Events, Health IT

Four takeaways from the Connected Health Conference

Last week’s Connected Health Conference in Boston brought together stakeholders from across the healthcare continuum. Though tech was a key focus of the meeting, some panelists cautioned against overpromoting technology’s capabilities.

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At last week’s Connected Health Conference, stakeholders from across the healthcare spectrum convened in Boston to discuss digital health, innovation and the future of IT.

Here are four key takeaways from the meeting, which ran from Oct. 25-27.

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It’s just “health” and not digital health
As the field of digital health matures and becomes more integrated into the world of healthcare, that “digital” qualifier to the term “health” is becoming superfluous.

For instance, we don’t say “online banking” anymore — we simply say “banking,” and the online aspect is expected to be a part of it. Why then, Jessica Zeaske, director of GE Ventures, posited, do we say “digital health” instead of just “health”? The digital portion should naturally be part of it.

Checking your appointments or test results and doctors messages on your clinic’s medical record app is no different from reviewing your bank account’s summary. In other words, people are using tech tools to be on top of their health. Not on top of their “digital health.”

Voice is getting heard in healthcare
From telehealth to virtual reality to voice in healthcare, attendees and panelists were excited about new technology developments coming to healthcare.

“We feel like we are on the edge of this huge, evolutionary disruption in AI and machine learning,” Noelle LaCharite, a senior manager at Amazon Alexa Machine Learning, said during a pre-conference keynote on October 25. “We are now more open to the idea of talking to technology,” she added, referencing the use of Alexa.

And indeed, people were.

The founders of Wellpepper outlined how their Sugarpod solution for type 2 diabetics is made up of a foot scanner and a voice-powered scale, which utilizes an Amazon Echo Dot. Sugarpod helped the Seattle-based company win the Alexa Diabetes Challenge, a competition sponsored by Merck in partnership with Amazon.

…But beware of overpromoting its abilities
Despite the talk of thrilling health tech, panelists showed the dangers of hyping up what it can do.

While performing a demo during the conference, Orbita CEO Bill Rogers hit a snag in dealing with an Amazon Echo.

“Exit,” he told the device.

“Sorry, I did not understand,” Alexa replied.

Later, Rogers told the Echo to record his most recent meal: a hamburger and french fries. Once again, Alexa was confused, thinking he only said a hamburger. Rogers had to repeat himself to ensure Alexa recorded the complete meal.

Voice assistants clearly have a way to go before they provide as seamless of an experience as the industry is promoting.

And beware of VR
Virtual reality, another hot topic in healthcare these days, also has its limitations. Dr. Brennan Spiegel, director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai Health System, regularly prescribes VR to patients. But he once saw the technology trigger a panic attack in a patient.

Spiegel also cautioned against overhyping VR’s capabilities in the oncology space. He once attempted to give an end-stage lung cancer patient a VR headset, promising she could see beautiful sights and gain temporary relief. The patient, who turned down the offer, died two days later.

“These promises of disrupting the world of medicine through technology are a bunch of bullshit,” he said. “[W]e have to be very, very careful about not overpromising and underdelivering what we can achieve with something like virtual reality.”

Photo: Filograph, Getty Images