For leaders of employer-sponsored health, wellness, safety and workers' comp programs

Five Key Health Technology Trends for 2014


Five Key Health Technology Trends
Indu Subaiya and Matthew Holt
Health 2.0 Conference

Mike Allen:  “Health 2.0 leaders provide an important perspective on the rapidly changing health and medical technology marketplace.”

Indu Subaiya and Matthew Holt, co-founders of the highly successful Health 2.0 conferences, have hosted more than 11,000 attendees and introduced over 500 technology companies to the world stage since 2006;  their sponsors include industry leaders Kaiser Permanente, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Nokia, Walgreens, Cigna and United Healthcare.

Holt and Subaiya used their unique industry perspective as the basis for a keynote talk on Five Key Health Technology Trends at their flagship Health 2.0 Annual Conference held in Silicon Valley earlier this month.  Below is a summary of these trends and their implications for employers, health plans, insurers and brokers:

health-monitor-1501.      Self-tracking is going mainstream.  Smartphone Apps and tracking devices like FitBit, Jawbone and MyFitnessPal are rapidly expanding beyond their initial market of young, hip, tech savvy “quantified selfers”.    As mainstream Americans and physicians increasingly adopt these technologies, App developers are positioning their products to meet the needs of this broader market.  Some key developments include:

  • Well respected organizations like the Mayo Clinic are validating the clinical effectiveness of tracking devices which is speeding adoption in the medical community.  See Mayo’s recently published report  about the use of Fitbit to predict recovery from heart surgery.
  • App and device makers are consolidating to offer more comprehensive product lines.   For instance, Jawbone recently purchased BodyMedia and added 87 patents and a line of FDA Class II medical devices to its’ extensive line of trackers.
  • Developers are increasingly providing APIs (application programming interfaces) to facilitate integration with other platforms.  At the same time, insurers like Aetna have developed APIs to encourage interfaces with their health and wellness platforms.

As tracking goes mainstream, employers can increasingly find tracking solutions which improve medical outcomes, have a high level of medical credibility and provide the sophisticated technical and customer support required by corporate buyers.

GoogleGlass2.     New “augmented reality” tools such as Google Glass will change the delivery of medical services.    Like the Apple iPad before it, Holt believes that Google Glass will create a whole new ecosystem of medical apps and other software.   Physicians will use Glass to access checklists, instructional materials and images at the point-of-care, record patient conversations and consult with experts during surgery.  Equally important, software is being developed to analyze the vast quantities of data gathered by Glass to improve physician performance.

Another example of an augmented reality tool is Ellie, the emotion reading robot that analyzes facial expressions, gestures and voice inflections to help mental health practitioners interpret what patients are telling them.   Advances in motion sensors,  nano-devices, optical tools and big data analytics will provide savvy employers with many more new, reality enhancing tools that can be used at workplace clinics and as part of health and safety programs.

220px-The_Blue_Button_Logo,_April20123.      Clinical data sharing with patients will go to scale as years of work on Health Information Exchanges (HIE) begins to pay out.  Holt cited the HIE developed by the New York Health Collaborative which shares data among 200 hospitals and includes a well-designed patient portal.  In addition to the HIE projects underway in most American markets, the  government is expanding their Blue Button project   which provides medical records online for those covered by the Veterans Administration, and the departments of Defense and HHS.

As patient portals and electronic medical records become pervasive, employers will need to be prepared to provide interfaces with data from wellness and workers’ compensation programs to provide a more complete understanding of the patient and their health.

4.      Increasing transparency of medical prices – Data released this summer by CMS underscores the potential savings from improved price transparency.  According to the agency, the top 100 inpatient procedures at 3,400 hospitals showed “significant variation in average charge from hospital to hospital, including those within the same community locus.”

As noted in a previous post, employers are increasingly using medical price-shopping tools like those offered by Castlight, Pokitdok, GoodRx to help employees reduce medical costs.

5.      The definition of “health” will be expanded as the medical profession increasingly learns to improve population health by managing non-medical factors such as job stress, care-giving burden, financial worries, state-of-mind and even sex life.

indexEmployers like General Electric are already using aggregated data from employer-sponsored mobile Apps that track activity levels, sleep patterns and moods.  A demo of this system by MedHelp is available at the Health 2.0 site and is discussed at a previous Tech Talk post titled New Advances in Big Data Improve Healthcare.

