Health Startups And Bigwigs Crowd Into First NYC Health IT Showcase

12/5/11Follow @arleneweintraub

For two days last week, the New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC) hosted presentations and exhibits from 43 companies eager to show off their health IT initiatives. The gathering attracted big names like UnitedHealth and GE, as well as nine startups seeking to make a name in health IT. The organizers of NYeC were stunned by the demand for the event, which was their first: They had planned for 300 attendees and got 600 instead. “This broke all our expectations,” says David Whitlinger, NYeC’s executive director. “It gives momentum moving forward to health IT in New York.”

NYeC was formed in late 2006 as a public/private partnership between the New York Department of Health and companies working in health IT. It encompasses several programs that provide education and assistance to physicians and health facilities wanting to transition from paper-based records to electronic health records.

The organization is also trying to foster interactions between IT startups and the professionals they hope to serve, Whitlinger says. “For a number of years, health IT has not moved at a dot-com pace,” he says. “But the barriers are coming down now, and that presents opportunities for innovation.”

The conference served as a showcase for nine health IT startups, mostly based in New York. They were assembled by StartUp Health, a recently launched mentoring and support program for entrepreneurs interested in building companies focusedon health and wellness. The startups included Your Nurse is On, which developed a software platform to simplify nurse staffing, and OrganizedWisdom, a consumer site that aggregates health information on the Web.

Even older, more established companies were eager to display their ability to bring cutting-edge technologies to the business of healthcare. William Feller and Steve Harstad of UnitedHealth (NYSE: UNH) traveled from the managed-care giant’s headquarters in Minnetonka, MN, to the NYeC conference to present several new technologies the company has been perfecting in recent months. They include DocGPS, a smartphone app that helps members instantly find doctors or hospitals wherever they are, and OptumizeMe, an app that allows people to set health and fitness goals and to create a virtual social network of similarly health-minded people.

Feller says the new generation of health IT products not only plays off the growing popularity of smartphones, it also reflects how consumers are thinking about their health. “Consumers desire health achievement. They want to lose weight or exercise more,” says Feller, chief information officer for United’s emerging business group. “Another trend is that they need help navigating the healthcare space.”

United is so determined to be a major player in health IT that it made OptumizeMe available to everyone—not just United’s members. “We’re trying in different ways to take technology and simplify healthcare,” says Harstad, who is a senior director for chronic condition management at United’s OptumHealth division.

NYeC’s Whitlinger hopes the popularity of the group’s first big event in the Big Apple will spark interest in one of its latest initiatives, the Statewide Health Information Network for New York (SHIN-NY). The network, first proposed in October 2010, will link doctors and health facilities in New York, so they can easily share records with each other. The system is designed to simplify health care for patients—they won’t need to transfer records between primary care doctors and specialists, for example—and to cut down mistakes and unnecessary, repeated tests.

“We want to have the ability to stitch together all the healthcare providers in New York,” Whitlinger says. “We’re looking forward now to a lot of interest in SHIN-NY 2.0.”

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