2011 Trends, Events, and Summary 12/30/11

I hope everybody has been having a happy holiday season. I’m still recovering from several days of turducken that my brother was kind enough to send to us from Lafayette, LA. It’s rather tasty but incredibly heavy and makes me feel like I’ve been in a fog for the last several days.

I was trying to avoid writing a 2011 summary / trends / events post and a 2012 predictions post, but I just couldn’t help myself. There hasn’t been too much news over the last week, so I decided, why not? I ‘ll break them up and cover 2011 and 2012 as separate posts, so look for the predictions post in the next couple of days.

2011 has been a busy year for mobile and consumer health, with lots of new investments, ventures, partnerships, policy changes, and hype. 2011 has been defined by fitness apps, consumer empowerment, and price transparency. Despite all the talk about the transformative and disruptive power of connected technology, much of the healthcare delivery industry has been focused on putting out fires and meeting Meaningful Use.

Clinical transformation does not mean meeting Meaningful Use, but that is where most of transformation resources have been devoted this year. This will start changing as physician adoption of EMRs and eligibility for federal funding increases (but more on that in the next post about 2012.)

For now, here are the biggest events in 2011 according to me:

iTriage growth and acquisition. iTriage, a very new mobile health company, found a way to grow through partnerships this year to the point that it was attractive enough for Aetna to acquire it earlier this fall. I’d heard about the acquisition months ago but didn’t know it was Aetna, just somebody very big. This is significant, as it shows the value of creating a mobile solution that links providers and patients. It’s also a company founded by two MDs, another big win in my book.

ZocDoc funding and expansion. I’m not sure how this can’t be seen a very big news despite being seen by many as OpenTable for healthcare, which is an accurate description of ZocDoc today. ZocDoc, like iTriage, has been rapidly successful because it is free to consumers, generates revenue through providers, and targets acute needs in healthcare (finding and booking in the very near future.). It does not depend on chronic care and behavioral change.

Epocrates IPO. The company, whose product all docs under 40 know and rely on for drug info, went public and is now worth close to $200 million. This is the best example of a successful mobile company that will only grow as mobile adoption amongst physicians grows. It showed that if you can put a useful mobile tool in the hands of providers and charge pharma to sponsor it, you have a very valuable offering. Epocrates also updated its mobile app considerably, launched a web-based EMR, and will be launching a mobile EMR with Nuance integration in 2012.

Health accelerators. Rock Health, Blueprint Health, Healthbox, Startup Health, and Nant Accelerator all made news this year. No really big successes have emerged, though several Rock Health companies have received funding. This is a trend that should only get bigger in 2012.

Google Health dies. Google fed industry commentators everywhere this summer, myself included, with the announcement that it was phasing out Google Health, essentially giving the PHR business over to Microsoft. Google proved that if you just build it (a PHR), they (consumers) won’t come. Microsoft continued to extend HealthVault’s integration with partners, including iTriage last week. Combining the PHR trend with the health accelerator trend, I’m wondering when MS is going to announce the HealthVault Accelerator? I read about the MS Kinect Accelerator and HealthVault, though I’m sure not anywhere close to the revenue of Kinect or XBox, seems positioned as a personal health platform waiting for value add apps and services.

Health games. Gamify everything! It is a great way to keep people using a services and motivate them to participate in healthy behavior. I still advocate healthifying exisiting games or platforms rather than trying to gamify health. This is just in its infancy, but I see the biggest expansion over the next 12 months being in the area of health games as part of employer wellness programs. Look to Keas to lead the way here.

Design, experience, interfaces. Collectively — and this isn’t unique to health — user experience has become increasingly valuable. Some believe UX is the key to consumer adoption of health applications and wellness services. While I agree that UX is extremely important, both for clinicians and consumers, I disagree that UX is what is preventing widespread consumer adoption of mobile health services and apps. Either way, if you’re a UX expert or just pretending to be, likely there is a health startup or established HIT company looking for your skill set.

Health innovation challenges. CMS, drug companies, and payers are committing money looking for new ideas for technology application in health. Health 2.0 has a good list.

Reverse innovation. Lots has been written about the innovative ways that mobile technology is being used in developing countries for health-related services. I used to agree. I now think that while some very cool things are happening internationally in mobile health, they are not applicable to the US or other developed countries. SMS is great and should be used in the US as part of a mobile strategy but we all get that. We also don’t need health workers submitting patient forms via SMS. The main use case I can see for importing innovation is in the arena of very cheap touch devices, mostly Android, but I see these as patient-facing tools in the US while I see them as provider-facing in developing countries.

Wireless carriers becoming health companies. Qualcomm, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint are all targeting health as a key vertical for revenue growth. Through apps (Zipnosis, WellDoc) and connected devices (MedApps, Vitality) the carriers are looking to partner with companies in the hopes of generating revenue from the existing wireless networks.

That’s how I remember the year. My next post will cover predictions for 2012, many of which include trends that started or grew in 2011.


Travis Good is an MD/MBA involved with HIT startups.


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