Improved tools for self-tracking, augmented reality, clinical data sharing and medical price shopping provide many opportunities to re-define and re-engineer health, wellness and workers’ compensation programs.

If your organization has been standing on the sidelines wondering how to take advantage of these new technologies, the time has come to move ahead or be left behind.  A good starting point is this site’s App Directory which identifies 33 categories of  solutions for employer health, wellness, workers’ comp and safety programs.


October 21, 2013 |

New Medical Price Shopping Technologies Reduce Treatment Costs


Santa Clara Conference Center
Venue for the 2013 Health 2.0 Conference

Mike Allen: “Employers looking to lower health expenses should help workers shop for medical treatment.” 

New technologies are rapidly evolving that engage employees in finding cost-effective health care, according to Lew Altman, a leading healthcare consultant and speaker at the 7th Annual Health 2.0 Conference held in the Silicon Valley.

The conference highlighted a number of new medical price shopping platforms that have entered the market since the well-funded debut of the Castlight in 2010. Let’s take a look at the companies which demonstrated at Health 2.0 plus several others to get a sense of the price shopping tools available for employers, health plans, insurers and brokers.

Change Healthcare targets health plans and self-insured employers and has recently received $15 million in funding.  They demonstrated their user-friendly online Healthcare University which teaches consumers the fundamentals of health insurance and price shopping.  This platform is being successfully used at BlueCross of Minnesota.     The “University” is part of a platform which also includes the  Transparency Messenger which provides consumers with personalized messages about savings opportunities based on their medical record.  For instance, the system can generate an email alert to patients using an expensive branded drug to let them know that a low-cost generic is now available. Change Healthcare touts a national client base of employers and health plans covering lives in all 50 states.

New entrant  PokitDok  was launched in 2012 to help patients solicit price proposals from multiple providers.   While PokitDok primarily focuses on signing up consumers, CEO Lisa Maki indicates that they have recently introduced functionality for business owners and have raised $4.0 million to begin national expansion.

Other new start-ups include HealthInReach  which offers scheduling and discounts for both medical and dental procedures in the Los Angeles area and MyDocTime which demoed a doctor and dentist scheduling service which finds a provider who can take you immediately.  Two other firms offer price shopping for dental services and both have special programs for employers.  Healthsouk currently covers a number of California markets; Brighter offers a similar service in Los Angeles and plans a national expansion backed by major venture capitalists Mayfield Fund and Benchmark Capital.

Several more established players that offer programs for employers and national coverage did not present or exhibit at Health 2.0.  These leaders include GoodRxFairHealth, and Castlight.  Detailed descriptions of these offerings can be found at their websites and at this site’s App Directory.

Should employers be jumping in and offering medical shopping platforms to workers?  Yes, but proceed carefully and consider the following factors as you develop your requirements.

1. Geography – Although all of the services noted above have expansion plans, many currently offer only limited geographic coverage.

2. Depth of provider coverage – a well-established Bay Area periodontist who has tested several of the dental platforms told me that “most of the dentists were either recent dental school grads or not people I would refer to.”   Make sure you understand the depth and quality of the network you offer your employees and manage their expectations accordingly.

3.  Go for the big savings – many offerings primarily help employees reduce “out-of-pocket” costs which account for only about 16% of total medical expenses according to a 2007 study.  This is a good place to help your employees get started with medical price shopping, but keep in mind that the larger savings will come from programs which engage employees in reducing the “over-the-deductible” costs which account for 84% of total medical spending. 

At this point, none of the firms noted above are promoting their ability to generate “over-the-deductible” savings although Castlight appears to be putting together the tools that will make this possible.  Take a look at their  recent study showing that a knee replacement in Los Angeles at a quality provider costs  $60,000 less than the same procedure at a lower quality provider!

Industry players including Lew Altman, Lisa Maki and many others believe that employees will increasingly play a more active role in managing their own health, including shopping for treatment.  Companies, health plans, insurers and brokers all have an opportunity to provide workers with the knowledge and tools they need to make this transition.


