SAN DIEGO -- Health care leaders gathered for the Health 2.0 Spring Fling Conference last week, a two-day event organized around three main themes:
- Wellness 2.0, prevention, exercise and food;
- The evolution of health research; and
- Making health care cheaper.
The conference at the La Jolla Hilton Torrey Pines highlighted technological innovations in health care services and information management. It also emphasized technology's potential to encourage healthier lifestyles, which in turn could help drive down the cost of care.
Technology's Role in Prevention
The conference's keynote address -- delivered by Dean Ornish, founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute -- focused on the role of technology in changing environment and behavior to facilitate healthier lifestyles. According to Ornish, 75% of the $2.5 trillion currently spent on health care in the United States is related to chronic diseases, most of which can be prevented or reversed by diet and exercise, a fact we've understood for years, he says. "We don't need a breakthrough in science but a change in implementing it, which is why 2.0 is so important," Ornish told the crowd.
Ornish and the panel following his presentation stressed that technology is a critical tool in helping people to make spiritual and physical connections, which health experts say are fundamentals of good health. Technology also plays a key role in implementing widespread public health efforts aimed at improving the quality of people's diets and expanding the reach of public health education initiatives, such as anti-obesity and tobacco programs.
Alan Greene, founder of DrGreene.com, led the panel discussion with Preston Maring of Kaiser Permanente, Carol Diamond of the Markle Foundation and Carter Headrick of the American Heart Association.
In a theme that would resonate throughout the conference's many discussions and demonstrations, the group emphasized technology's role in engaging patients at work, at the supermarket and at home to create healthier lives.
"I would love to think about technology not as tools for gathering data but to create transparency and connect with each other to effect change and take down the big barriers to change in the environment we live in," said Diamond, managing director of the Markle Foundation.
The session included demonstrations of mobile nutrition apps from Fooducate and ShopWell. Redbrick Health and Keas both presented employee wellness programs that utilize social and gaming elements to encourage higher levels of engagement in healthier eating.
Game-like applications are a growing trend, with developers recognizing that if healthy behaviors are made to be fun, they are more likely to be remembered and used.
"Market engagement is where the market is right now," said Eric Zimmerman, chief marketing officer of RedBrick Health.
Breaking Down Traditional Barriers in Research
Participants in a panel discussion about how to remove barriers in clinical research said innovative use of technology to engage patients, payers and clinicians could help change and improve the health care system. Some of the biggest barriers discussed included difficulty collaborating and sharing information with others in the same field, as well as limited access to clinical trial participants, funding and raw materials.
The use of technology to bring together research communities to advance treatment was powerfully brought to life by Josh Sommer, executive director of the Chordoma Foundation. Sommer formed the foundation as a student at Duke University after he was diagnosed with chordoma, a type of slow-growing bone cancer that occurs in the head and spine in people of all ages.
With the use of new communications technologies, including Google Groups, Sommer's organization coordinates research internationally to accelerate a cure.
"In science, everything builds on other discoveries, so lag times make the process difficult," he said. With the use of technology, Sommers said, "we stay in touch with researchers and proactively push information."
Pushing information was also the theme of a panel discussion led by Paul Wallace, medical director for Health and Productivity Management Programs with Kaiser Permanente. The work of panelists Susan Love, president of the Dr. Susan Love research Foundation; George Lundberg, editor-in-chief of Cancer Commons; and Gilles Frydman, founder of Association of Cancer Online Resources aims, in one way or another, to give the public direct access to research studies, support and information for better cancer treatment.
Love's Army of Women initiative blasts e-mail updates announcing new breast cancer studies to women in the Army. She believes one key to making progress in clinical research is using technology to allow scientists to share their findings directly to the public. The idea is to get the message out virally.
"I believe to get the research done we have to get rid of the medical enterprise, which slows it down," Love told the crowd. "Let the medical profession take care of patients and let scientists go directly to the public." Several companies involved in furthering the development of personalized medicine by integrating consumers into research -- including 23andMe, Traitwise and Genomera -- demonstrated their products at the Health 2.0 spring conference.
Making Health Care Cheaper
Several presentations and panel discussions during the two-day conference focused on the use of health 2.0 tools and technology to reduce health care costs through better self-care, prevention and greater use of primary care. Eric Langshur, founder and chairman of Rise Health, and Norman Wu, co-founder, president and CEO of Qliance Medical Management, both spoke about new primary care models to reduce costs and improve care quality.
Companies working on technologies to curb or help cover health care costs demonstrated their wares. One of them, Give Forward, helps people set up personal fundraising websites to raise money for medical costs.
In the area of prevention, the West Wireless Health Institute demonstrated a simple, noninvasive, wireless fetal monitoring system company officials say is a fraction of the cost of existing technologies. Solo Health demonstrated its interactive self-service health screening kiosks, which can be found in drug stores around the country.
Health 2.0 Developer Challenge
HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh, along with Todd Park, chief technology officer of HHS, announced the winners of the Health 2.0 and Healthy People 2020 Challenges, playfully dubbed "the academy awards of health IT."
After announcing the Community Health Data Initiative in March last year, HHS invited the developer community to use multiple government data sets to create new applications. Developers are offered prizes for the development of health care IT solutions. The Health 2.0 Developer Challenge is run by Health 2.0 and supported by HHS.
Another challenge issued by HHS is intended to encourage the development of a customized Healthy People 2020 application. Healthy People 2020 outlines the 10-year objectives for improving the health of the country.
"We wanted to make the data available and come alive to galvanize communities in historic ways," Koh said.
"The magic of these challenges is they are attracting droves of talented people passionate about health care," Park said.
Public and private sector organizations, including HHS, the National Cancer Institute, the Childbirth Connection Foundation, which provides women with pregnancy and childbirth guidance, Microsoft and the American Heart Association, challenged developers to organize and make accessible large amounts of health-related data.
Winners ranged from small developers to universities. CGI Federal won a challenge issued by HHS to improve provider data quality. The Healthy Communities Institute, which created a Healthy People 2020 tracker that can be used at both the state and county level, won first place for the best customizable app.
Food Swapper, which offers healthy food alternatives and information, won the challenge sponsored by the American Heart Association, while mappinghealth.com won first prize for a challenge issued by Childbirth Connection.
Finally, the Health 2.0 Challenge Code-a-thon encouraged developers to create an application during a one-day event. The grand prize went to Team Triangle of Boston, which created Motionassessment.com to enable easy identification of movement disorders.