When you have “innovator” in your title, you would assume that you are a natural choice to be featured in HITLAB’s Innovator’s Spotlight. That does help but there is so much more to Vivian Peng’s title.

As Director of the HITLAB Innovators Summit, Vivian is charged with bringing leaders and investors in medical technology, healthcare policy, and product design together for an opportunity to network, learn, and share myriad developments, ideas, and solutions to accelerate technological breakthroughs in healthcare. This year’s event will be held on December 1st at Columbia University's Low Library.

Vivian was always interested in healthcare. She thought it was her mission in life to become a doctor. Beyond being a millennial, she never thought much about the tech industry and its connection to healthcare. After college, she went to Tanzania to teach about HIV/AIDS in schools. She lived in the villages without access to running water or electricity, and in her words "it was the happiest and simplest way of living I've ever experienced.”

While there, Vivian had an experience with an AIDS patient that would have a profound effect on her life and her future. She met Ziada, who was dying. Vivian felt it was unfair that someone could live a long life with HIV/AIDS in the United States, but be at a tragic disadvantage elsewhere. In Ziada’s case, her family needed money to put food on the table, so they made the decision to sell the drugs that could prolong her life. Ziada’s eyes and her story haunt Vivian to this day, because they represent the injustices in this world, and ignite Vivian’s passion for doing the work that she does. 

Upon returning to the States, Vivian ached for the simpler way of life that she had experienced in Tanzania. So she made a concerted effort to avoid technology. She was the last of her friends to get a smartphone and barely touched social media. While avoiding technology was supposed to bring her zen, the active ignorance she practiced actually made her feel more and more detached from society. She felt a noticeable pain point when she couldn't contribute in the way that she wanted because she wasn't keeping up with society's advances. Vivian knew at that point that she had to embrace technology in order to make an impact. 

Fast forward to 2013, Vivian was finishing up her MPH at Columbia University and took a course in Data Science. She wanted to discover what type of role she could play in the health tech scene–would she contribute as a designer, a programmer, or a strategist? By taking this course, Vivian discovered a passion for coding and found a way to combine her design and public health skills together.

Through a friend and colleague, Vivian discovered HITLAB and the work we did during our 2013 innovation challenge. She knew she wanted to be a part of it; little did she know at the time she would be coordinating HITLAB’s Innovators Summit a year later and bringing together some of the greatest innovators and healthcare professionals in the world. She’s also managing the 2014 HITLAB World Cup, an opportunity for innovators in design, medicine, and technology from around the world to develop impactful solutions to fulfill unmet needs in healthcare. This event encapsulates Vivian’s passion for healthcare, technology, design, policy, and the use of social media to share all of this innovation.

Vivian is fascinated by how social media data can be used to track and predict trends in population health. Traditionally, tracking population health data had to wait until the patient felt sick enough to go to a hospital or a drug store to seek help. Nowadays, it's more and more commonplace for people to Tweet or post online about their symptoms. We can use machine learning and data science tools to scrape the web for this information and predict when the next outbreak might occur. As we enter an ever more connected world, we can begin to imagine a possibility where we might actually get ahead of the curve.

Vivian’s vision for the future of health innovation is probably the one she saw in Ziada’s eyes. To see the day we have universal healthcare in the United States. A system that is true innovation–discovering what it takes to engage with all stakeholders and a commitment to delivering healthcare that reaches everyone.

Connect and learn more about Vivian by visiting her website www.vivianpeng.com.