We were honored to welcome more than 200 participants to the annual HITLAB Innovators Summit, held December 3-4, 2015 in the Alfred Lerner Hall at Columbia University. The Summit was a memorable display of the finest digital healthcare innovations, highlighting the impactful work of brilliant scientists, entrepreneurs, and advocates determined to improve healthcare access and delivery.

World-renowned authorities presented data, insights, and forecasts from all sectors required to affect meaningful change in healthcare (including academia; business development; clinical research; executive management; government; insurance; legal, tax and other business professionals; life sciences; marketing, PR and communications; medicine; non-profits; seed, angel, venture and institutional investors; and technologists).

Our team chose topics we felt were relevant, and assembled speakers and panels who would engage attendees, elicit new ideas, and promote collaboration. Participants addressed vital questions and several themes emerged.

Key Themes:

  • Health tech is more than health and technology; it can be a driver (or a necessity) in the work of social justice and advocacy.
  • To drive innovations forward: democratize, democratize, democratize.
  • Design and deal-making increasingly involve collaboration for greater impact and efficiency.
  • Empathy is central to design. This is true for all design: products, processes, systems, etc.
  • Because empathy is central to design, innovators succeed when they thoroughly understand patient needs. Therefore, follow methods to ensure those needs are prioritized, and adopt processes to obtain regular user feedback. 

There is, of course, so much to say about all of these themes.

We invite you to peruse highlights of each presentation and plan now to join us in 2016.

The 2016 HITLAB Innovators Summit will take place November 29 – December 1, 2016, again at Columbia University.

Deeply reduced, early bird registration ($300 savings) is available now. As a thank you for reading our blog and for your early commitment, please use code “HLS2016” by December 31, 2015 to register at half the early bird rate (savings of more than $600).

Early Early Bird Registration: use code “HLS2016” by December 31, 2015 for 65% off

What would you like to see in 2016? We welcome your feedback here.

If you’re interested in speaking, sponsoring, or exhibiting, email summit@HITLAB.org.

See you in 2016!


Day 1


  • In The Building Blocks of Innovation in Digital Health, Eric Pilkington, Director of Digital Strategy, IBM Watson Health, said wearables are moving away from fitness to overall health. “Our ability to engage with health is alive and well ... the digital revolution is shaping the world of medicine.”

What are the key strategies and tools used to diffuse health technology?

  • Design Thinking Process: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test was the subject of discussion among panelists Dr. Sumi Sethi, Global Studies Leader, Roche; Dr. Michelle Odlum, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, Columbia University; Sharon Suchotliff, SVP, Engagement Strategy, Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness; and Jesper Hassel, CEO, Mevia. Each shared perspectives on how understanding patient experiences is essential, no matter which sector you represent.
  • Despina Papadopoulos, Founder, Principled Design, spoke on Interactive Tools for Weaving the Fabric of Technology & Health. “Technology is redefining well-being,” she said.
  • Empowering the Consumer to Lead Strategy was the focus of a panel consisting of Unity Stoakes, Co-Founder, StartUp Health; Willem Houck, Founder & CEO, ClariFlow; Susan Bratton, Founder & CEO, Savor Health; and Brant Herman, Founder, Mouthwatch. The group examined many concepts, noting healthcare innovation is still in its early stages and opportunities abound. Collaboration and credibility are essential.
  • Digital Advances That Benefit the Consumer: Looking at the Inhaled Dose Form was addressed by Theodore Witek, Senior Fellow, Institute of Health Policy, Management, & Evaluation, University of Toronto, who asked the important question, what do we really need to integrate tech in consumer lives, and improve adherence?
  • The Nine Habits of Highly Effective Innovators were enumerated by Dr. James Lebret, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Clinical Innovation, NYU Langone Medical Center. Here’s a taste: innovators live in the future, follow their passions, and don’t follow the crowd.
  • The Democratization of Health as an Experience was expounded upon by David Vinson, Founder & CEO, SocialWellth. He said digital tech can transform healthcare when we create a framework of standards that deliver the right apps through the right modalities. 
  • Brian Bertha, Senior Healthcare Technology Fellow, HITLAB, took the audience back in time and shared experiences from a pre-smartphone digital health program implemented among people with hemophilia in 2006. Given the positive results of the technology at that time, and how much has changed since then, the possibilities for improving outcomes and reducing costs continue to abound.


How can digital health prepare us for the new generation of doctors and patients?

