Health & Human Services
meaningful use
patient relationship management
patient engagement

Government Poised To Provide A Huge Boost To Healthtech Startups

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Stop Looking For A Technical Co-founder

Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Dave Chase, the CEO of Avado.com, a patient portal and relationship management company that was a TechCrunch Disrupt finalist. Previously he was a management consultant for Accenture’s healthcare practice and founder of Microsoft’s Health platform business. You can follow him on Twitter @chasedave.

Currently, the federal government is poised to level the playing field for healthtech startups. An unprecedented wave of innovative healthtech startups has been developing over the last few years. You can see them at conferences such as Health 2.0TechCrunch Disrupt, TEDMED and demo day events that Blueprint Health, Healthbox, Rock Health and StartUp Health host. Nonetheless, the health sector may be the single most challenging arena for startups.

Nothing would result in population health improvement (and decrease healthcare costs) more than having greater involvement/engagement by individuals in the healthcare process. The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), which is part of Health & Human Services could catalyze an unprecedented wave of innovation with a stroke of a pen by strong inclusion of patient engagement requirements in the Meaningful Use requirements.

Having high expectations for Patient Engagement will cause healthcare providers to rise to the occasion to solve this huge issue. Consider that three-quarters of healthcare spend is on chronic disease and decisions that drive outcomes are made by individuals (aka “patients”). It’s long been said the most important member of the care team is the patient. It’s time to transform that from a catchphrase to reality. The ONC can do that.

The biggest potential stimulus ever for healthtech startups

We have seen how Stage 1 Meaningful Use requirements (PDF) have spurred providers into action. By and large, that has meant an infusion of customers to EHR vendors. As I outlined in “Patients are More Than a Vessel for Billing Codes,” legacy healthIT has had very, very little focus on the patient because financial incentives motivated the development of systems designed to get as big a bill out as fast as possible — i.e., there has been no incentive to involve the patient. Not surprisingly, the customers these vendors serve are concerned about the ability to meet the patient engagement requirements (good summary by Adrian Gropper here of Stage 2 Meaningful Use) as their vendors don’t have that skillset. The fact is, it’s an entirely different proposition to get bills out than to develop software that actively engages a consumer (aka “patient”).

Fortunately, there are scores of innovative startups who are well positioned to address the patient engagement requirement. Look no further than the companies in startup incubators/accelerators or the scores of companies demonstrating at Health 2.0 conferences. These software developers from Silicon Valley, Seattle, Boston, New York and elsewhere have the skillset to address this critical requirement. They can assist healthcare providers directly or via their vendor partners.

Unfortunately, with little awareness of innovative healthtech startups, providers and legacy vendors are pushing back against the requirements proposed by the ONC. There is a major risk that the proposed requirements will be watered down based upon this feedback. What could be the biggest ever jumpstart to the healthtech startup community could become a missed opportunity. More importantly, the opportunity to make a huge difference in the health of our population would also be missed.

Call to Action 

A petition to support the increase of patient engagement requirements has been posted.  There is an ever-growing citizen movement exemplified by the Society for Participatory Medicine (S4PM) to expand patient engagement.  One of the most visible leaders of the S4PM movement is Dave deBronkart (aka “e-Patient Dave”). We met during TEDMED and he echoed the importance of strengthening the patient engagement related requirements in Stage 2 Meaningful Use. The startup community has also been encouraged to support this petition.

I just returned from attending 2012 TEDMED. During the event, they had a “Great Challenges” contest. Not surprisingly, “The Role of the Patient” was a leading vote getter. This despite the fact that it didn’t begin to hint at the role patients can play if they’re equipped with information.  And that’s a major point of why patient and family engagement are proposed in Stage 2 Meaningful Use.  As support built for the challenge, it’s critical that your voice is heard on the proposed Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements. Voting for the petition is great to raise visibility, but the most impactful thing you can do is to comment on the government site. Or you can email comments to submission@omb.eop.gov. One’s comment could be as simple as “I support the strengthening of patient engagement requirements of the proposed Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements” or as involved as a point by point analysis of the proposal.

At TEDMED, I had the opportunity to meet Lygeia Ricciardi from the ONC. She emphasized how critical it was that each and every person who has an opinion takes the time to comment on the portion of the proposed Stage 2 Meaningful Use. The comment period for the proposed Stage 2 Meaningful Use closes May 7, 2012. If you believe that it’s important to increase patient engagement and you want to support innovation, there is no better use of your time than to take a moment to have your voice heard. Take 5 minutes and do it now. If you want to reshape healthcare for the better, there is nothing more impactful than to support strong patient engagement requirements. There has never been a better time to jumpstart innovation to improve the health of our world.

Note: The image accompanying this article is from Regina Holliday. As described on her Wikipedia page, Regina paints images that encapsulate her view and others in the e-patient community. She speaks and paints at events such as TEDMED.