How entrepreneurs, execs can take advantage of the techies at CES

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There was a day of sessions on Fitness Tech at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show this year, there was a digital health section of vendors, and UnitedHealth had a booth almost as spectacular as Sony’s and Samsung’s. The space was a small park in the middle of all the high-tech booths, complete with flowering trees, a place to play the company’s new fitness game, and two paths that wound along either side. UnitedHealth folks on one side demonstrated their new mobile app and cost comparison web site. On the other path, I checked out very cool data analysis tools. UnitedHealth has created a framework to pull in all sorts of data that allows you to drill down to statistics at a county level. Another tool combined EHR data with claims information in one file and included a readmission risk rating.

HealthSpot was there too in a coveted corner spot, showing off its telehealth kiosk.

It’s great to get the word out about the innovations going on in healthcare, but watching the thousands of people wait in line for buses and wander through the expo halls gave me other ideas about how to do the same thing. Healthcare researchers, entrepreneurs and executives could take advantage of this massive concentration of early adopters and technically inclined people. Here are three ideas for next year’s event.

Bring on the pedometers
If there was ever an event crying out for a mass pedometer demo, it is this one. I’m sure I took at least 15,000 on one of the three days I was there.
Humana handed out pedometers at a conference last fall to promote their Vitality program. The person who took the most steps won a prize at the end of the event.
Doing the same at the Consumer Electronics Show would be a great way to introduce pedometers to people who have never tracked their activity before. (There was plenty of evidence of sedentary lifestyles in the Las Vegas Convention Center.) Offer one of the show’s most popular gadgets (85″ TV anyone?) as a prize and you’ll have no trouble signing people up. And, after seeing how much walking the conference requires, it will seem easy to rack up 10,000 on normal days.

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A head-to-head competition would be great too. Pick two of the many trackers and sensors on the market and have one person wear both. See how their results compare. Or, create three groups of a dozen people to try out a particular sensor. Have a panel discussion at the end of the week to compare results. Sonny Vu of Misfit Wearables spoke on a crowdfunding panel at the digital health summit. You would need a generous donor to sponsor something like this, but it would be a perfect fit for the event.

Test a smoking cessation program
Set up a booth in the central courtyard and you’ll find potential participants of all ages and nationalities. One group of researchers was working on a cell phone game as a “fidget” to redirect a smoker’s attention to a less dangerous habit. An insurer could sponsor a pilot and have a great set of data at the end of three days. There was a whole startup section in one of the conference halls. A concrete way for a big company to support a healthcare startup would be to sponsor a test like this.

Look for culture change partners
The Meaningful Use/EMR push has been great but there is still a long way to go. An important part of getting all the health data streams unified and in a usable format is breaking down all the silos that the data is stuck in. Many of the conference attendees are in electronics, but I spoke to several who collect, analyze and organized data. These folks understand how to deal with lots of data coming from lots of sources in disparate formats.
Many of them are also of an age where they have a personal desire to “get that medical records thing figured out,” as one man said to me.
Hospital leaders in particular should look for these partners who have been through rapid change and disruption in other industries, and who can help healthcare survice the same evolution.

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Veronica Combs

By Veronica Combs

I am the editor in chief at MedCityNews.com. I started writing and editing in the print world and joined a dotcom right before the 2000 crash. I was at TechRepublic/CNET/BNET for 7 years. Health was more interesting to me than the latest version of Windows, so I left for a startup tracking prescription drug news. A year later, MedTrackAlert was acquired by HealthCentral, so I shifted to audience research. The fun of daily news and interviewing smart people brought me to MedCity News in February 2012.
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