  • The Changing Landscape of Innovative Strategic Thinking through Diversity in Licensing was the topic explored by the next panel: Alexia Priest, Associate Director for Business Development & Licensing, Boehringer Ingelhiem; Judith Sheft, Associate VP, NJ Innovation Institute; Dr. Sadhana Chitale, Director of Life Sciences & Transfer, NYU Langone Medical Center; and Dr. Albert Wai-Kit Chan, Managing Partner, Law Offices of Albert Wai-Kit Chan, PLLC. Contributors addressed the importance of openness and collaboration in deal-making and also said fostering diversity of all kinds will enrich innovation.
  • During Democratizing Peer Reviewed Medical Knowledge, Dr. John Adler, Founder of Cureus and Inventor of CyberKnife, explained there’s a great opportunity to change the world of medicine by improving access to medical content for both patients and providers.
  • Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Exploring Gender Diversity in Health Technology was the focus of a lively discussion among Sabra Bhat, Director, HITLAB Summits & Experiences; Leslie Kantor, Vice President, Education, Planned Parenthood; Maureen Rinkunas, Program Developer, Dreamit Health; Sally Poblete, Founder & CEO, Wellthie; and Dr. Shailja Dixit, Executive Director of H.E.O.R., Allergan. Panelists explored the importance of calling out sexism, the need for both male and female mentors, and the ability of health tech to promote equity in healthcare access.
  • Dr. Michelle Odlum, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, Columbia University, discussed her research during Nigeria, Ebola and Twitter: Early Epidemic Detection through Tweet Analysis. She said when it comes to increasing comprehension, the use of social media tools is “limitless” and may well track and confirm outbreaks faster than current methods. For example, in one country, more than 1,000 tweets described cases of a disease the day before a government body stated there might be an outbreak.


Is New York City the next hub for digital health?

  • Harlem Biospace is a new biotech incubator offering competitively-selected, early-stage life science companies access to affordable lab facilities, mentorship, business support, and programming, explained its founder, Dr. Samuel Sia.
  • Enabling a Market for Digital Health Solutions in NYC: NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) was the subject of conversation among Andrew O'Shaughnessy, Senior Project Manager, NYCEDC; Laura Pugliese, Research Manager, HITLAB; Dr. Jean-Luc Neptune, Executive Director, Blueprint Health; and Pooja Shaw, COO, Sense Health. The NYCEDC program was lauded for creating a “Silicon Valley ecosystem” that will go a long way toward improving health through technological innovation.


How can we diffuse health on a global scale?

  • Digital health will help us work toward equal access to novel treatments, according to Dr. Joris VanDam, VP & Global Head of Digital Development, Novartis. His talk was entitled Diffusing a Low Cost Clinical Trials System for Researchers in Africa.


  • In Disrupting Social Injustices with Digital Health Solutions, Kerry Kennedy, President, RFK Human Rights Foundation, described the Health e-Villages model, which brings digitized healthcare materials to remote areas in developing countries, transforming care and saving lives.
  • During Innovating to Improve Maternal Health, Dr. Richard Adanu, MBCHB, MPH, Dean, School of Public Health, University of Ghana, called on innovators to reduce maternal deaths and outlined several areas of need: we can help diminish delays in referrals, for example.
  • Evolving Global Health Organizations in a Digital Era was the subject of a panel including Stan Mierzwa, Director, Information Technology, Population Council; Alice Liu, Director, ICT4D, Jhpiego; Leslie Heyer, President, Cycle Technologies; and Saumya Ramarao, Senior Associate, Population Council. The group discussed pros and cons of the partnering landscape and pursuing big ideas.
  • Closing Remarks: Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, Executive Director of Public Health, City of Detroit, asked innovators to think beyond financial rewards. He said we must innovate keeping disparities in mind, or we risk increasing them. And he asked us all to remember, what matters most? How many people have you helped? Who is better off thanks to your work?


Day 2


  • In Eliminating Health Disparities with Technological Innovation, Dr. Kyu Rhee, Chief Health Officer, IBM, described how IBM’s Watson is leveraging cognitive systems, closing the knowledge gap, and providing data-driven insights. Such insights help community-based health centers build strong teams as well as trusting patient/provider relationships.


Which digital tools are successfully improving health outcomes?

  • Integrating New Devices to Caregivers and the Elderly brought the following panelists together: Jeff Makowka, Director, Thought Leadership, AARP; Pete Celano, Director, Consumer Health Initiatives, MedStar Institute for Innovation; Julio Corredor, Director of Worldwide Innovation, Pfizer; and James Murphy, Executive Vice President (Optum), United Healthcare. They discussed Project Catalyst, a coalition exploring the needs and wants of seniors to forge tech solutions. Partnerships drive innovation for the elderly and their caregivers, and it’s exciting to consider the tech that’s in development, which can prevent and/or detect senior issues such as falls and dehydration.
  • In Sleep to Action: Next Generation Sensors Improving Lives Dr. Abhijit Dasgupta, Chief Data Science Officer & Co-Founder, Zansors, excited our audience, one of whom tweeted “love that you are taking our understanding of sleep to the next level via integrating sensors and app.” 
  • Dr. Olga Crowley, HITLAB’s Manager, Research & Data Analysis, asked Why NY? The NY Metropolitan Area as a Landscape for Using Digital Health Tools to Improve Health Outcomes. She said New York has a diverse population and high health disparities, but digital health shows promise in reducing such disparities.
  • Axel Muehlig, Manager of Statistical Programming and Analysis, Roche, discussed Building a Campfire Around Data: Alternative Tools for Medical Research.


Interactive Session: HITLAB Solve

“Healthcare innovation in real-time!” –@innovationator

In the spirit of the Summit’s theme: Cross-Sector Learnings to Accelerate the Diffusion of Digital Health Technologies in Healthcare, Day 2 included an interactive session called HITLAB Solve.