October 15, 2013 |

New Advances in Big Data Improve Healthcare Delivery


H2N.10Mike Allen:  “The annual Health 2.0 Conference  highlights big data tools to improve healthcare delivery.”

Over 2,000 attendees met in the Silicon Valley for  this leading health tech conference which drew medical entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and representatives from health plans and employers including  Kaiser Permanente, Dignity Health, Cigna, United Healthcare and Safeway.   Over the next few weeks, we will review and discuss highlights of the event starting with the developments in big data tools which analyze data sets too large and complex for traditional data processing applications.

logo_mcFor employers, new analytic tools for  population management are particularly promising.    Ben Wolin, founder of  Everyday Health, the consumer medical website, discussed how his firm’s big data tools provide consumers with customized health  information based on past search patterns.   Everyday Health’s website and analytic capabilities are being used to increase consumer engagement at Mayo Clinic Health Living, a corporate wellness and population management program.

indexA different approach to population management was described by John De Souza, CEO of  MedHelp.  His firm uses information gathered from Smartphone and online tracking systems to help General Electric analyze employee activity levels, sleep patterns and moods.  MedHelp’s demo of GE data, which is available at the Health 2.0 site,  shows how their big data tools help GE  assess the impact of  wellness programs and gain insights into health management programs for specific conditions.

Employers should be aware of new data sources which can pinpoint health improvement opportunities when integrated with existing health information.  For instance, Bill Davenhall of  ESRI introduced his firm’s new database of environmental hazard sites.  A physician treating a patient for lung cancer can use this data to develop a “medical place history” which uses the patient’s past home and work addresses to identify past exposure to carcinogens.  Also, environmental health professionals can correlate the incidence of employee health conditions with hazard exposure at different company locations and use this information to mitigate risk.

For patients recovering from musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), Moving  Analytics has developed sophisticated algorithms which use patient movement data to determine if rehab plans are working.  Harsh Vathsangam’s start-up uses motion tracking capabilities of Smartphones to trigger status reports and reminders for both patients and their physical therapists.  With over 80% of workers’ comp claims resulting from MSD, Moving Analytics has great potential.

Finally, Silica Labs is developing Apps to harness the healthcare potential of Google Glass as commercial versions role out in the first half of 2014.   CEO Marvin Ammori is betting on “hands free” apps that let physicians record patient conversations, consult remotely during surgeries and access checklists, instructional materials and images at the point-of-care.  Health plans should be able to employ big data tools to analyze this massive new source of information and use it to improve physician effectiveness.

There are many initiatives underway to improve the interoperability of different data sets which will make it easier to create larger databases for analysis.  Phillipe Schwartz, CEO of App and device developer  Withings, described how his team is developing and refining API’s (application programming interfaces) to let customers integrate his firm’s data with other systems.   Most large mobile health developers have similar initiatives and employers should consider APIs and other evidence of interoperability as a requirement for Apps that they are considering for wellness and chronic disease management programs.

At a more global level,  Dr. Peter Tippett discussed Verizon’s three industry initiatives to improve the interoperability of health data.    Identity authentication technology will keep track of doctors and patients who are constantly moving, changing names, and locations.  Other Verizon tools will make it easier to to merge different types of data, and to keep data HIPAA compliant.

Employers are especially well situated to use big data because of their access to employee data from health, wellness, safety and workers’ comp programs as well as information from human resource information systems.   A good place to begin assessing the market for big data and other health technology services is the Health 2.0 website which provides archived presentations, a blog and other services.

Look for technology solutions that address your high payoff business issues and that are supported by organizations willing to dig in and understand your requirements.   For those who do this right, there can be a significant improvement in the health and wellness of your employees.

October 7, 2013 |

Stanford Research: Health IT That People Really Use

Stanford Design Lab Solutions

Stanford Design Lab Solutions

Mike Allen:  “Stanford researchers address the chronically low engagement levels in health technology.”

The recent high profile failure of a WellPoint mobile App highlights the importance of developing or purchasing software that engages users.  (WellPoint Tries to Avoid Another Mobile ‘Crapplication’ – Wall Street Journal).

