Innovation in any field hinges on the synthesis of ideas from a variety of perspectives. Periodically, we have the opportunity to speak with a member HITLAB’s diverse team of collaborators, including clinicians, scholars, and industry experts, and ask them to share their unique perspective on today’s biggest healthcare technologies and innovations.
This week, we were lucky to speak with an innovative voice in healthcare, Tim Gilchrist, Director of eBusiness Strategy for WellPoint Healthcare, one of the largest managed care companies in the country. Tim is also a co-chair of HITLAB’s Healthcare Technology Action Group (HTAG), a consortium of leading healthcare experts working together to improve the chronic disease management ecosystem in the United States.
At WellPoint, Tim develops social media strategies, evaluates companies for acquisition or partnership, and uses healthcare data to improve the wellness of WellPoint's members. Prior to his work at WellPoint, Tim spent much of his career in corporate marketing and Internet positions with Value Health. He is also the co-founder of Microengagement, a crowdsourcing company that helps businesses connect and collaborate with their brand supporters. Microengagement uses the power of collective wisdom to rapidly develop products, services and predict market trends. He is a frequent speaker and blogger on the emerging field of crowdsourcing.
Original Interview Conducted by HITLAB Community Manager, Donna Hanrahan
DH: Tim, you have such an extensive background in healthcare, specifically using Internet data. Your career coincides with the vast technological advancements we’ve experienced in healthcare in recent years. Which shifts in the technological landscape have made the biggest impact on shaping your experience working in this field?
TG: I think it’s really the democratization of data. When I started, you needed a mini and thousands of dollars to do any meaningful data analysis. Now, even people with no technical training can sift through and preform analysis in ways we could not have imagined 20 years ago. It’s a fantastic world where people who are sick or just inquisitive will be able answer difficult questions through their own discovery.
DH: Can you tell us a little bit about how innovations or other lessons generated by founding Microengagement (which encompasses more than healthcare) translates back to the healthcare industry?
TG: Sure, when my partner and I started Microengagement the term “Crowdsourcing” had not been coined yet so we called it “Distributed Innovation” (not that catchy). Now everyone is crowdsourcing. Democratized data is a big part of the movement – giving data to patients, collecting data via mobile devices or wearables and then sharing it. It’s all part of a process we are starting to see accelerate where Mainframe health is getting derailed in favor of a more flexible, efficient system. Look at the number of diagnostic tools you can put on your smartphone now or lab tests sold directly to consumers. The barrier that remains is how to share this information in a meaningful way, there are so many formats and semantic ontologies are still out of reach for consumers.
"Democratized data is a big part of the movement – giving data to patients, collecting data via mobile devices or wearables and then sharing it. It’s all part of a process we are starting to see accelerate where Mainframe health is getting derailed in favor of a more flexible, efficient system."
DH: Who in healthcare, in your opinion, is using crowdsourcing strategies to innovate?
TG: The most extensive use of crowdsourcing in healthcare thus far has been on the drug and device development side. Organizations like InnoCentive and the ONC [the federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology] have been able to deliver significant value by harnessing the value of the crowd. TopCoder has been able to do the same in the field of software. The real potential for revolution lies in the general population’s ability to crowdsource healthcare. Here in the states we are going to see a sharp increase of health costs as reform is put into practice and I think that will open the door for health crowdsourcing entrepreneurs to step in and help control costs. I could envision crowdsourcing applications for cost transparency, alternative medicine, health financing, diagnosis and interpretation of medical records, basically anything that helps consumers navigate the system.
"The real potential for revolution lies in the general population’s ability to crowdsource healthcare... We are going to see a sharp increase of health costs as reform is put into practice and I think that will open the door for health crowdsourcing entrepreneurs to step in and help control costs."
In the developing world, mobile technology is the catalyst that enables many crowdsourcing efforts aimed at health. NextDrop (http://nextdrop.org/) uses crowdsourced data to help people find water. MedicMobile uses SMS text messages to coordinate community health workers.
DH: What do you think is the greatest challenge to healthcare innovation today?
TG: In the United States few really think about the system from end to end. Reform was really about insurance and ACOs’ attempt to use a carrot and stick approach to changing physician behaviors. No one is stepping back and saying, “Wait a minute, other industries have solved the exact same problems in the past.” There must be a reason why there have only been two fatal airline crashes in the past four years, even though millions of people fly every day. How is it that the cost of automobiles has stayed flat relative to inflation while quality has soared? The answer is supply chain management; other industries have used it to increase quality and lower costs and healthcare can do it too.
"There must be a reason why there have only been two fatal airline crashes in the past four years, even though millions of people fly every day. How is it that the cost of automobiles has stayed flat relative to inflation while quality has soared? The answer is supply chain management; other industries have used it to increase quality and lower costs and healthcare can do it too."
DH: What do you think is the most promising aspect of healthcare technology growth?
TG: I think there is going to be a revolution in the cost and accuracy of diagnostic testing combined with the prevalence of smartphones to deliver data or actually perform the test right on the device. Open source projects like Arduino (www.arduino.cc/) are making remote sensing and robotic technology ridiculously inexpensive and this will rapidly increase innovation.
DH: Do you have any predictions on the direction of big healthcare trends (i.e. big data, quantified self, patient-centered care)?
TG: Look for the consumer use of medical record data via bluecard efforts to fuel a new consumer awareness of personal health, how to navigate the system and be an active consumer when dealing with health organizations. Use of semantic ontologies will help consumers understand all their data and researchers accelerate their discovery work.
The crushing weight of increased healthcare costs will cause many to go “underground” seeking alternatives to mainframe health. Silicon valley has already jumped on this opportunity with companies like MedLion, and WhiteGlove Health
We’d like to thank Tim Gilchrist for his time, as well as for all of his contributions to HTAG and HITLAB.