medicalrecordsThe Health 2.0 conference is probably the only “2.0” conference that doesn’t belong to the O’Reilly empire (it was founded by healthcare visionaries Matthew Holt and Indu Subaiya in 2007). However, like many of the other “2.0” conferences, it also has a little identity crisis — exactly what does “Health 2.0” mean? Well, that’s one of the questions 1000+ healthcare pioneers came together to discuss at this week’s conference in San Francisco.

On a high level, Health 2.0 is about putting consumers back in the driver’s seat of their own care and giving tools to doctors and providers to make this happen. But take a closer looks and it’s clear that there are several different areas of innovation that will get us to that point.

Here, divided up by category, are some of the more memorable products and tools I saw launched or demoed at the conference:

Perhaps the most important aspect of Health 2.0 is for consumers to take responsibility for their own health, and take proactive actions to live a more healthy life style. Tools that help consumers to change their behavior in this way were featured prominently at the conference. One launch in this category that got quite a bit of fanfare was the beta launch of Keas. Started by Adam Bosworth, who used to run Google Health and of the BEA fame, Keas is a web site that provides personalized wellness/healthcare action plans based on a user’s personal health information, including both self-report questionnaires and medical records. Users can also share information about what treatment works and what doesn’t in self-organized online communities. You can read more about Keas here. While Keas is focused on bringing web 2.0-style health programs to the general public, US Prevention Medicine (USPM) has been selling web-based wellness, disease prevention, and disease management programs to employers for several years. Companies like Keas and USPM provide a clear case for ROI for Health 2.0 — it saves money to motivate consumers to take better care of themselves.

The online platform is arguably not the best tool for gathering the kind of detailed life stream data that truly drives behavior change. After all, few of us would check out our weight/blood glucose/cholesterol trends on a PC before we eat a big meal, and few would log the calories on a PC after that meal. The mobile platform is much better suited for both data gathering and trending. TheCarrot is an iPhone app that tracks a large number of activities in daily life, and they have a sleek web site that will let you plot any two matrix against each other to discover, say, whether exercise triggers your headaches. Polka is another cool iPhone app that manages a mini-PHR right on the iPhone, with the capability to record data streams on the phone and manage the data with a variety of interesting tools they have integrated into their web site.

MedHelp, WebMD, and Livestrong are all established players that are also announcing new iPhone apps in the conference. My company, Ringful, falls into this category, too. It provides a collection of medical/fitness journaling apps across several mobile phone platforms (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and more), and builds the middleware platform to connect mobile data to a variety of backend medical record systems for doctors to access.

While the iPhone is cool, at least for younger people, the long-held promise of mobile healthcare is actually in tele-medicine. A big focus in Health 2.0 tools is to enable primarily doctors, specialists, and patients to assemble virtual teams, and deliver healthcare services via online video chats/messaging. Obviously, there are many challenges to this as doctors are currently only get paid when they see patients face-to-face. But the potential benefits of tele-medicine for convenience (same day appointment!) and cost reduction are so great that companies are now building their own doctor networks and partnering with insurance payers to try out this new model. Examples of those innovators include Myca/helloHealth (partnering with BlueCross BlueShield); Optum Health (partnering with United Healthcare); and American Well (partnering with US Military).

The idea of building electronic health record systems (EHRs) as platforms to support “app stores”, which would then support many consumer apps to use the data, is also gaining ground. Close to my heart, HealthForge is an open source EHR platform that lets anyone contribute functional modules to “scratch an itch”; Dr. Chrono is a SaaS EHR platform that is API-enabled; Boundary Medical, Phytel, and emerge.md all build EHRs that keep track of patient’s long term wellness — potentially via plugin apps.

As I suggested in a previous story, consumers need transparent information for making informed healthcare decisions. A lot of tools demonstrated at the conference make it easy to find information about diseases, medical procedures, drugs, as well as provider reputation and pricing. Startups like WebLib, Wool Labs, and RightHealth demonstrated new search engines for consumer-friendly medical content; PharmaSurveyor and First Data Bank give consumers access to comprehensive drug databases and help consumers analyze potential conflicts and side effects of their prescriptions to ensure safety; and companies like HealthGrades and change:healthcare provide quality and price comparison for consumers.

Finally, any “2.0” conference would not be complete without social networks. Social networks for patients actually make a lot of sense as people with serious conditions like to band together to share experiences, encourage each other, and search for cures together. There are communities built around blogs such as DiabetesMine and ePatients Dave. There are social networks that pull patients together to crowd-source clinical research for treatment options of specific diseases. PatientsLikeMe and Cure Together are such examples. They ask users to enter their own medical records into the system for sharing, and then run automated data mining routines on the clinical data. Both of them highlighted previously unknown correlations discovered using their communities — talk about high impact innovations! Of course, clinical trials are heavily regulated by the FDA, and the crowd-sourced results are only suggestive to researchers — they have to be validated by vigorous scientific process in real trials. But those hints could potentially help shape the trial protocols early on and save a lot of money.

michaelyuan1Dr. Michael Yuan is the CEO of Ringful, a personal healthcare startup focused on mobile applications and connections to backend PHR/EHR systems. He is a well-known mobile technologist, enterprise data integration expert, and the author of 5 books from Addison-Wesley, Prentice Hall, and O’Reilly. He has previously worked in various product and technical roles for JBoss, Red Hat, and Nokia.