Home  >  consumer healthGoogle HealthUncategorized   >   Health 2.0: A lot of Hot Air in This Balloon

Health 2.0: A lot of Hot Air in This Balloon

by John Moore | April 27, 2009

balloonThe Health 2.0 hot air balloon is beginning to leak air, drifting ever downward to earth, or at least that is what was hoped for in attending and observing the latest happenings in this market at the Health 2.0 conference last week in Boston.  We at Chilmark Research like many of the apps in the Health 2.0 market, we just seek a bit more balance, a little less hype, more reality, more real, less Memorex.

It’s Getting Hot in Here

Despite the event’s location, a city known for Yankee practicality, the denizens of Health 2.0 brought their Silicon Valley, anything is possible, just throw enough money at it mindset to Boston, which made it difficult to take many of the Health 2.0 companies’ demonstrations seriously.  For example, sitting in on the morning Health 2.0 Accelerator session on Day One, I was struck by the completely nonsensical business model of one young company that wanted to create a single health rating service, in the “Cloud” of course, that other services such as HealthGrades or Angie’s List would provide their ratings data to.  The company’s founders argued that by doing so, they could create a rating service with more reviews/doctor and thus higher statistical accuracy.  The “statistical argument” makes some sense, but there is no business here as any company that currently charges consumers to see their data (doctor reviews) is not going to relinquish that control to some other entity.  Crazy thinking.

Then we had the latest Health 2.0 darling, HelloHealth which is about as hyped a company as they come having their story recently published in the Hype-Cycle rag, Fast Company.  Now in HelloHealth’s case, I do admire the company for its novel approach of attempting to directly connect consumers to doctors and they may indeed have something here. Beneath the glossy Health 2.0 facade and intriguing model though is a company that has failed to scale having only added a couple of new doctors, they’re up to seven now, since formal roll-out six months ago.  Despite all the marketing, clearly something is wrong with this picture.

  • Could it be the difficulty to do referrals outside of the HelloHealth network?
  • Could it be the inability to automatically load consumer/patient’s labs into HelloHealth?
  • Is it that to promote HelloHealth, they use virtually every successful Internet business model (in their demo they mentioned among others: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Twitter) as an example of what HelloHealth provides, which for a skeptic such as myself sends up the warning flare?

One thing is for sure, having heard their pitch, seen what they have accomplished, have a better understanding as to what the platform can and cannot do, this app is not ready for the main stage.  And we are not the only skeptic as a doctor present at Health 2.0 also has some reservations.

The numerous demos by various Health 2.0 companies did not provide enlightenment, as they were not much more than an elevator pitch, and analysts hate to be pitched, it just makes our skin crawl.  But in this case, these young companies were more a victim of the format that strives to show a broad array of apps, thus limiting demo-time to a paltry 3-4 minutes.  The organizers of Health 2.0 would be wise to be more selective in the vendors they choose allowing those chosen to go into greater depth (why are they different, where will they succeed, how they differentiate from 800lb gorilla, WebMD, etc.) and even let them bring a customer who can tell their story as to how the vendor’s app directly affected them in the management of their health or the health of a loved one.  Without those stories, those truths, that eliminate hype and bring forth reality, we the audience suffer under a steady stream of hot air.

Bright Lights

In and amongst the detritus of Health 2.0, there were some excellent highlights, stories, and reflections by various presenters which follow:

John Wennberg of Dartmouth Health Atlas fame gave us real numbers (analysts love numbers and stats, especially when the logic behind them is valid) pointing out where some of the real problems are in today’s healthcare morass (think acute care and end of life).

John Halamka of Beth Israel and Roni Zeiger of Google Health were very open and transparent as to what went wrong when e-Patient Dave tried to move his Personal Health Information (PHI) into Google Health.  Halamka stated that it was a mistake to allow transfer of admin data, which is well-known to be almost useless and chock full of errors.  Roni just put up a post on the issue today. John put one up last week.

During the Accelerator 2.0 meeting heard about some interesting partnerships between traditional HIT vendors and Health 2.0 companies such as: Sage, change:healthcare & Kryptiq.

In a discussion on “expert” (clinician info, peer reviewed journals) versus “patient/consumer” information a patient gave a compelling argument that during her cancer treatment, information from fellow cancer patients was far more useful and pertinent.  In her words: “the doctor and researchers have never directly experienced the disease for themselves, they do not know what it is like to actually go through the treatment, other patients do.”  Quite profound. Could this lead to a change from the type of content providers currently provide their patients? Might they begin augmenting “expert content” with patient/consumer content, say pointing them in the direction of PatientsLikeMe or MedHelp for community support?

Dr. Frenadouple of Renaissance Health, is quite the forward thinker believing consumers should have full rights and access to ALL of their records, period! The good doctor went on to say that the only way we’ll see change in healthcare practices is if people/consumers start voting with their feet.  He and Renaissance Health want to be in front of that movement, which they believe is inevitable, and are doing what it takes to get there.  They are walking the walk – impressive.

Over lunch, Scott Shreeve gave a great deep dive on the recently announced $10M X-Prize that is focused on healthcare.  Many at the table questioned whether or not the X-Prize can actually addressed a system as complex as healthcare, a valid argument.  Scott stated that the X-Prize Foundation is still in the process of further defining the structure of the challenge and welcomes feedback.

Another cancer survivor spoke of the dire need to have someone who cares when battling the disease.  It could be a loved one, a doctor, or other human. The important point being made is that technology, no matter how fancy, easy to use, information loaded, etc. at the end of the day will not give you a hug and say everything is going to work out.  You need that human touch.

Looking Ahead:

Most of the companies on display at Health 2.0 will not be with us in 3 years time.  There are simply too many companies with too little differentiation, chasing too few dollars with faulty business plans.  The market is not yet at a state of maturity that will lead to broad adoption, consumers are simply not that engaged, yet.  The majority of clinicians, a trusted source of information and advice for consumers perceive most Health 2.0 apps with a jaundiced eye as well, further hindering adoption.  That is not to say the whole market is awash in such companies of questionable business plans, questionable value and low prospects for a future.

We at Chilmark Research know a number of young companies, many of whom were not at Health 2.0, and some that were, who are extremely busy serving clients, talking to prospects and wooing investors.  Many of these companies are gaining traction in the market and have the numbers to back it up, a key metric that was rarely on display at the Health 2.0 conference. Therefore, while the Health 2.0 conference provides some perspective on this market space, it is far from complete.  Do not judge a market by what you see or hear at a conference such as this, but what you learn out on the streets talking to company executives, listening to their customer’s stories and seeking and finding clear differentiation that will stick. It takes more work, but it is well worth the effort.

Stay up to the minute.

“Chilmark were one of the first industry watchers to recognize the importance of population health and are still one of the most sophisticated in their apprecition of what is going to be needed to transform health and care.”

-Former SVP of PHM at Cerner