The Boston Health 2.0 Cluster

6/23/08Follow @wroush

For the better part of a decade, advocates of computing in healthcare have fixated on the dream of paperless medicine—a new era in which every patient’s medical records would be stored digitally and every hospital, physician’s practice, pharmacy, and insurer would have access to these records, reducing paperwork costs and medical errors. But for all of the time stakeholders have spent squabbling over standards for electronic medical records, and all of the money providers have spent rolling out costly and controversial proprietary medical-database systems, these dreams haven’t gotten very far. More than 80 percent of medical practices still keep paper records, according to a study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Meanhile, the Internet has given birth to a totally new way of doing business and interacting with consumers: Web 2.0. And in a rush of Web-based health initiatives that has picked up significant steam just in the last few weeks, entrepreneurs and programmers are leapfrogging over the problem of electronic medical records to tackle much broader (and ultimately more important) issues such as how to use the Internet to track people’s health, how to use the power of social networking to improve standards of treatment, and how to deliver medical advice over the Web.

And it’s not surprising—given the Boston area’s dense concentration of high-tech hospitals, leading universities and medical schools, computing hardware and software companies, and Web startups—that much of this “Health 2.0″ revolution is happening right here in the Bay State. Last week’s launch of Boston-based American Well is only the most recent local example, and it’s sure to be followed by more.

The area’s Health 2.0 cluster may not be quite as big as the New England clean energy cluster, but it’s larger and more varied than some other clusters we’ve covered, such as the music and technology cluster and the Internet video cluster. It’s also growing fast, with new companies being launched every month. And it has all the hallmarks of success, including buy-in from big outside players like Microsoft (which is partnering with American Well to roll out its HealthVault service) and Google (which recently signed up Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts as its first partners for its Google Health project in the hospital and insurance industries, respectively).

What qualifies a company as a Health 2.0 venture? In this list, we’re including any New England-based company that uses the Web or other digital media to deliver software or services intended to help people manage their own health or to help providers manage healthcare delivery. That means we’ve left out a number of local firms, such as Health Dialog, D2Hawkeye, MedAptus, MedVentive, and mTuitive, that could be classified as “e-health” companies, since they are in the business of collecting or analyzing data that’s used to improve patient health or healthcare administration. But if a company doesn’t tap into Web 2.0 technologies and/or use digital media to communicate with consumers, we didn’t include them here.

As always, we invite you to send comments and additions to editors@xconomy.com.

American Well
Boston, MA

A 24/7 online network that matches consumers seeking medical care with doctors for live consultations via Webcam, instant message, or telephone (profiled in Xconomy last week).

Athenahealth
Watertown, MA

Subscription, Web-based software aimed at helping individual clinics and provider networks manage billing and electronic medical records. (Athena shelved plans for a secondary public offering in February 2008.)

Body1
Cambridge, MA

Creates online, interactive multimedia training courses for healthcare executives and clinicians as well as consumer-oriented, advertising-supported health information portals such as Heart1.com.

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Wade Roush is Xconomy's chief correspondent and editor of Xconomy San Francisco. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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