Healthcamp 2.0

I had the pleasure of attending Healthcamp this weekend, an unconference focused on innovation in the health sector.

Healthcare spending in the US is roughly 16% of the GDP, or an astonishing 3 trillion dollars; about $6500 per person. From an innovator’s point of view a lot of this infrastructure seems archaic, with a lot of data silos and incompatible computer systems. The idea behind Healthcamp is to promote the principles of Web 2.0 and bring innovators together in healthcare.

For me, the most interesting part of this is the rise of the expert consumer. A brilliant article on Salon; “Psych meds drove my son crazy” by Ann Baeur covers what happens when a rare disease meets doctors with too little time and skewed incentives. Google gave her the power to research and find someone to help her son. In my own recent experience with the medical establishment, I got copies of all the image scans they did. These scans are in the DICOM format. I was able to use a very impressive opensource application, OsiriX, to mainly distract myself by creating 3d renderings of my torso. It did let me understand and gave me the ability to talk with my doctors in a more efficient way, making me a much calmer and informed patient.

My favourite startup at Healthcamp, MEDgle allows healthcare consumers to enter symptoms and find the most probable causes. It is based on an expert system, with the data entered and classified by experts. It guides you along, asking what additional symptoms you have based on the ones you already told it about. Once it shows you a list, it will perform a websearch, or directs you to the Wikipedia article on the topic. After a soft launch last month, they claim that around 50,000 unique users have tried it out.

With Googles recent investment in 23andMe, a company that dedicates itself to “bringing you personal insight into ancestry, genealogy, and inherited traits”, it is clear the interest in consumer DNA testing is increasing. Presenting at Healthcamp was Infogene, a small company founded by a Stanford genomists using a licensed genotyping technology from Stanford, to provide personalized tests such milk tolerance and capability to break down caffeine. After the presentation, the group discussed the reliability of unlicensed gene testing. By not providing a medical service, Infogene does not need to be FDA approved. While this drastically reduces the cost for the consumer, it opens up a potential future full of both legit and fraud operations. For medically indicated testing DNAdirect provides a large array of medical tests and helps you interpret the results. The importance of DNA testing for pharmaceuticals is increasing. The Mayo Clinic is already using gene testing to look for different capabilities to metabolize drugs, guiding the doctor’s choice of anti-depressants to give particular patients.

Finally, Richard Shoenhair, founder of, talked about breaking down the data silos. Currently the onus is on the consumer to manage and make sure medical records are transferred correctly between medical establishments. This is an error-prone process, where the average medical data exchange in an emergency room is between one and four hours. If you are suffering from an urgent condition, a data delay of an hour or four might be far too late, even with the best doctors. ReMedic offered website, call center and fax services that let you quickly get to medical data stored with them. Using information from an identification card you carry, emergency rooms could request records be faxed to them anywhere. ReMedic was sold to BlueShield/BlueCross and has since then not been active, however MedicAlert provides a similar service. Sadly, it is very much an old-style, hard to use web application.

Example of rendering I did, as a consumer, to better understand what was happening to me.

I am increasingly interested in healthcare. It began with my personal experience, but it’s an industry bringing in relatively new technologies and principles, like Web 2.0 and opensource. These are prepared to change the healthcare landscape. If you have any suggestions of innovative new research and technology, please drop me an email: sky at crucially dot net.