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Health Datapalooza 2012: Healthcare innovation explosion

The Health Datapalooza in Washington DC showcased a number of innovative companies, technologies, and people who are leading the healthcare innovation revolution. These innovators are the tip of the iceberg of disruptive innovation piercing the titanic healthcare system, overladen with the burden of poor access, asymmetric information, lack of interoperability, and misaligned incentives. These innovations may transform the future of emergency medicine, often considered the eye of the storm of wasted health care dollars.

Symcat, the winner of the conference's $100,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Aligning Forces Challenge, directly addresses the bane of the emergency medicine physician, what co-founder Craig Monsen called the "cyberchondriac" patient - the patient who is convinced he has a spinal cord tumor because he strained his back this morning and "on Google it said... and I want my MRI now!" Symcat is more than a beautifully designed interface - it algorithmically calculates the likelihood of each differential diagnosis based on data mining vast sources of symptomology correlated with disease occurrence.

The algorithm result improves as it leads the patient through relevant data points, such as age, sex, and additional historical factors. More importantly, Symcat helps avoid the unnecessary and expensive ED visit by then guiding the patient through his healthcare options and the anticipated cost of each option. Symcat even links the patient to an available appointment with a physician through ZocDoc!

ZocDoc is taking the physician appointment world by storm. If you haven't seen it or used it yet, you will soon. ZocDoc is an online appointment scheduler which allows patients to directly sign up for available appointments with listed physicians. Growing rapidly in major metropolitan centers, ZocDoc corrects the mismatch between physicians who have available appointment slots and patients who don't have an efficient mechanism to find an available appointment (so they end up in your ER). Oliver Kharraz, cofounder of ZocDoc, was a panelist at the Datapalooza and I got to speak with him about the relevance of his service to Emergency Medicine. Not only does his service help prevent unnecessary ED visits, but it is an invaluable tool for helping ED physicians arrange follow up appointments for patients after hours. Concrete follow up, we all know, is essential to reducing our liability.

Understanding the need for the growing number of ACOs and TPR hospitals to prevent unnecessary ED visits,, by founders Dan Wilson and Mark Olschesky, is a wonderful little web app which helps direct appropriate patients to local clinics instead of the ED using a simple clean interface. The app even helps you make an appointment, find directions to the clinic, and get prescription discounts. It is easy to imagine handing out brochures to your under-insured ED patients with helpful resources such as

Another important tool every ED physician needs to learn about is iBlueButton from Humetrix. Blue Button was established by the VA, Department of Defense and CMS, and it allows patients and physicians immediate access to patient records. Blue Button "has already been adopted by over 900,000 Veterans, service members, and Medicare beneficiaries" and "more than 200 private insurers participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) are now required to offer a Blue Button functionality to the over 8 million individuals covered by the FEHBP program."  Blue button is a consumer-mediate health information exchange which should allow for better healthcare communication and decision making, allowing increased and better informed participation by patients in their healthcare decisions. It is available as an iOS app. For a video demonstration of this product, watch the video:


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