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The B2B Vendors are Coming! The B2B Vendors are Coming!

Posted on March 10, 2017 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin is a true believer in #HealthIT, social media and empowered patients. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He currently leads the marketing efforts for @PatientPrompt, a Stericycle product. Colin’s Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung

It’s been a couple of weeks since the annual HIMSS conference wrapped up for 2017 and I’m just starting to emerge from the HIMSS-Haze of sleep deprivation. I doff my hat to those that recovered more quickly.

As usual there was too much to take in at HIMSS17. The keynotes were fantastic, the sessions educational and the exhibit hall had a buzz about it that was absent from last year’s event. Although the main take-away from HIMSS17 seems to be the emergence of Artificial Intelligence, I believe something else emerged from the event – something that may have far greater ramifications for HealthIT in the short term.

For me the big story at HIMSS17 was the arrival of mainstream IT companies. I have been going to HIMSS for 10 years now and I can honestly say this year was the first time that non-traditional healthcare IT vendors were a noticeable force. SAP, IBM (Watson), Intel, Google, Salesforce, Samsung and Microsoft were just a few of the B2B vendors who had large booths in the HIMSS17 exhibit hall.

Salesforce was particularly noteworthy. They made a big splash with their super-sized booth this year. It was easily five times the size of the one they had at HIMSS16 and featured a fun “cloud viewer” at its center along with a large theatre for demonstrations.

Salesforce, however, didn’t stop there. They also threw a HUGE party over at Pointe Orlando on Tuesday night. At one point, the party had a line of eager attendees that snaked out the front of the facility. Their party rivaled that of several large EHR vendors.

IBM was also back at HIMSS after an extended absence. Their “organic booth” was always busy with people curious to learn more about IBM Watson – particularly after the keynote given by CEO Ginni Rometty on Day 1.

So what does the arrival of mainstream B2B vendors mean for healthcare?

Consolidation. The EHR gold rush is over and yet companies like SAP and Salesforce are still electing to invest in healthcare. Why would they do that at a time when government incentive money has all but dried up? I believe it’s because they smell consolidation and optimization opportunities. These B2B players have large war chests and as HealthIT companies begin to struggle, they will be knights in shining armor waiting to swoop in.

More Consumer Technologies. One of the big trends in healthcare right now is consumerism. There is a drive by healthcare organizations to adopt consumer-centric technologies and workflows to service patients better. Patients are seeking providers that offer the conveniences that they are used to as consumers: online appointment booking, mobile chat, real-time price quotes, etc. Companies like Google, Samsung, IBM and Microsoft already have technologies that work well in the consumer world. With growing demand in healthcare it’s only natural that they are investing.

Standards. Maybe I’m just being optimistic, but when companies like TSYS (a very large financial transaction processor) show up at HIMSS for the first time, one can only hope that standards and interoperability will soon follow. After all, if cut-throat banks can agree on a common way to share information with each other, surely the same can happen in healthcare.

Cognitive Computing. Google, IBM, Microsoft and Intel have all made big bets on cognitive computing. I’m willing to bet that their investments in this area dwarf anything that a HealthIT company has made – including Epic and Cerner. IBM and Microsoft in particular have been aggressively seeking partners to work with them on health applications for Artificial Intelligence. Just ahead of HIMSS17, Microsoft and UPMC Enterprises announced that they would be working together to “create new products aimed at transforming care delivery”.

I’m very excited by the arrival of these B2B technology vendors. I think it signals the start of a maturation phase in the HealthIT industry, one in which consolidation and collaboration break down legacy silos. At the very least, traditional HealthIT companies like Cerner, Epic, athenahealth and NextGen will now have to step up their game in order to fend off these large, well-funded entrants.

Exciting times!

Not So Far Far Away From Star Wars Medical Droids

Posted on December 18, 2015 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin is a true believer in #HealthIT, social media and empowered patients. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He currently leads the marketing efforts for @PatientPrompt, a Stericycle product. Colin’s Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung

Friday December 18th is the day that Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit theatres. It carries with it the dreams of generations of fans. From old timers like me (who remember watching Star Wars: A New Hope in a converted opera house in 1977) to the new generation who grew up watching the prequels and the Clone Wars – everyone is looking forward to this new film.

As a fan, I thought it would be remiss of me if I didn’t write a blog using Star Wars as the theme this week.

One of the things that always struck me about Star Wars was the lack of doctors in the movies. Unlike the Star Trek universe where we had the lovable character of Dr. Leonard McCoy (Bones), you never really see a physician in Star Wars. Instead all the healing is done by droids.

In Empire Strikes Back, we are introduced to a medical droid that heals Luke Skywalker after his encounter with the abominable snowman-like Wampa on the frozen planet of Hoth. At the end of the movie we see other droids caring for Luke after he loses his hand after battling Darth Vader.

Back in the 80s when Empire Strikes Back was released these medical droids were pure science fiction. In 2015 medical robots are a reality and some are surprisingly similar to the ones depicted in the movie. Take for example the da Vinci Surgical Robot by Intuitive Surgical (on the left) which looks like a precursor version to the FX series of medical droids from Star Wars (on the right).

Da Vinci Xi Robot and Star Wars FX Medical Droid

I’ve never seen the da Vinci surgical robot, but the write-ups have been incredible. This robot allows surgeons to perform minimally invasive surgeries using the four finely controlled arms. The surgeon controls everything through a console. It is not hard to imagine that one day soon the surgeon performing the surgery may not be in the same hospital or even the same country as the robot itself – the ultimate in telemedicine!

Surgical robots are a hot area of healthcare innovation. Just last week Johnson & Johnson and Verily Life Sciences (formerly Google Life Sciences) got together to create Verb Surgical. According to the press release, “in the coming years, Verb Surgical aims to develop a comprehensive surgical solutions platform that will incorporate leading-edge robotic capabilities and best-in-class medical device technology for operating room professionals”.

As more companies enter this space, the faster these robots will evolve.

However, having articulating surgical robots only gets us part-way to a fully functional Start Wars medical droid. We have the body, but now we need the brains. That’s where IBM’s Watson comes in.

Watson is arguably the closest thing we currently have to artificial intelligence. IBM’s brainchild is able to analyze data and draw patterns/conclusions faster than any computer system that has ever existed. It is already capable of crunching through millions medical records and use that knowledge to help with cancer treatment. In pilots with several institutions, Watson is already assisting with diagnosis and treatment of disease.

It’s not hard to imagine that one day a Watson-like system will be combined with a surgical robot. Add in a little bit of advanced machine vision plus a few antimicrobial nanomaterials and all of a sudden you have the basics of a Star Wars medical droid.

The optimist in me believes it will happen in my lifetime. I only wish lightsabers and x-wing fighters weren’t so far far away.

Image Credit

Da Vinci Xi Robot – engadget http://www.engadget.com/2014/04/01/da-vinci-xi-surgical-robot/

FX medial droid – starwars.wikia.com http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/FX-series_medical_assistant_droid