Health IT


Turning Health Data Into Information

Healthcare is not a science problem; it’s an information problem. Thomas Goetz,  TEDMED 2010

Todd Park speaks at the Commonwealth Club in SF. (Photo:

Bank and airline customers rely on sophisticated systems that allow them to personalize and track complex data. But consumers of the services and products that comprise modern health care –  the patients — currently are offered much more rudimentary data handling. Faxed prescriptions, paper medical charts and X-rays on film — though not uncommon — are examples of outdated methods of recording and sharing data.

The forces needed to improve patient information systems are gaining momentum, said Todd Park, US Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Speaking June 18 at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Park acknowledged the movement is in its infancy but said the nation’s healthcare information system is “light years ahead of where it was two years ago.”

Park’s trademark enthusiasm was also evident as he talked about the campaign to provide newly-authorized access to government data to software developers and entrepreneurs. The federal Health Data Initiative seeks to provide Health and Human Services (HHS) data to the public, free and with no strings attached, in effort to trigger the creation of health-related applications.

The campaign has precedent in other government bodies. For example, The Weather Channel exists because National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data was made public. Location-based services such as real-time driving directions rely on GPS, a system of satellites also owned by the government.

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Forget the Robots: Venture Capitalists Change Their Health Care Investments

Venture capitalists are spurning high-tech surgical robots like this for more practical health care investments. (Nick Dawson:Flickr).

It wasn’t that long ago that money flowed steadily to entrepreneurs who dreamt up whiz-bang medical devices. Hospitals souped up their surgical suites with robots or high-tech radiation machines for cancer treatment. Cost wasn’t an issue: They just got passed along to insurance companies, who passed them on to employers and patients.

But after the Great Recession hit and the 2010 health law passed, the financiers behind the medical arms race started to rethink their investment calculus.

“If you come in with [a device] that’s 10 percent better and twice as expensive, it’s hard to get anyone to care,” said Bryan Roberts, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based venture capitalist at Venrock, a Silicon Valley company that invests in firms working on health services, medical devices and drugs. Continue reading