Tech Triage: Health Care’s New Network

Britt Technology Impact Series panel focused on the health care industry’s opportunities for innovation in technology, personalization, and communications.

“How many of you have cell phones?” Yasmine Winkler MHCDS’13, chief marketing, product, and innovation officer at UnitedHealth Group, asked the assembled crowd. Everyone raised their hands. “When you think about that phone, think about the adjacencies that occur between it and health—and those that could. Part of what makes this field so exciting is how we leverage technology and innovations in the health space—after all, you use this stuff for banking, for running, for everything, so imagine what it could do in the health spectrum.”

The health care industry’s endless opportunities for innovation in technology, personalization, and communications were the main topics of discussion at April 7’s panel discussion, “Tech Triage: Health Care’s New Network,” part of the Britt Technology Impact Series hosted by the Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies and co-sponsored by The Healthcare Initiative at Tuck. Moderated by Geisel School of Medicine visiting professor Scott Wallace, visiting professor, the panel included Winkler, Lindsey Baron, senior manager of product operations at athenahealth, and Shub Debgupta, founder and CEO of WiserTogether.

The discussion began with each panelist describing her or his career unique career path into, and perspective on, health care. With more than 30 years of experience, Winkler described how the field has changed so much—especially in light of the Affordable Care Act—that she found herself having to disregard much of the knowledge on which she built her career. Baron, on the other hand, spoke from the perspective of someone who had only recently entered the industry and was actively looking to shake things up as part of athenahealth’s “More Disruption Please” initiative. Rounding out the panel, Debgupta traced his transition from academia to health care as an entrepreneurial journey since he founded WiserTogether after a personal health scare he and his wife underwent during her first pregnancy.

After discussing some of the field’s most exciting innovations—among them clothing embedded with health-monitoring devices—the panelists shared the area in which they saw the greatest opportunity. While Winkler agreed with Debgupta’s assertion that the personalization of health care was crucial, she went one step further to single out the necessity of that approach not just in terms of the patient-professional relationship but also among professionals. “For an organization like ours, it’s important to examine how we give our knowledge away. How do we take the assets we’ve created within our organization and flip them out there for others to be able to leverage to develop completely different solutions? We find that very exciting from a social responsibility perspective,” Winkler said.

All three panelists agreed that improving the patient experience underlined every concern, whether it’s allowing providers to communicate more effectively with patients (and vice versa) or freeing up doctors from business and administrative concerns so that they can focus more on the healing side of their work. “Too often, doctors get bogged down in running a small business, but you don’t go to medical school to learn how to run a business—those are two completely different skill sets. We want providers to be able to practice medicine and we’ll handle the rest of it—we want to protect the sanctity of the doctor/patient relationship,” Baron said.

The panelists downplayed the suggestion that health care is an economic bubble, instead emphasizing the outlet the field offers not only to build a career, but to change lives. “There is a tremendous amount of opportunity and activity in this area now, for a good reason. It represents the intersection of data, technology, and access at an unprecedented scope and scale. This is an immensely large and powerful wave that we’re just starting to ride,” Debgupta said.

Only by working together, though, can individuals enact positive changes to solve the problems of today’s rapidly changing health care system, according to Baron. “There is no silver bullet to fix everything, and the best leaders are the ones who recognize that,” she said. “They recognize that even though this industry has so many overwhelming challenges, only collaborative effort and creative problem-solving will get us there,” Winkler agreed, reminding all attendees of the wide variety of opportunities for business school grads in the field. “If ever there was a time in our history that there was incredible catalyzation of entrepreneurship and innovation in the health field,” she said, “it is now.”