Wireless Health Summit Looks to “Engaged Consumer” to Drive Change

5/24/13Follow @bvbigelow

In the beginning, the Wireless Health Convergence Summit was viewed as a way to bring innovation to reality, according to Rob McCray, a co-founder and CEO of the San Diego-based Wireless Life Sciences Alliance, which organizes the annual conference.

“At that first meeting, we had some people who wondered why a technology company would want to get together with a life sciences company,” McCray said. “We spent a lot of time talking about what was possible.”

Now in its eighth year, the summit is trying to shift the focus from the intersection of healthcare and wireless technologies, and a fixation on providers and payers, to what McCray calls “the engaged health consumer.” It’s a shift that reflects broader changes underway in the healthcare industry.

Just a few weeks ago, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released pricing data charged by 3,300 hospitals nationwide—showing that hospital billing varies wildly for the same medical procedure throughout the United States. This was preceded just a couple months earlier by “Bitter Pill,” a Time magazine cover story by the journalist, lawyer, and entrepreneur Steven Brill, who begins his special report by asking a simple health-policy question: “Why exactly are the bills so high?”

Rob McCray

Brill’s answer, in 24,105 words or less, is because they can—and because there are practically no countervailing forces to stop them. When I met McCray recently for a working lunch, he called Brill’s report “shocking,” and said it is one of the reasons healthcare will change more in the next five years than it has in the previous 20. He contends that the engaged health consumer, technology innovation, and changing market economics (perhaps with a little regulatory help) will drive changes through the healthcare industry in the same way that IT innovation has disrupted banking and other industries.

“There really isn’t any incentive to do a better job, or to be more efficient, when you have a reimbursement structure that is based on volume—on the number of visits,” McCray said. If the reimbursement structure was instead based on outcomes, the industry might finally have an incentive to maintain patients in good health.

“The engaged health consumer is my terminology for getting these markets where we want them to be,” McCray said. “So much of chronic disease is based on lifestyle and personal choices, and the healthcare industry focuses on it as if it’s something it can fix,” McCray said. “Spending is still not connected to outcomes.”

McCray said the three-day summit, which begins May 28 at the Omni Hotel in downtown San Diego, is becoming increasingly focused on the broader consumer market for healthy living (think exercise and healthy diet), which he predicts will ultimately have more impact on healthcare than providers will.

“We have a number of discussions that are intended to highlight what somebody is doing [in consumer health] or that focus on some of these big themes, such as the strategy for connected health,” McCray said.

A leading proponent of this strategy is Joseph Kvedar, director of the Boston-based Center for Connected Health, who will talk about ways to use the diagnostics technologies of personalized medicine to identify “everyday behavioral biomarkers” and create a less-costly prescription for “personalized prevention.”

The agenda also features a panel discussion on “the engaged health consumer” that is intended to link consumers to the summit’s theme of moving from innovation to adoption in healthcare. The panel includes Daniel Kraft, who chairs the medicine track for Singularity University and is executive director of FutureMed; James Fowler, professor of medical genetics and political science at UC San Diego; and Brendan Gallagher, senior vice president of emerging technology and channels at Digitas Health.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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