Big data, entrepreneurs key to improving quality and cost of U.S. healthcare
Data will drive many of the sweeping changes coming with the Affordable Care Act to the U.S. healthcare system. At the StrataRx conference in Boston this week, innovators in "big data" for healthcare assessed its role in bringing advances in personalized and predictive medicine, major cost savings and research that leads to new technologies.
Halle Tecco, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based health IT incubator Rock Health, provided some insight on current trends in health IT venture funding. Since 2011, Rock Health has been collecting data on hundreds of startups funded in the health IT space, covering every deal of more than $2 million. The data shows there's a learning curve for prospective healthcare IT investors who are new to that space, Tecco said. "The healthcare industry has particular nuances that take a little longer (to grasp) and need industry expertise. So we built something from scratch to figure out what these early-stage companies need."
Tecco said the "full-service seed fund," which is the first of its kind in the healthcare IT industry, has helped launch more than 60 startups. Tecco and her colleagues have studied barriers to opportunities for starting companies in the healthcare space, and found it somewhat more challenging than in the IT world. "Healthcare is very siloed, and very focused on the idea that if you have an M.D. (degree), then you can do something; if you don't, you're not welcome to try to make an impact."
Still, venture investment in healthcare IT startups has been growing rapidly, Tecco said. Digital health venture investment totaled $1.4 billion in 2012, and has already surpassed that in the first nine months of 2013. At the same time, venture investment in early-stage biotech and medical device companies has declined in 2013.
Another speaker, Bryan Sivak, chief technology officer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that because of its enormous potential as a tool to help make healthcare more effective and cost-efficient, "this is 'big data's' big moment."
Using a new data website created by HHS, Medicare and Medicaid patients will soon be able to view, download and transmit their own healthcare data contained in providers' electronic medical records systems. "This is a nascent ecosystem that is just beginning to emerge to help patients collect data, understand and help solve some problems; it will even enable them to reconcile errors in their own healthcare record," Sivak said.
Health data entrepreneurs will play an essential part in helping patients, providers and insurers make the best use of data to accomplish the goal of a more effective and efficient healthcare system, Sivak said. "People who have the potential to disrupt industries tend to be people who are outside those industries. Technology in itself is rarely, if ever, the solution to problems, although it can be an accelerant and catalyst."
Claudia Williams, senior advisor for health IT at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said that, in the effort to improve care, "If we are to make care better without breaking the nation's bank, we have to engage patients in being the drivers of the change that needs to happen. We have to help them do that by making their data liquid and available to them."
[Photo by - Howdy, I'm H. Michael Karshis]