CareFWD 2013

carefwd_logo_croppedThis past Tuesday, I was fortunate to attend the first (hopefully annual) CareFWD 2013 conference down in Boston, which was put on by Chris and Sarai Tsai of CareInnovators. CareFWD 2013 was a fantastic event: it featured a wide breadth of perspectives, bringing together health care executives, entrepreneurs, VCs, doctors and many others with a stake in health care innovation. It was also intimate, and well set up to maximize encounters; by the end of the evening I’d been able to meet about half of the attendees, which would be next to impossible at a larger event. Everyone came ready to meet people and ready to learn. Here’s the agenda and attendees list, to give an idea of what kind of event this was.

The event took place on a very interesting date: October 1st, 2013, otherwise known as 1) the day online insurance marketplaces for the Affordable Care Act in the United States officially opened, marking the beginning of ObamaCare, and 2) the day the US Federal Government shut down, due to Republican opposition to the ACA. It was interesting to hear local perspectives on the implementation, as Massachusetts has already had its own version (courtesy of Mitt Romney, back when he was Governor) for 7 years and can effectively serve as a template for the rest of the country to study in detail. While there were (understandably) a few people who were a bit preoccupied by the day’s events, such as Manu Tandon, the opening Keynote speaker and CIO of the Massachusetts executive office of health and human services, most people in the crowd had already moved past the novelty of the ACA and were working forward already. As a Canadian who enjoys single-payer health care from the government, it’s a nice privilege to be able to watch the ACA fight get played out without actually having my own skin in the game. At some point I’ll write a post about my experiences with Canadian health care, which have generally been positive.

Among the talks for the day were four 20-minute pitches for specific ‘FWD Visions’ in health care: Google Glass, Women Leaders in Health Care, Wearables, and 3D Printing. The most impressive of these was without a doubt Michelle Dipp of OvaScience, who does phenomenal work improving fertility treatment outcomes with a blended research scientist/entrepreneurial approach. In my mind, this is a perfect example of how disruptive research gets done: when incentives are aligned for everyone, we get results like OvaScience.

Another highlight was a 20-minute talk from Ben Wanamaker, from the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, about ways the Affordable Care Act will help or hinder disruptive developments in health care. The Clayton Christensen Institute’s goal is to promote disruptive innovation in various fields such as education and health care, using lessons learned from the Innovator’s Dilemma and follow ups like The Innovator’s Prescription which I frequently mention, and Ben lived up to their reputation very well. Clayton-Christensen-logoBen’s talk began by introducing the concept of jobs-to-be-done using my favourite example of milkshake sales, then looking at the ACA and its consequences through that lens. One provocative thought was that many insurance plans could be over-featured for a majority of Americans, much like an iPhone (do you really use more than 5% of the capability of your iPhone?), leaving them open for disruption from below. In that case, you would need cheaper insurance plans that cover less– which seems counterintuitive to the goal of providing better care for more people, until you look at it through the lens of disruptive innovation. I highly recommend anyone interested in disruptive innovation and the ACA to go to the Christensen Institute’s blog to see what they’re thinking about it on a day to day basis.

I got a chance to talk with Ben later on in the day, to get his thoughts on our wearable monitor for back pain patients idea. I’d been trying to think about back pain patients using a jobs-to-be-done approach, and come up with the notion that people with back pain are trying to accomplish what they want to do in their day-to-day lives without the restrictions associated with LBP. As you might be thinking, this wasn’t a terribly insightful perspective. Ben, however, had other ideas. After thinking about it for a second, he said, ‘you know what, I bet you the job back pain patients would most like to do is plan their lives around their pain.’ This really got me thinking- so expect a post about it in the next few weeks. So many thanks to Ben for that!

At the end of the afternoon, we heard several pitches from local groups of entrepreneurs, who were thoroughly impressive all around, and helped me realize why Boston is such a hotbed of entrepreneurial talent in the health care space. One highlight was Ring Leader, who recently won the iHub/Hacking Medicine event at the Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston. 6778235099_2d0492148f_z-300x91Ring Leader identified a neat problem: the hundreds of thousands of people who experience heart attacks in the US every year have to undergo cardiac stress testing afterwards, which is a time-consuming, expensive procedure that is often unnecessary but has to be performed anyway just in case. During the Hacking Medicine event, they conceived, designed and 3D-printed a wearable ring that allows patients to conduct stress tests at home, saving up to $5000 for each procedure. I was pretty impressed.

Another pitch that resonated with me was given by Nick Dougherty from Verbal Applications. Verbal Applications tackles a different sort of problem: if you are an inpatient in the hospital with difficulty communicating, and you need a nurse to come visit, what do you do? You push a button, and a light goes on. That’s it- there’s no feedback to you, the patient, as to when you’ll be seen, or by whom, or how your concern will be addressed. On the flip side from the nurses’ perspective, the binary method of ‘light on/light off’ doesn’t tell you any information about whether a patient’s needs are minor, and can wait a few minutes, or whether they’re choking to death- correspondingly, ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease’, and urgency is attributed to those who push the button the most, rather than those who need care the fastest. Verbal Applications wants to address this issue by providing more direct ways for patients to contact their nurses, either through voice or video technology, so that they stay more informed and their caregivers can prioritize more effectively.

Overall, CareFWD 2013 was a fantastic event to have been a part of, and I’ll definitely be back next year! Make sure to check out their website if you’re interested.

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