A health technology conference concerned more with individual citizens than institutional investors? That’s the niche claimed by Health Datapalooza, the meeting with the retro name and a patient-centered view of the digital health future.
Not that big money isn’t part of the gathering’s appeal. A major focus is technology policies affecting the estimated$1.6 trillion federal, state and local governments are expected to spend on health care this year. That’s roughly the total market value of Amazon and Tesla combined.
“The purpose of Datapalooza is getting beyond the hype to show what’s going to work in the real world, what’s the value to patient care,” said Lisa Simpson, a physician who leads AcademyHealth, the professional society that currently organizes the meeting. “We strive to focus on impact.”
The meeting began in 2010 as the Community Health Data Initiative, an effort by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to promote public-private health data partnerships. One inspiration was the way in which government meteorological data had been converted into easily usable, consumer-facing apps such as weather.com. Within a couple of years the meeting picked up a catchier name. Crucially, it has continued to enjoy political smooth sailing despite the intense partisan battles that have raged elsewhere.
Opening up health data to entrepreneurs and the public “was a new horizon for the federal government,” said Micky Tripathi, who became the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology in 2021 after long academic and private-sector experience.
One early success story by a presenter came from a medical anthropologist and colleagues who developed a “smart” inhaler using environmental data and kids’ smartphones to create an app to help children avoid severe asthma attacks. Asthmapolis morphed into Propellor Health and was acquired in 2018 by ResMed for $225 million.
“The value added of Health Datapalooza is going from being a government meeting to engaging and exciting the private-sector community about the possibilities,” said Christopher Boone, an AbbVie vice president who formerly headed the Health Data Consortium, which ran the meeting before AcademyHealth. Boone’s evocative Twitter handle is @DataHippie.
The last in-person Datapalooza began on Feb. 11, 2020 with hurriedly added remarks to the prepared speech of then-Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar II. Noting “extensive, decisive” actions by the Trump administration to keep Americans safe from the “China coronavirus,” Azar declared that the “immediate risk” was low, although “the situation has the potential to change very rapidly.”
This year’s meeting, presumably presaging less incipient drama, starts Feb. 23. The mandates from Congress created by the 21st Century Cures Act, passed in late 2016, continue to be a big part of the discussion.
Datapalooza “creates a lot of intersections between the data folks, the policy folks and the vendors,” said Tripathi. “It’s unique.”
That uniqueness is reflected in an agenda that showcases the experiences and voices of patients; includes short, punchy presentations by researchers; and ensures that governmental participation includes state and local innovators as well as federal ones. Part of this year’s program squarely addresses digital health issues affecting equity.
All that is mixed in with presenters and attendees from Big Tech, Big Health (providers, insurers and others) and Sort-of Big Media. (For this audience, that would be Kaiser Health News.)
Gregory Downing played a key role in launching the meeting while Executive Director for Innovation at HHS. A physician who now heads the Innovation Horizons consulting firm, Downing noted that with an American economy that’s built on data, Health Datapalooza remains relevant even as digital health companies blossom.
“There’s been a vibrant innovation center that’s grown out of this data,” Downing said, “but there are still a lot of policy issues and public health matters that haven’t been solved. This group is at the forefront of addressing those.”