will need to analyze tumor and blood samples to determine the biological mechanisms that influence patient response. This is already done in some medical research facilities, but it needs to be done everywhere. Tremendous hurdles stand in the way, but they aren’t insurmountable. Optimizing accuracy of assays that measure important biological variables associated with cancer treatment and patient response is one key hurdle that we must overcome. But even that is a small hurdle compared to the greater challenge of finding a way to get the scientific community (on both the academic as well as industry side) to embrace the power of Big Data and its potential to uncover untold new insights into the immunological control and cure of all cancers at the personalized level. Big Data only works when there’s data to be mined. Getting access to that data, especially data controlled by pharmaceutical companies, will require us to develop new incentives for data sharing. It’s an uphill climb, but it’s attainable, as long as we all remember the reason we’re doing this: to save more lives through the development of more effective cancer treatments.

Download The Social Oncology Project 2016 here.


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