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4 Things We Learned at Challenge Festival’s Health Conference

Challenge Festival rolled on yesterday with our health conference, “Life, Death and Everything In Between,” at the Lansburgh Theatre. The panels throughout the day touched on recurring themes—in particular, the role of data and the role of patients. With that in mind, let’s dive in to some of the day’s key takeaways.

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1. Moving forward, payers and providers can’t be in an “us-versus-them” relationship.

The day’s first panel kicked off by looking forward: Where is the tension between healthcare payers and providers going from here?

But that means we have to align incentives within the healthcare system as consumers “start to move into the driver’s seat around the globe,” said Philips Chief Technology Officer, Dr. Joe Frassica. As that happens, innovation on the consumer side combined with intelligence from the healthcare side will move the health revolution forward. How do startups fit in?

2. Technology in health care is great, but never underestimate the roles and experience of the people involved.

In our morning fireside chat, featuring former “Ebola Czar” Ron Klain, we learned that the response to the Ebola epidemic truly was all about leveraging people, rather than developing new technology.


That was the recurring theme throughout this chat—again and again and again. Klain explained that response teams leveraged old technology, such as radio broadcasts, to disseminate messages about unsafe burial practices and how to prevent the spread of the disease.

3. Health innovation for the 99% needs to be adaptable—no matter what population it’s serving.

Our third panel turned to the issue of affordability, bringing healthcare innovations to scale at lower costs for underserved populations.

Right off the bat, panelists identified unique problems such as literacy issues, language access gaps and interoperability hangups. Yet, they also noted that even underserved populations have access to up-to-date technology like smartphones.

That’s where adaptability and interoperability are critical.

4. Personalized medicine hasn’t totally sorted through its issues—like privacy and patient engagement—but everyone is really interested in innovation in this space.

Our final two conversations of the day focused on the topic of personalized medicine, what it will take to get there and whether the risks outweigh the benefits. Our panel discussion, “Nivana or Gattaca? The Future of Personalized Medicine,” started off with a basic premise:

Then it got sticky—branching out into technology, patchwork policies, and more. Because personalized medicine is—at its core—all about data, the conversation broadened to discuss barriers that prevent healthcare providers from offering personalized health services. 

Panelist Grant Elliott, CEO of Ostendio, explained that privacy should not impede innovation. Yet, the healthcare industry reflects old notion of privacy—and there are barriers in place that prevent technological advancements. Still:

The personalized medicine conversation continued in the day’s final fireside chat with Jon White, who explained the policy side of things.

Our day concluded with 20 amazing pitches from entrepreneurs from around the world, many of whom offer products tackling the very challenges we discussed all day long. Afterward, we couldn’t help but walk away in total agreement with this final tweet from Health Day Gold Sponsor, American College of Cardiology:

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Melissa Steffan

Melissa is the former assistant editor for 1776, where she worked on the media team to create compelling, idea-driven content and reporting. A Seattle native, she graduated from Seattle Pacific…