Enroute to Health Datapalooza, Esri’s Davenhall Sees Opportunity in Apps

Xconomy San Diego — 

The Health Datapalooza, which began in 2010 as the Community Health Data Initiative, convenes today and continues through tomorrow in Washington, DC. An estimated 1,200 people are expected to attend the conference, which opened this morning at the Washington Convention Center with a keynote address by Todd Park, the Athenahealth co-founder who three months ago succeeded Aneesh Chopra as U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

The conference has been gaining attention from companies focused on health IT, chiefly because of the massive amount of data being released through the health data initiative, according to Bill Davenhall, director of global healthcare solutions for Esri, the Redlands, CA, developer of geospatial software and services.

“You can’t have innovation without rocket fuel, and data is the rocket fuel,” Davenhall says. “It’s a powerful economic development thing that has drawn heavy involvement from the VC community.”

Bill Davenhall

I talked by phone yesterday with Davenhall while he was in Phoenix, AZ, awaiting his flight to Washington, DC. He helped organize a breakout session set for this afternoon on the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a resource in public health. He says the discussion is intended to highlight the potential for using GIS in health-related work and to demonstrate a variety of apps that can be used to improve community health, personal medicine, and healthcare services.

In a memorable presentation at San Diego’s inaugural TEDMED in 2009, Davenhall made a case for including a patient’s environmental “place history” as part of the medical history.

Since then, Esri has coined the term “geomedicine” and introduced its “My Place History” app for the iPhone and iPad, which enables users to correlate the places where they have lived with proximity to certain types of environmental hazards. Esri introduced an updated version of the app yesterday, incorporating fresh data released in March from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory.

Esri’s app serves as a case study in using health data to develop innovative products and services, even though the EPA maintains the nationwide database and not the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

In this respect, Davenhall says the data liberation program that Park helped to push during his previous tenure as Health and Human Services’ CTO has made the health data initiative “one of the bright spots in a rather ho-hum field of federal data.” In fact, Davenhall compares the two-day conference to a hackathon, where new opportunities for innovation can generate a buzz among software developers.

Davenhall credits Park with pushing HHS to unlock its vaults of medical data, and for helping to spark interest in the opportunities for using the data among entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. That’s why the government’s “health data initiative” is now a “health datapalooza.”

Esri, which convenes its annual International Users Conference on July 21 at the San Diego Convention Center, also sees opportunities in this area, Davenhall says.

“Until recently, we didn’t spend much time supporting the smaller, I call them mom-and-pop developers,” Davenhall says. But now Esri has Myles Sutherland, who previously oversaw business development in mobile markets, working as the Los Angeles-based manager for emerging business (i.e., incubating and accelerating startups).

Because many of the startups developing new health apps are working out of makeshift office spaces, Davenhall says Sutherland is now spending most of his time “visiting the coffee shops between San Diego and Santa Cruz.”