Sunday, April 28, 2013

Innovation at Boston Children's

At this week's Strictly Mobile conference, I had the pleasure of hosting a fire-side chat with Naomi Fried, the Chief Innovation Officer of Boston Children's Hospital. If you don't know Naomi's story, you should, as it's one of innovation, empowerment, and technology - all inside a hospital. Or loosely put, "every stereotype you've had about hospitals, debunked".

Photo via Twitter
Naomi's program focuses on "innovating innovation" in the hospital, especially the development of mobile applications and services. This is done through competitions and a formal program to surface great ideas that already exist inside the staff, but have little chance of seeing the light of day without Naomi's innovation program.

While there are a wealth of interesting possible things to highlight, three things really stood out to me:

1. Shifting the currency  - Incubators, VCs, Angels, even banks, are really good and giving you money. It's never been easier to get money, but it's never been harder to execute. Building a team, finding the right skills, getting into a hospital system - and more specifically, their EMR and IT Systems - will suck up all that money and more. So what Naomi's organization did was look at where the real challenges are - finding mobile developers, project managers, IT integration, and said "rather than giving out a grant, let's give people access to human capital!". As the currency shifted from hard-dollars to soft-skills, the idea that Naomi can put a team, including developers, along side the idea originator and ramp up the execution machine puts the focus on getting products into patients hands, where it should be.

2. Self-Disruption - Probably my favorite part of the story, this is an organization that starts by disrupting from within. From the head of radiology to the head of parking (true story), everyone in encouraged to submit ideas, and, if they are selected, bring the products to actual users inside the hospital.  Consider the impact on employee morale and satisfaction when you know that rather than bringing in a number of "outsiders", the team at Boston Children's is encouraged to lead the development of solutions to problems they see and face everyday. And yes, the head of parking's idea was selected and tested.

3. Patient First - Over and over you heard Naomi speak not of the IT department, or fiance committee or even, really, other doctors. The constituent you heard her mention the most was the child receiving care and their family. So not only is the program great for internal morale, but it also serves to extend the values of the hospital right into the innovation program - something rarely, if ever, experienced. Recounting situations where the mobile apps were helping to understand discharge conditions, or providing pictures of the care team to the family, there was a clear message of transparency and empowerment for the patient, above all others.

Call it "3a" or "Bonus", but I also want to highlight a great Q&A interaction with the audience. One audience member asked "this sounds very expensive, how can you afford this?" - to which Naomi explained that the only expensive option was continuing to operate in their current manner. It reminded me of that great quote on design - "If you think good Design is expensive, wait until you see what Bad design costs you." The point being, the hospital systems are starting to think about total costs of care not only in the hard dollars, but in the time, effort, efficiency, and satisfaction of it's customers. Listening to her discuss Return on Investment by looking at the entire ecosystem would make even the most jaded health-tech entrepreneur warm with opportunity.

There are easily a dozen more points that Naomi made that could be their own blog posts as well, but these were my personal highlights. I certainly encourage you to check out some of her interviews on YouTube from Converge and World Health Care Congress. If you're not following Naomi and what she's attempting to do at Boston Children's, you're missing out on some real trend-setting things happening inside the hospital.

Here's a bit more of Naomi in her own words: 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Back in the Saddle

The time after we sold Health Hero to Bosch - many years now - was spent mentoring startup founders working at the intersection of healthcare and technology, something I love doing to advance the industry and support passionate people trying to make a difference in the world. I was often jealous working with these amazing founders at Rock Health and other organizations, as they had found “their thing”, and I was still looking for it. 

Now I'm getting back in the ring again as a founder myself, and I'm excited to announce the launch of Better. At Better, we're working with two world-class partners, the Mayo Clinic and the Social + Capital Partnership, to make the very best mobile healthcare experience available to people all over the globe, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

For a preview, you can see the video of our AllThingsD demonstration and read the accompanying article [and thank you to David Shaywitz for his nice piece in Forbes - and MobihealthNews for their article as well]

You can also sign up for early access on our website at, but you won't find a press release or a major PR push (yet). We're a company that stands for execution, and we'd rather show you than tell you what makes Better the gold standard for mobile healthcare, and were working diligently to get that into your hands.

That said, I wanted to share the beliefs and trends that inform our approach, and why I'm so excited to push all-in on Digital Health again. 

First, there’s a lot of controversy in the Digital Health space about the future of people - very specifically, the role doctors and nurses will play. It’s possible that IBM Watson is our future doctor, and, with Big Data and evidence-based medicine, there is no doubt technology will play a significant role in the process of care.

I fundamentally believe that great care needs to start with great doctors and great nurses, and we need to focus on scaling, not replacing, them. Yes, we have a shortage of care, and yes, the cost of computing power is less than the cost of people - the classic “people don’t scale” argument. Starting with the idea that we have to replace people with machines is counterproductive, because it doesn’t force us to solve any of the real problems we have in healthcare today, like operational efficiency, care delivery, and adopting successful consumer models for engagement and growth. So, our take is simple: start out by partnering with the very best healthcare organization in the world, the Mayo Clinic, and focus relentlessly on growth and scale.  

