This is the first time I’ve attended Health Datapalooza. I thought from the name, location, and people involved that it would be entirely about government-released datasets and how companies are using them. Those topics were certainly covered, but many of the presentations and exhibitors had nothing at all to do with publicly available data or the government. Instead, Health Datapalooza is a seemingly random conglomeration of startups, consumer health, wellness, new payment models, chain drug stores, and just about anything else that bears (deservedly or not) the “innovative” label.
In that way, Health Datapalooza is identical to the mHealth Summit, held in December on the other side of the Potomac in National Harbor, MD. Health Datapalooza is mostly not about data and the mHealth Summit is mostly not about mobile. In fact, my first thought was that they should just combine the two conferences because they seem equally unfocused, like the HIMSS conference minus the hospital and ambulatory systems vendors, with skinny jean hipsters and Glass-wearing nerds intermingling uncomfortably with the stiff suits from insurance companies, federal agencies, and investment firms, all trying to figure out what they have in common other than patients and consumers.
I assume that most of the 2,000 Health Datapalooza attendees aren’t paying their own travel or registration costs. I tried to figure out the kinds of employers that would get their money’s worth sending their people, but I wasn’t coming up with much. I’ve seen many of the same faces you see at seemingly every conference held, the folks whose entire jobs seem to be tweeting and socializing from one conference to the next at their employer’s expense, but I don’t have a good feel for the demographic otherwise.
The event was held at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in northwest DC. I didn’t stay there since I’m cheap: the special rate was still $224 per night and of course being a conference hotel everything costs extra – Internet access, breakfast, and the $46 per night parking charge. It looks great on the outside, but I wasn’t impressed with its 3.5 Tripadvisor stars, so instead I booked an $80, 4.5 star hotel in Alexandria (not far from Old Town) with free Internet, parking, breakfast, and shuttle to and from the Metro station. It took maybe 40 minutes to ride up the Yellow Line and switch to the Red Line to the Woodley Park Metro station, which is just a few hundred feet from the Marriott.
Monday’s keynote lineup was impressive: Elliot Fisher, MD, MPH (Dartmouth), Karen Ignagni (America’s Health Insurance Plans), Todd Park (US CTO), Jeremy Hunt (UK Secretary of State for Health), Jonathan Bush (athenahealth, unless you believe the conference agenda that says he’s the CEO of “aetnahealth), and Atul Gawande, MD, MPH (Brigham and Woman’s). Fisher had some strong opinions backed by data about the not-so-great state of US healthcare. Ignagni had some mildly interesting observations about insurers. Park was, as always, bursting with energy and enthusiasm about the “data liberators” and announced openFDA, which will give researchers API access to the FDA’s databases. Hunt was as charismatic and visionary as you would expect a politician to be and spoke eloquently about hospital errors and transparency. Bush was his usual shot-from-a-cannon rollercoaster of irreverent observations and insight. Gawande talked about the healthcare system and the use of data for quality improvement and also to target specific patients for interventions to improve their health and reduce their resource consumption.
It was a nice bonus that the conference provided lunch in the exhibit hall, with the only challenge being to find a table on which to eat it. The exhibit hall was manageable, with a few dozen exhibitors representing a wide variety of company types. I intentionally didn’t register as press since I wanted the same experience as everybody else.
I was admiring a book on geographic information systems at the Esri exhibit and they gave me a copy, which even included the mapping software DVD. It’s a really cool tutorial on the tools to apply geographic and mapping functions to databases. It would be a fun skill to learn for people who love tinkering with Access or data analysis tools.
This company’s booth was staffed by three reps, none of whom were coming up for air from poking at their phones while facing each other to form a protective circle against potential intruders.
Healthspek offers a free PHR, of which I’m skeptical, but it was a great-looking app, does some interesting merging of CCD data, has a provider view, and offers an emergency card that gives providers online access to the patient’s information in an emergency.
Validic had a nicely done graphical handout that described exactly what it offers, a digital health platform that connects medical devices, health apps, and wearables to the systems of hospitals, population management companies, pharma, and payers.
Some of the other booths I visited were:
- Privacy Analytics, which provides data anonymization services.
- AnalytixDS. The company’s Mapping Manager is a pre-ETL data mapping tool that caught my eye.
- Arcadia Healthcare Solutions, who gave me an overview of EHR services and data analytics solutions.
- Verisk Health. The company got a great off-the-cuff plug from Atul Gawande’s keynote in which he mentioned using their analytics tools to identify patients who were otherwise falling through the cracks and not receiving treatments and interventions they needed. His example was a blind diabetic patient who was racking up massive cost because of poor glucose control, which required only one visit to fix: he didn’t realize that he had to turn the insulin vial upside down to draw up his dose, so he was injecting himself with air instead.
- Healthy Communities Institute. It offers a population health improvement portal for communities. The rep didn’t seem too interested in telling me more, but it looked pretty cool.
