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As health care digitizes, consumer technologies will have greatest impact, says panel

Fred O'Connor | Sept. 19, 2014
The health care industry has long been a laggard in adopting technology, but that will soon change as the challenge of aligning doctors, insurance companies and patients is figured out.

The health care industry has long been a laggard in adopting technology, but that will soon change as the challenge of aligning doctors, insurance companies and patients is figured out.

Health care has always been 30 years behind adopting technology compared to other industries, said Chris Gordon, managing director at investment firm Bain Capital, during the discussion Wednesday at The Economist's Health Care Forum in Boston.

U.S. government efforts to spur the use of electronic health records created an infrastructure for storing patient data. The next challenge, Gordon said, is delivering meaningful results to people, an issue that Apple, Google and other major technology firms can potentially solve as they enter the health care space.

"Now that that information is available and can flow, you'll see big players come on and we'll be able to bridge that gap," he said. "The building blocks are in place to see that over the next decade."

"Disruption is finally coming to health care," said Unity Stokes, president and founder of StartUp Health, a startup accelerator aimed at helping health care startups grow, who noted that entrepreneurs from outside health care are entering the market.

But this upheaval won't follow the traditional path taken by startups looking to shake up a market. Instead of going around incumbent players, health care startups will work with stakeholders like the government and care providers.

"In health care, you need to work with stakeholders to navigate the system," Stokes said.

Combining smartphone technology, human genome sequencing and the Internet can have "a quantum-leap effect" on health care, but only if these disruptive technologies are integrated into existing workflows, said Anita Goel, chairman and CEO of Nanobiosym.

Her company develops portable testing systems to quickly identify diseases such as HIV. Nanobiosym customizes mobile apps to fit with current systems so the technology can "get outside the lab and have an impact."

To assuage data security concerns, people need to see how sharing health information can have positive effects on their health, Stokes said. Allowing a doctor access to health information, for example, can lead to the early detection of possible health problems, he said.

"It is about using data to affect people's lives in meaningful ways," he said.

New infrastructure is needed to better use this data and further digitize health care, Goel said.

A next-generation infrastructure will enable smartphones with apps customized for specific health care functions to collect data and send it to a cloud computing application where data analysis can be performed. When patients are armed with smartphones and instant access to their health information, health care will become more democratized, she said.

'"This is akin to what Google did with information access," she said, or how the cellphone gave more people access to telecommunications.

 

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