Analyst Shares Vision for How Digital Will Disrupt Healthcare

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the rise of the so-called “quantified self” will be a fad limited to gadget fans.

That thought has become commonplace, but Main took it another step. He thinks the true potential for these tools are unlocked when medical practitioners enter the picture. In only a few years, Main believes increasingly sophisticated sensors will be in constant touch with doctors, physician assistants, nurses, and social workers organized into “smart care” teams. They’ll be able to monitor vital signs, keep an eye out for problems, and even send out someone to check on patients when something goes really wrong or they stop responding.

Once doctors start making full use of these technologies, they’ll become both more effective and efficient, he said.

But it isn’t all about consumer electronics like FitBits and smartphones. Technology like IBM’s Watson supercomputer will have a role to play, analyzing all the data those trackers generate to detect problems humans would miss. Apps powered by Watson could make diagnoses, while others could recommend long-term changes and make daily recommendations that would keep a consumer on the right path. Denver-based Welltok already is pursuing the latter option and is working with IBM to develop apps that use Watson to create personalized wellness plans.

Meanwhile, technology will continue to disrupt the industry in ways consumers don’t see. An example Main gave is better blood tests that could tell doctors about a developing disease years before they’re able to detect it.

What’s happening locally. While Main took a global view, there are local efforts in the works that backers believe could make Colorado a center for the digital health industry.

First, there are a few startups and companies headquartered in Denver that show major promise. The leader is Welltok, which Main mentioned throughout his conversation. Welltok is developing software that can integrate information from devices and apps and create a health plan people can use to get or stay healthy. It also has features like social networks, challenges, and rewards programs that can keep users engaged. Welltok has raised $75 million in VC, including a $25 million round in October.

Other examples include iTriage, which created a very popular app that people can use to self-diagnose problems and understand the severity of symptoms. There’s also Healthgrades, which rates the effectiveness of hospitals and doctors and posts the results online.

Secondly, people are working to create the conditions that will help digital health startups get their start and grow in Colorado. The most visible effort is the Prime Health Collaborative, which recently ran a competition for digital health startups that awarded $155,000 to companies. Prime Health’s Jeffrey Nathanson said there are more than 100 digital health companies in Colorado, and he believes the state is fertile ground to create an “ecosystem” where those companies can find investors, strategic and corporate partners, and talent.

Those companies need a place to set up shop, and real estate developers are joining with people in the industry to create a co-working campus near downtown Denver named Stride. The project is scheduled to open in Fall 2015, and the facility will be large enough to house more than 400 workers.

Finally, in February, the 10.10.10 program will make its debut in Denver. 10.10.10 will bring together 10 successful entrepreneurs who are willing to be CEOs in health-related startups. They’ll be together for 10 days, and during that time they’ll discuss and analyze what organizer Tom Higley called “10 wicked problems” in health.

The goal is to come up with potential solutions to those problems that could result in fundable startups, Higley said. 10.10.10 isn’t just for entrepreneurs or companies willing to start in or relocate to Colorado, Higley said, but the event could help draw attention to the area, persuade some of the entrepreneurs to start here, and provide a boost to companies that are here.

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