Why They Weren’t at the mHealth Summit 12/20/11

Lots of people, myself included, have been writing commentaries this week and last about the mHealth Summit. Much of the writing has been positive. While I agree the event was a great opportunity to see some innovative concepts and products, I was left wondering why almost no mainstream — as in enterprise established HIT companies — were exhibiting.

None of the EMR companies were there. Even the mobile EMR vendors drchrono and Clear Practice weren’t there. No HIE or RCM companies. The only clinical communications company I saw was EXTENSION, which was also presenting at the event. I didn’t see any workflow companies. Even Epocrates didn’t exhibit at the Summit. The Epocrates CMIO presented at one of the panels, but the company, which I think can be labeled the biggest mHealth success story to date, didn’t have a booth. iTriage, which is another huge success story in the mobile health space (having been started two years ago and just acquired this fall by Aetna — more on this in a later post) was not an exhibitor either.

Why did they all decide not to bother sending sales or PR people to exhibit? A friend suggested two reasons to me: 1) they didn’t want to be shown up by new, innovative technology that might be far ahead of their own, and 2) they didn’t want to legitimize the event and the mobile health movement as being separate from the rest of healthcare.

Both reasons make sense. HIT companies, in particular those selling EMRs, aren’t really known for their superior user experience. I’d love to see a rolling demo of Meditech alongside some fancy new fitness gadget that tracks everything about you and displays it beautifully in real time on a Retina display.

The reality is that lots of health startups are getting funded, in part because they believe they can win on design and usability. While very valuable and likely necessary to succeed long term in a competitive market, this isn’t the only ingredient needed for success in healthcare. Additionally, existing firms are entrenched in relationships with their customers and aren’t focused solely on product building, something you have to do when you run out of investment money. That’s not to say more attention shouldn’t be put into new product design or development (look at Eric Ries’ examples like Intuit in The Lean Startup), just to say design can’t be the only focus for these existing companies.

The second reason, not wanting to legitimize the mHealth movement as separate and unique, also has some merit. Maybe existing vendors don’t want to give any validity to the new guys on the block talking about disrupting healthcare delivery and ushering in a new era in health and wellness while staying away from many of the existing players.

Despite the validity and defensibility of these two reasons, I think it simply boils down to the fact that existing vendors — those with relationships, contracts, and real revenue in healthcare today — did not see the Summit as an opportunity worth their time. That means that by and large, decision makers in US healthcare (providers, health systems, or even payers, were not there.)

I know this isn’t universally true. I ran into a couple of people with very large HIT budgets at health systems and payers. Overall, though, real healthcare customers were not represented. If they were, the existing vendors would have been there with swag.

Maybe the Summit will remain an event for consumer health, which is really fitness and wellness in its current form. I’d like to see what vendors are represented next year and if it becomes worth the effort.

Travis Good is an MD/MBA who works with health IT startups.

  • HIMSS Influence?

    I find the absence of the legacy EHR-related vendors even more curious given that HIMSS was co-sponsoring this event (even launching their new mobile site in concert with it) and the vast majority of their operating budget comes from those very same long time cozy partners.

    HIMSS influence appears to be going one of two ways: 1) Lower – They asked/pressured the old guard to participate and they refused but it was too late to back out, or 2) Higher – they see the long term future of the HIT market as one much different than today given the massive industry transformation that is required, where their future revenue will come from a much broader base of innovative mid-tier entities that are only now beginning to emerge, and despite comments from the old guard to not waste time and resources on the m-health event, they decided to do it anyway. To this end, maybe they reread their mission statement and believe it: http://www.mhealthsummit.org/about_partners.php#himss .

    Either way it will be very interesting how this plays out over the next two years and how m-health is positioned by HIMSS and the legacy EHR-related vendors at the Las Vegas over-the-top event.

  • Tom Benson

    Maybe too late to comment, but…

    Low attendance at mHealth summit makes me think of this article in Fierce Mobile:


    Which says, in effect, that for all the Docs who might want to use the iPad, the harsh fact is that the HIMS vendors are moving verrry slowly. Fits my experience…most vendors percieve the iPad, probably accurately, as a threat to their profit margins. Their strategy is to kick and drag their feet at every opportunity 🙂

    Same thing in non-health sectors like ERP or Finance. Big vendors are determined not to let the “user-centric” nature of mobile infect the profit-centric culture of the enterprise software vendors.

    The question is, will this turn into all-out holy war between users, IT, and Vendors? And if so, is it worth the risk for a developer to take the side of the users, or is that just an invitation to be crushed by the big players?

    I remember a similar battle 15 years ago…there was a concerted push to force vendors to adopt a more user-friendly form of implementation process. It failed.

    The lesson was…better user experience does not necessarily prevail.

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