Groups formed for informal discussions. Different sectors of health were represented at each table. Conversations started with key questions:

How does your work or research engage technology? If you are new to the digital health space, in what ways do you see yourself engaging in digital health (research, app development, etc.)?
What do you think are some of the most exciting new innovative trends, tools, technologies in the health tech space?
What do you think are the biggest challenges in the digital health space? Are there public health challenges not being addressed by digital technology?

As groups explored the questions, lively conversations reflected the diverse perspectives of varied expertise and experiences.


What sets apart diffusive health start-ups from the rest?

  • Here’s Dr. Adam Siegel’s (CEO, Skye Health) advice from Not-So-Obvious Hacks for Start-Ups in a nutshell: collect ideas, kill ideas, test the good ones.
  • Building Brands in the Digital Age was filled with helpful branding advice from Sharon Suchotliff, SVP of Engagement Strategy, Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness. She described building brands with “lovemarks” that reflect emotional connections and create an experience.
  • In Healthcare Revolution by the People for the People Kat Jong, Launch Manager, MedStartr, described a new phenomenon: using crowdfunding to finance health innovations, giving patients and providers a say in what gets funded.


  • During The Convergence of Healthcare, IT, & Economics, Leo Bodden, VP, IT/Converged Technologies, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, told the shocked crowd preventable fatalities are the #3 killer in the United States. Tech can help by increasing efficiency and eliminating waste.


What makes a digital health product cost effective and useful?

  • In AdhereTech Smart Pill Bottles and Real-Time Behavior Change Josh Stein, CEO, AdhereTech (and 2013 HITLAB World Cup Grand Prize Winner), described the positive impact of AdhereTech’s ingenious product. Requiring zero patient setup, the bottle has increased adherence by more than 20%.
  • Is Your Digital Healthcare Product Really Usable? Usability = Useful, Relevant & Scalable was the focus of panelists Harsha Murthy, Consumate Capital LLC; Howard Burde, Esquire, Howard Burde Health Law, LLC; Dr. Emmanuel Dumont, Principal Investigator, Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute; and Dr. Jeremy Block, Assistant Professor of Population Health Science & Policy, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. During this dynamic discussion, panelists stressed the importance of evidence-based research during the development process. Also of vital concern: understanding both patient needs and government regulations. Find mentors!


  • During From Startup to IPO to the Future in Healthcare Technology, Glen de Vries, President, Medidata Solutions Inc., was filled with helpful advice for startups. For example, if you're starting a company, figure out how to be profitable as soon as you can. Also, as you connect people, you develop networks, which create speed, enabling opportunity.
  • During HITLAB World Cup Finalists - Where are They Now? Molly Woodriff, Research Manager, HITLAB, facilitated a discussion between Omri Shor, Founder & CEO, MediSafe, and Josh Stein, CEO, AdhereTech, who came through the HITLAB World Cup to much success. They advised startups to persevere, think outside the box, and “be in front of consumers as soon as you can.” Both extolled the benefits of applying to the HITLAB World Cup: building awareness and legitimacy, for example.


HITLAB World Cup: The Finals

Although presentations came to a close toward the end of a Friday afternoon, attendees stayed riveted as finalists from the HITLAB World Cup rose to make their presentations before a distinguished panel of judges:

  • David S. Memel, MD, MS, MBA, Vice President, HEOR, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  • Glen de Vries, President, Medidata Solutions, Inc.
  • Niloo Sobhani-Steele, MS, Corporate Director of Analytics, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
  • Richard Adanu, MBCHB, FWACS, MPH Dean, School of Public Health, University of Ghana
  • Kat Jong, Launch Manager, Medstartr
  • Laura Pugliese, MPH, Research Manager, HITLAB
  • Stan Kachnowski, MPA, Chair, HITLAB


And the results …

Grand-prize winner ($10,000)

Ceeable: The Ceeable Visual Field Analyzer (CVFA) is a visual field test that can detect, classify, and monitor degenerative eye disease using only a tablet.

Second-place winner ($5,000)

Rubitection: Rubitection is developing a technology to modernize early bedsore detection and management.

Third-place winner ($3,000)

Noninvasix: Noninvasix uses optoacoustic technology to safely, accurately, and noninvasively monitor a baby’s brain oxygenation levels during labor and delivery.

Honorable Mentions:

Homeward Healthcare:  Homeward Healthcare creates software for patients, hospitals, and payors, including an interactive, multimedia program patients can control from their bedsides on touchscreen tablets.

RistCall:  RistCall replaces traditional call bell systems with smart wireless, wearable devices for patients and nurses to communicate and deliver care more effectively.

Finalists' reactions and further details are described in the official results.

HITLAB was thrilled to provide a powerful platform for inspiring ideas and ingenious inventions. We’re looking forward to facilitating the diffusion of these important concepts, as well as collaborations between dedicated healthcare innovators.

To receive updates on the 2016 HITLAB World Cup and future competitions, sign up here.

Nat Harward also contributed to this post.