Many of the booth reps seemed disengaged, even worse than at the HIMSS conference. Maybe it’s because companies don’t send their A-teams to Health Datapalooza, or that attendees are so diverse that there’s no clear sales opportunity, or maybe they just would rather play around with their phones than anything else. I walked up to several booths and was ignored completely, while others gave me a quick “let me know if you have any questions” before turning away (usually my intended question was “what do you do?” since it was often hard to decipher the buzzwords.) I saw one guy take a delivered pizza to the booth and eat it while the hall was open, while others abandoned their booths entirely or discouraged interaction by gabbing with each other.
I attended a session that was a panel discussion among investment guys (I say “guys” because they were all male and most were from insurance companies.) I didn’t realize how actively insurance companies are investing in healthcare IT now that their previously lucrative insurance profits are drying up. Some interesting points:
- Consolidation of hospitals and big practices could reduce the number of potential customers to a few hundred nationally.
- The market has too much noise. There’s no way Castlight Health will be worth as much in 10 years as it is today. Lots of companies are getting investments that haven’t really earned them and most of them will fail.
- Some of the big investors will put money into startups, especially those involved in consumer engagement, while others focus on later-stage companies that are already making money.
- Investors are wary of companies whose product adds another platform and instead look for products that fit easily into the ecosystem. “We don’t need any new shiny objects.”
- Investors won’t touch a healthcare software company whose business model assumes that consumers will pay for something.
- Up to 90 percent of the investments the panelists are making involve services rather than products businesses, but they have to be convinced that the business can scale and be productized.
- Investors don’t require a majority take as they often did previously, but they want enough equity to be worth their trouble and to give them some control over the company’s direction.
- Strategic investors aren’t as interested in steamrolling the founder as they once were – they will take a minority position and let the company grow.
- Investors have a strong interest in making investments in healthcare IT. Companies shouldn’t be shy about asking for what they really want.
If you are attending Health Datapalooza, leave a comment. What did you hope to accomplish there and how’s it going? Have you seen anything interesting?
I was excited about attending Health Datapalooza 2014. HIStalk wasn’t exhibiting, so rather than spending the majority of time in a booth, I was free to participate. I mapped my day out in advance and set out bright and early to make the most of it.
Mr. H and I both attended the keynote events. Bryan Sivak did a great job moderating. He was interesting and energetic and injected relevant comments and some fun to keep people alert.
Todd Park announced the release of OpenFDA and discussed the need for more open data. He finished with a moving tribute to George Thomas, the chief data architect for the HHS Office of the CIO who died recently.
The Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt was passionate while talking about his priorities for improving health and care in the UK. He shared the data to illustrate their success with improving mortality rates to among the best in Europe. He emphasized the need to share electronic health information across borders and collaborate to solve common issues. What I found most interesting is his case for greater accountability and error reporting. Bryan mentioned that someone referred to Hunt as “dreamy” during the conference rehearsal and I would agree.
Atul Gawande, MD, MPH spoke about the importance of insurance coverage for everyone and emphasized it with personal experience. He was passionate in discussing the need to improve safety and performance in surgery, childbirth, and care of the terminally ill.
Jonathan Bush was a whirling dervish when he took the stage to talk about the importance of liberating data and discussing the attributes of organizations that suffer from “Upper Right Quadrant Syndrome” or URQS. He ended with a narration of a YouTube video that demonstrates what can happen when one person takes the lead and perseveres. He may have mentioned his new book, “Where Does It Hurt?” which is number 6 on the New York Times Bestseller List.
Between the keynote speakers, selected vendors gave short presentations on their companies and products. The best one by far was Purple Binder. President Joe Flesh did a fantastic job describing how the application enables people to quickly find available community resources for which they are eligible. The mission of the company impressed me and the application appears to be just as impressive.
I saw several attendees wearing their jackets as part of Regina Holliday’s “The Walking Gallery.” That’s always encouraging to see and the wearers are always eager to tell their patient advocacy stories.
After the keynotes, I went to the exhibit hall. I was eager to check out the booths, especially those of our nine sponsors who were there.
I visited all of the booths in the exhibit hall and introduced myself to the folks at the booths of our nine sponsors that are exhibiting. Only three seemed interested in talking to me about their products and services, so I can describe only what I heard from those.
It is always a pleasure to see our friends from CareSync. Amy and Travis were excited when they told me Amy would be giving a demonstration on the main stage on Tuesday. The person working in their booth was fun and attentive each of the times I stopped by during the day.
The folks manning the Validic booth were highly energized and eager to talk about their platform. As soon as I expressed interest, before they even knew I was with HIStalk, they were connecting me with the marketing manager to explain their product. I was impressed with the visual they use to explain how they take data from multiple sources and convert it to one language the end user can easily manipulate and use. It’s no wonder Gartner recently named them a Cool Vendor.
I especially enjoyed visiting the QlikView booth. The person in their booth was knowledgeable and interesting. He not only showed me how to use the application, he gave me instructions for downloading a free version of it.
The conference has well-managed logistics and the size is comfortable even though its focus is fuzzy. Health Datapalooza’s emphasis on patients is admirable and it’s always nice to reconnect with industry colleagues.