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A Decade of Health Datapalooza: Its Evolution and Importance to the Rise of Digital Health

By: Lucia Savage, Chief Privacy and Regulatory Officer

Ten years ago, 45 policymakers from the U.S. and U.K. convened in Washington, DC. The digital health revolution was in its infancy, and the group had come together to discuss accelerating innovation by making government data sets available to the public. While the event was open press, public reporting was light. When the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made the decision to release pollen-count data, there wasn’t tremendous fanfare.

A decade later, that data forms the backbone hundreds of applications, enabling thousands of individuals to manage their asthma, and health systems to provide real time, data-informed clinical support for their patients. And an obscure event originally attended by a few dozen evangelists has become a premier gathering of more than 1,000 agency leads, academics, innovators, advocates, and others. At the 2019 event, speakers included the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services; the Ranking Senator on the Senate Finance Committee; and the Corporate VP of Microsoft Healthcare, among others. Announcements and panels ranged from a $1 million contest from HHS for AI and predictive algorithms to patient-led discussions about how to safely combine research agendas and peer-support.

Ten years after that initial gathering, the true impact on digital health is only now coming fully into focus. Moving beyond open government data sets, decision makers at the highest levels of government recognize the event as a must-use platform to declare the centrality of digital solutions to the American healthcare system.

The forum is also a necessary stop for digital health companies meaningfully engaged with regulators to push policy forward. Omada has written previously about our belief that for digital health to truly succeed, a collaborative approach to working with state and federal governments is critical. Over the last four years, several moments demonstrate the evolving nature of this relationship.

2016 - A Call to Action: Vice President Joe Biden recounts his desperate, and ultimately fruitless, attempts to get his son Beau’s cancer care records electronically transmitted from Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital to MD Anderson Medical Center. Eventually,  the records have to be physically flown aboard Air Force 2 to Houston. No one’s eyes, including the speaker’s, remain dry. The Vice President uses the anecdote to urge the crowd to accelerate the easy, interoperable sharing and availability of electronic health data - a fight that continues to this day.

2017 - Data Science Powers Patient Engagement: Omada’s Chief Data Scientist demonstrates the real-world applicability of data science in healthcare. Eric Williams recounts how within 72 hours, Omada’s program was able to identify a pattern change in a participant’s behavior, and tailor the intervention to her specific needs. The result? Higher engagement, and better health outcomes. When other companies talk about their new AI-led programs, we remember this type of personalization has been in our toolkit for years.

2018 - Leading on Privacy and Security: Our VP of Information Security and IT discusses the need for security in digital health. Later that day, he meets with senior advisors to the Inspector General at HHS, the main anti-fraud agency within the department. Omada demonstrates exactly how we maintain data integrity, participant privacy, and system security better than most brick-and-mortar healthcare companies. It’s a reminder to those evaluating our solutions that instead of trying to disrupt, we work diligently to operate within the defined guardrails of the healthcare system. It’s a commitment we still maintain.

2019 - Privacy Continues to be Paramount: At this year’s event, I participated in a panel on how the privacy of health data will be even more critical in the era of the Internet of Things. It provided an opportunity to illustrate how Omada builds trust with our participants through careful safeguarding of their most personal information. I get to remind the crowd that Omada supplies services as a healthcare provider -- submitting real claims, under HIPAA, via a National Provider Identifier. We get the opportunity to draw a stark difference between the type of medical-grade intervention we offer, and free applications that make the user (and the user’s data) the product.  In a spontaneous moment, we’re asked how we would be able to deploy to state Medicaid and employee benefit plan programs. The answer? We already work with several state Medicaid agencies and would be delighted to work with more.

Datapalooza provides a yearly opportunity to reinforce our reputation among those who are driving healthcare innovation at the highest levels. This year, there was even a panel on proving ROI for enterprise employers -- another area where our 11 peer-reviewed studies put us way ahead of the curve.  We also get the opportunity to reinforce our commitment to, and investment in, privacy and security.

This last point is perhaps the most critical barrier to overcome in order to achieve mainstream acceptance (and full public policy support) of healthcare delivered digitally. Beyond appearances at Datapalooza, this is a message we continue to deliver to Senators, Federal regulators, and those who drive adoption of such technology. We look forward to the day when we arrive at this event, and our services are viewed as simply what they are -- patient-centric, scalable, and effective healthcare.