HIMSS 2014: Unicorn Hunting in a Land of Mice

Just back from #HIMSS14 – the annual healthcare IT bonanza.  Along with my colleagues @AmbarBh and @TaliaGold, I literally spent days walking the gigantic exhibitor hall and thought I would share some of our take-aways.

The fact that this year’s HIMSS was going to be high energy hit me before I even left Boston.   My JetBlue flight down to Orlando was a unique mix of kids excited to meet Mickey and HCIT folks excited to talk interoperability!

Of course, there is a lot to be excited about in the HCIT world these days.  Venture funding of digital health (which admittedly is just one prognostic) was close to ~$2 billion, which was a ~40% increase over the prior year and more than double what was invested in the sector just three years ago!  Even more remarkable is the fact that digital health has been the hottest sub-sector for venture investment (as measured by % growth in venture dollars invested) two years in a row:

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Funding levels are at an all-time high and healthcare IPOs are the talk of the town with Veeva and Benefitfocus making a very successful public market debut in 2013 and Castlight, Everyday Health, and others rumored to be on their way in 2014.

Which leads us to this year’s HIMSS and our annual search for the next great health IT unicorn (see- http://tcrn.ch/1kglEHq).  Or maybe what we were actually searching for was the next Belle of the ball?

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Note: The BVP team (from left to right – @AmbarBh, @stephenkraus, @ TaliaGold) with Belle at one HCIT exhibitor’s booth

The Theme of the Conference: PATIENTS, PATIENTS, PATIENTS

We didn’t have to search hard to find a company focused on patient engagement at #HIMSS14 – by our count, there were over 200 vendors at HIMSS this year selling some type of “connected patient” or “patient centric” solution.    While this underscores the point we’ve been making that consumer health is here for real (see http://hcvcs.wordpress.com/2012/11/), we noticed the focus on patients at this year’s HIMSS was notably different then say five years ago when the words “provider” or “payer” were far more likely to appear in a vendor’s marketing collateral.

We are hopeful that an empowered patient/consumer will drive real change in our healthcare system and the first step for any company focused in this area is proving that users of their technology will truly engage.   Most companies we see struggle in this key area with active user stats in the 10% range, which frankly is not good enough.   Not to mention the fact that engagement often is not enough to drive true ROI!   Once your company/app/technology actually has an engaged user, you then have to somehow convince the patient to change/improve/or continue a certain behavior.   And behaviors (as we all know personally) are some of the hardest things to change.

If you have a patient engagement solution that you think is driving such change, we would love to meet with you.

ORLANDO – WHERE MEANINGFUL (USE) DREAMS COME TRUE!

One of our favorite healthcare experts, Farzad Mostashari (@Farzad_MD), was a speaker at HIMSS and talked about the progress that had been made in terms of EMR adoption by physicians over the past five years.

“The basic EHR adoption rate before I came to office was 8.8%, that’s now 72%,” Farzad noted.

We are excited by this trend because now that the basic infrastructure to actually gather key clinical and financial data is in place, we think a lot of exciting businesses will be built which help physicians, hospitals, and payers not only analyze and make sense of this data, but actually turn these insights and analyses into meaningful action.   We call this next phase of EMR adoption and usage our “EMR 2.0” roadmap (see http://bit.ly/1kzoDjb).

In particular, we were really impressed by the product offerings of the leading analytic companies: 1) Optum, which looks to have done a nice job integrating their Humedica (@HumedicaInc) acquisition, 2) Health Catalyst (@HealthCatalyst), which we heard had a killer 2013 in terms of signing up key health system accounts, and 3) Explorys (@explorys).

It remains to be seen whether the analytics space will fragment like the SaaS market has in general where you have horizontally-focused applications (think: software that serves the broad needs of a health system – say a readmissions problem) and vertically focused applications (think: software which may drive deeply into the needs and use cases of a particular specialty or disease area, like oncology).    This may be a new fork in the road on our EMR 2.0 roadmap that we will travel down coming out of HIMSS.

 

ARE INCUMBENTS REALLY STARTING TO INNOVATE AND INTEROPERATE?

I’ve been critical in the past of the glacial pace large healthcare IT vendors have exhibited in updating their products and opening up their systems to integrate and connect with other software applications.   For the better part of the last decade, it has felt like the healthcare industry has been playing PacMan while most other modernized industries have been playing Call of Duty when it comes to technology.

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Note: Actual PacMan arcade machine on the HIMSS floor.  Not sure if this is the right brand to associate with your technology!

But I have to say that for the first time, at #HIMSS14, I was impressed by some of the solutions and product demos I saw when visiting the large EMR vendors’ booths.   I was also struck by the fact that Epic and Allscripts showcased a number of smaller, early stage companies with whom they have partnerships and integrate. Kudos to these companies if they are actually making interoperability, which has been talked about for a long time, a reality!

WHERE THE RUBBER(MAID) MEETS THE ROAD(MAP)!

We saw new strategics showing up at the annual JPM healthcare conference earlier this year and this trend continued at #HIMSS14.   There are a number of pharma companies, like Merck and Pfizer, who are making a real push into HCIT, but it was fascinating to see older-line manufacturing and consumer goods companies, like Rubbermaid and Stanley Black & Decker, exhibiting at HIMSS.   Talk about a sign of a growth industry!

#HIMSS14 BY THE NUMBERS:

# of wo/man-hours it took us to walk the HIMSS floor -  15 (between @stephenkraus, @AmbarBh, and @TaliaGold).  Next time, we may well borrow the Vespa’s from this exhibitor’s booth to get around the 2,100,000 square feet of the Orange County Convention Center.

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Average start time for happy-hour at HIMSS = 3pm

Note: the picture below is of a bar-tender at the booth of a leading disease management company serving pina coladas and margaritas at 2pm in the afternoon!   Ahh, the irony!

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# of full fledge hugs my colleague @AmbarBH got from HCIT company CEOs = same number of freshly baked cookies he ate all week = 4 = one for each day at #HIMSS14!

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# of healthcare unicorns found at #HIMSS14 = 0 . . .  at least not yet!

But we are hopeful as we met with a number of great  companies at HIMSS.   And it struck us that there were more early-stage companies prominently showcased at this year’s conference than in any prior year that we can recall.  In particular, we thought the creation of the Start-up Showcase (http://bit.ly/N1sUNm) was a great addition to HIMSS – a part of the conference that we hope will continue for years to come!

And if you believe your company is the next great healthcare unicorn, we want to talk to you ASAP!