I had the chance to see Aneesh Chopra speak at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco last Wednesday, August 18th. Chopra is the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer and officially works in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. You know all that healthcare information technology stuff you have been hearing about from Washington, DC? That’s his charge–the good, the bad and the ugly. Must be a daunting job in some ways since the healthcare system has, for a long time, rejected IT like a mismatched kidney.
Chopra is notable for his incredible optimism, deep knowledge of the field and smooth speaking skills. He talked about his view of the role of the federal government in fostering healthcare IT. His vision is that government should act as “convener”, not rule-maker. He wants to let a few thousand flowers bloom by setting up events that draw from public and private industry, big and small companies, and represent the interests of consumers, providers and carriers. So far a few of these events have actually come together. A few of them even threaten to produce something of value, which is great.
First up was the Apps for Healthy Kids (see post here). The award has not been given for the winner yet, but is pending. They have another group working on a program for secure medical email with prizes and a competitive approach to encouraging participation with the goal of producing a usable product within 90 days. It is basically a giant geek-a-thon where I envision people battling armies of Outlook warriors wearing only their pocket protector as a shield.
A third, significant event will occur October 7-9 at the Health 2.0 conference where there is basically a throw-down challenge to developers to create solutions to a variety of healthcare IT problems/opportunities posted by a variety of sponsors. One of the specific challenges in the Health 2.0 Developer Challenge is to create an application that will integrate sensor-derived data with social networks to construct a personalized wireless health ecosystem (the word “ecosystem” appears to be the new black). Another challenge is to develop a graphical data mash-up, a game, or some other interactive digital resource that makes health related data accessible, understandable and actionable by young users. Any entity can issue a challenge and teams from anywhere and any background can sign up to solve the challenges and win potential cash and recognition awards. My favorite team names are “The Warm Fuzzies” and “the Fusionators,” although there are also teams that represent specific companies.
This whole empower the nerd herd concept is a pretty cool idea, as it is one of the first times I have seen small companies able to participate in a meaningful way in these large government programs. Granted, we had to turn it into a game show to get people engaged, but what the hell. Pat Sajak must be sick of spinning that wheel…maybe he is available to supervise the Healthcare IT Bonus Round.
Vanna, can I have three letters: EMR.
Anyway, Chopra said that he believes that meaningful healthcare innovations will derive largely from the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” (there’s that damn word again). He stated he was hoping to tap into the energy that is emblematic of start-up companies in order to catalyze breakthroughs in the system. My favorite part of the Chopra talk was in the Q&A session where he was asked, essentially, “how will we be able to get consumers (patients) to really use all this healthcare IT stuff?” I wrote his answer down verbatim because it felt familiar. He said, “If we get the design features right patients will use this technology. We can’t force feed applications and hope they will get used because it’s good for them. If we build it and they like it, they will use it.”
Yep, folks, you may recognize this as the theme from Field of Dreams, one of my all-time favorite movies inspired by a book by Ray Kinsella. The exact words, spoken by character actor James Earl Jones playing Terence Mann, were:
Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.
Now I can’t imagine anyone can drum up that kind of thick nostalgia to get excited about a health IT application, and, to paraphrase, the one constant through all the years, Aneesh, has been that no one has been willing to pay for this stuff out of their own pocket. People might come, Aneesh, People might come. But they better feel they are getting something for nothing or that they have no choice or they ain’t coming soon. Can you imagine a provider passing over $20 without even thinking about it? Yeah, me neither.
However, I will admit that Chopra speaks with the kind of missionary zeal that gets people excited and his approach is interesting to be sure. It is refreshing to see an approach that actually does have the potential to benefit more than just the big companies for a change. Chopra was even cool enough to be featured on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, so at least he has street cred among the masses yearning to be digitized.
The Health 2.0 Developer Challenge is coming up soon during what has now been dubbed Health IT Innovation Week (October 3-10). I love that they have made this the centerpiece of a new national “holiday.” Maybe Hallmark will get in on the action with a suite of greeting cards (Happy Health IT Innovation Week: May the ports be with you!”).
I am really looking forward to see how the government as “convener” role works out at Health 2.0 and beyond. If we can make it cool to create innovative health IT solutions and, even better, make it desirable to use them, our world will be a better place.