How you define healthcare innovation depends on the setting.
Sometimes it’s a handheld device that lets a physician examine your throat during a video visit, an online eye test, or a patient and caregiver engagement platform that looks a lot like Facebook Messenger. Sometimes it’s computerized physician order entry, a mass email to employees participating in a wellness program, or a patient portal that lets a mother manage care for her children and her spouse as well as herself.
The first set of examples comes from Health 2.0. The second set comes from the Cerner Health Conference. To butcher a cliché, one is from Mars and the other is from Venus. However, these events illustrate two parallel paths of healthcare innovation – and if the industry is going to advance into 21st century in any way, these paths must come together.
The companies at Health 2.0 – startups straight out of Silicon Valley and Silicon Valley – work outside the traditional healthcare system. They stay small but think big. They develop first and ask questions later, even if it means clinical workflows, provider partnerships, and business models take a backseat to rapid innovation.
The companies at the Cerner Health Conference – large healthcare organizations (HCOs) as well as the host itself – work within the traditional healthcare system. They stay big but think small. They ask questions first and develop later, even if it means rapid innovation takes a backseat to clinical workflows, provider partnerships, and business models.
Neither approach is wrong. Healthcare needs a steady drip of new apps, devices, and services as well as the occasional flood of new software releases. The former offers a glimpse into the future of healthcare, when consumers are in charge of their care (and their records) and HCOs strive first and foremost to keep people healthy. The latter makes the present a little more bearable, bringing decision support, care coordination, and population health tools to HCOs as they adapt to shifting reimbursement models and other market pressures.
At the moment, though, both approaches exist in a bubble. HCOs and traditional players were few and far between at Health 2.0; Allscripts exhibited, and Cigna, United Healthcare, and the Cleveland Clinic spoke, but small firms with limited industry exposure dominated the agenda. (To be fair, that’s the whole point of Health 2.0.) Likewise, startups were scarce at Cerner’s event; the exhibit hall was a Who’s Who of enterprise IT and hospital IT stalwarts. Only Livongo staffed a booth at both conferences.
These parallel paths of innovation need to come together. Both approaches have much to teach each other. Sure, startups want nothing less than to flip traditional healthcare on its head, but they have the backing of doctors and patients who understand the system. Sure, large providers by their very nature represent traditional healthcare, but they have clinical staff who see firsthand why the system needs to change.
This will be a process, to be sure. Traditional players (providers, payers, and vendors) must balance remaining wary of far-out ideas with giving their all to the next BetaMax, LaserDisc, or Coleco Vision. Open platforms are a good start, but the proliferation of worthless stuff on the Apple and Google stores shows that careful curation of medical apps will be necessary. At the same time, startups looking to grow rapidly must balance tethering themselves to a single big player (and restricting themselves) with partnering with anyone (and seeming desperate).
If nothing else, the two sides need to talk. Health 2.0 is growing up, and its next step should be putting its startups in front of the Kaisers, Intermountains, and Geisingers of the world. Meanwhile, events such as the Cerner Health Conference should do the same and invite companies such as MedWand, Opternative, and CareSync, which respectively make the telehealth device, the online eye exam, and the messaging platform mentioned at the beginning of this post. Only then will the parallel lines change course and start to come together.