I also believe in sensors and Quantified Self, but I believe the power of QS, sensors and wearable computing lies in how it's implemented, communicated, and acted upon. Let’s be blunt, the actionable part of the sensor experience stinks today unless you have a Ph.D. in Microsoft Excel and behavior change and the motivation to apply that change to yourself. The devices are great, the data is muddled. 

Simply throwing data back at people (especially from multiple devices) isn’t sustainable, coachable, or really healthcare - it’s data processing. So, let’s flip this on its head. What if we worked with the world's best coaches and doctors to build plans for using QS-style data (integrating it into care plans, teachable moments, and clinical protocols) and could provide both you, the user, and the care professional actionable analysis, accountability, and celebration, rather than just a badge?

We’ve seen this model before - just look to the consumer technology providers in the  financial market. E*Trade, TurboTax, and so many other systems provide people - and not just people, but experts - available to you to help you process complex or confusing moments in finance. Where is the Health Advocate, who interprets, analyzes, and coordinates how my family consumes and receives care?

I also believe any time we have legislative change to fundamental structures in a market there lies opportunity, and the market is setting up for unrivaled innovation and change in Digital Health. From HSAs to HDHPs to Exchanges to the FDA to ACA to Meaningful Use (...this keeps going for a while, lets skip ahead....) legislation is here to stay. Yes, it may change here and there in the fringe, but we’re going through a massive period of change.

I believe empowering consumers to be engaged in their health starts with choice. Mobile and consumer choice has changed every market, and healthcare is not an exception to this force. We will work to drive healthcare prices down and to expand options to as much of the population as we can. This starts by providing choice, and exceeding expectations of what “quality care” really means. At Better we’ve already taken services you simply can’t get today, made many of them free, and cut the cost of most of them by 30% or more. We will also offer more premium services at a higher price point, and if you want a jet to come pick you up in a foreign country and fly you back to the best care in the world (yes, we offer this), it costs money and is not for everyone. But the very engine of a market economy is empowering customers and growing a market is giving them the choice, and we're very sure this will have a net-positive effect on the market costs, overall.

Some people have asked me why we’re starting with direct-to-consumer, rather than employers, insurance companies, or one of the more traditional entries into the healthcare space. It’s still - wait for it - about choice. Today your employer tells you what plans you can participate in. Your plans tell you what doctors you can see. Your doctor, nurse, even the hospital you can visit might change just because you changed jobs or your HR plan got “re-evaluated” this year...and God forbid you get sick outside your hometown, when it’s not even clear what choices you have.

I’m not saying that we are not pursuing and executing in traditional distribution channels, but we’re not avoiding consumer, we’re embracing it, because if we can build a great consumer experience  every other market still wins.

I don’t like when people say something can’t be done, or when they avoid the "hard" stuff, be it consumer-centric models or FDA regulation. Just look to Health Hero for examples - everyone said we needed device connectivity and should pump data back to doctors, and anything else would fail. They couldn’t believe we’d dare start with a model that not only allowed for, but prioritized, patient-generated data and behavior change content over being a simple data pipe, and built highly optimized processes for nurses backed with technology  Five years later, everyone from Philips to Intel was doing it "our way". We all know that ended pretty well, most importantly, for our patients. 

I believe we can bring choice, access, and world-class quality to healthcare, and that means extending an experience beyond just a single market, like “chronic care” or “wellness” and focusing on the needs of the patient, whatever they may be, whenever they may happen. 

I hope you’ll join in, with your clicks, feedback, ideas, or joining the team. 

Thank you, #digitalhealth (a.k.a. Bring your Daughter to Hackathon Day)

A very quick thank you to the Digital Health community. Recently, at the Prebacked MedHack Hackathon event, I served as a mentor. At the time, there was a lot of discussion on the internet about women at tech events, specifically surrounding the PyCon "Dongle-Gate." As someone with a daughter,  I wanted to do something very small, but meaningful and personal, to try to reverse this trend. So, that day, I brought Mackenzie, 7, to join me to see what I do at these crazy events I'm always going to. And she had a blast.

She made her own business cards and handed them out. She set up a play-date with one of the an eight year old son of one of the founders. She didn't just plan it, she scheduled a meeting and put it in her calendar on her iCal.

She beta-tested peoples products. Really. Here she is testing out a healthy-eating app for kids (while wearing a jawbone up).

It goes without saying that I was unbelievably proud of my daughter that day, but I was also proud of our community. Not only did people embrace her, but they were respectful, funny, kind, and made her feel welcome.

In return, my daughter doesn't look as technology or healthcare as the land of men, but a place she can make a difference, contribute, and engage (and eat a little too much pizza. Damn hackathons) as a smart, engaged person.

Best. Hackathon. Ever.

Thank you, #digitalhealth