A recent presentation by a leading physician-researcher from the Stanford University Behavior Design Lab provided a number of insights into the characteristics of high engagement health technology  which will be helpful to both:

  • Healthcare executives responsible for transforming their IT infrastructure.
  • Software developers trying to create the next big breakthrough.

For more on this topic, see my write-up of the recent presentation by Stanford’s Kyra Bobinet, MD, MPH who previously served as the Medical Director for Wellness Programs at healthcare tech leader Aetna.

This presentation was sponsored by the Health Technology Forum, a San Francisco based meet-up group of healthcare executives, software engineers, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists which sponsors presentations, meet-ups and conferences in 13 cities around the world.



October 3, 2013 |

Mobile Health and Medical apps – 10 Ways They Can Improve Workplace Health


health-monitor-150As Smartphones and tablets become a preferred means of communication,  they are increasingly used to influence healthy outcomes by medical professionals, employers, employees, insurers and brokers.

To help you apply this new technology, we’ve provided the table below summarizing benefits experienced by other organizations.

As you review the table, remember that this is a new, wild and wooly industry.  As part of the evaluation of each app, be sure that you get answers to these three questions:

1. Is the information presented in the app credible?  Look for certifications or approvals by entities like the FDA, Happtique and URAC.  Other good signs include the existence of qualified medical or other professionals on management teams and advisory boards and the use of documented best practices.

2. What is the level of customer support?   Many app developers provide a contact form and a promise to respond in 72 hours.  Is this good enough or do you  require 24 x 7 phone support?

3. Do the privacy and security policies meet your requirements?  This is especially important if the app captures personal information or if you plan to integrate it with an EHR or claims system with confidential data.  Note that many personal health and wellness apps fall down in this area.

The “right” answers to these questions will depend on the your specific needs but be sure you know your requirements and how the developer’s solution matches up.

Key Result AreaMobile Health Benefits
Health and wellness programsSmartphone and tablet apps track diet, activity and mood which encourages healthy behaviors and lowers medical costs
Chronic disease managementSpecialized apps for diabetes, heart conditions, mental health, addictions, back pain and other debilitating conditions provide tools help physicians and patients improve treatment.
Patient communication Mobile portals empower patients by providing medical and claim information when and where the want want it. This enhances patient communication with medical teams, claims adjusters and employers.
Triage and emergenciesMedical hotlines using Smartphones and tablets provide immediate help and triage which improves treatment and lowers costs.
Remote medical monitoringMedical sensors imbedded in Smartphones or connected to them result in more complete tracking of vital signs and faster identification of problems or emergencies.
Tele-medicineDoctor visits using tablets result in better utilization of physician time, less patient travel and waiting time and lower costs.
Care coordinationSmartphone supported systems help families, caretakers and employers coordinate care resulting in improved adherence to medical regimens and better outcomes.
Patient engagement Tablet delivered educational videos and instructions improve patient understanding. Automated reminders increase compliance with medication, physical therapy & other treatment regimens.
Incident reportingSmartphones apps for accidents and first reports of injury provide fast, on-the-spot reporting with photographic documentation.
Safety and preventionOn-the-job OSHA, ergonomic and safety tools provide preventive information when and where needed.

Once you’ve identified potential high payoff areas for your organization, use our App Directory to find apps appropriate for your health, wellness, safety and workers’ comp programs.   It’s includes information for each app about credibility, customer support and privacy/security policies and it is a lot easier than sifting through the 20,000+ healthcare apps on the market!

August 2, 2013 |

Disclaimer: Mobile Health Marketplace ("MHM") does not endorse or affirm the validity of the medical content contained in the medical or healthcare technology or applications we list, review or mention. Such medical content is provided "as is." Almost all mobile healthcare or medical applications are not regulated or reviewed by medical bodies, and as such the validity of their content should be determined by the end user, MHM does not take this responsibility. When making medical decisions use your own clinical judgment or consult with a qualified medical professional.

MHM is an independent online publication that provides a directory of mobile health applications. For each listing in the directory, we summarize data available from public sources and provide links to information about the listed app. At our Tech Talk Blog, we also provide reviews and opinions based on MHM's experiences.

© 2013 Mobile Health Marketplace, LLC. All rights reserved.

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