Having attended most of the Health Datapalooza events over the last nine years, I was struck by what has endured and what is changing. Since its early years, Datapalooza has been distinguished by the enthusiasm of its entrepreneurial stakeholders from government, industry, academia and finance, collectively aimed at the productive disruption of healthcare, especially through innovative uses of data.

That spirit persists and has expanded to include new perspectives from the global to the consumer. Take, for example, the carryover of an early cry for ‘data liberation’ in the form of The Health Data Liberator award. This year’s award recognized the UN’s Humanitarian Data Exchange for work in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak of 2016-17. This was also the third year the meeting was certified as Patients-Included and last week’s meeting featured a powerful mainstage conversation between patient Alison Pinkerton and her doctor Dr. Aaron Neinstein on Data Driven Patient Empowerment.

As this community has built upon accrued experience, participants and partners, now prominently featuring AcademyHealth, its impact is also growing – from a small conference room gathering in 2011 to more than 1,100 attendees last week.

In the midst of all the growth and change, the meeting remains a relevant source for those interested in the innovative use of data to improve health. This year’s meeting left me with the following four impressions:

1)      The intellectual and capital investments in this community are focused on innovation – with novel small start-ups still gaining attention while increasingly complemented by major institutional commitments from providers, payers, health systems and life sciences in innovation expertise and centers. This quest for rapid, relevant and reliable invention is in response to user demand from health systems, payers, and patients for timely discovery and testing in real-world delivery, policy and consumer environments.

2)      While data remains the fuel for the energy and creativity of this community, the emphasis is increasingly strategic, reflecting the wide impact of digitalization on the discovery, implementation, and value realization of new knowledge. Continued progress on data use and access are extended by leaps in analytic capability associated with novel applications, new modes of engaging users from apps to publication, and whole new approaches to collaboration and teaming in pursuit of results. Podium speakers spoke less directly about data alone and more generally of digital health as their focus. The emphasis is on pairing data and analytic strategies with broader investments in the full cycle of health creation. Breakouts featured many impressive stories of system and local efforts to leverage data and learn with increasingly credible capture of impact and scale.

3)      A key theme across efforts is personalization – leveraging digital assets to address a specific targeted end-user, whether patient, clinician, or purchaser. Use of merged clinical and non-clinical data plus novel analytics is creating many new approaches, not to mention algorithms, apps and interfaces for reflecting and respecting the uniqueness of decision-makers and the choices they are facing. Intervention targets ranged from new twists on utilization management to proactive mitigation of historical health disparities by integrating social determinants and community profiles into the mix. Many examples were shared across the spectrum of sickness and health, especially targeting behavior change, population-based care (“one patient at a time”), and decisions by consumers about providers, places and timing for care delivery. Importantly, in healthcare as well as the rest of digital-life, the pursuit of personalization is closely linked with concerns over protecting privacy; governance approaches from transparency, intra- and inter-organizational vigilance, and evolving regulations were prominently discussed.

4)      Leadership in this sector continues to evolve. Government was again prominent on the podium and in the audience. Even as administrations and priorities change, the Feds, in particular, remain a driver as funder, regulator, and purchaser of digital services. Concurrently, but certainly not by accident, market forces are stimulating investment and experimentation. Traditional health systems, payers and providers were prominent in their presence and influence on trends. Every year has seen new HDP entrants, not all of which persist year to year. That said, a couple of attention getters this year were Amazon Web Services and its cloud-based approach to supporting dozens of organizations in data access and pursuit of digital solutions, and, on the ground, senior leaders from Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Johns Hopkins and UPMC detailing their shifting emphasis and reliance on digital resources, innovation and innovators to evolve and guide their clinical and business processes.

In thinking about how the Datapalooza community best relates to the Health Services Research field, I see challenges and opportunity. Datapalooza style innovation and HSR are not the same in terms of history, execution, or embedded business models. However, both approaches seek new knowledge, the customers and practitioners largely overlap and the tools are at a minimum complementary. A key juncture is testing how evolving innovation practices – from integration of new digital technologies to rapidly responding to stakeholder and market demand- can productively intersect with HSR’s foundations of rigor and accountability to jointly impact practice and policy-based decisions. My sense is that a Learning Healthcare System will embrace and blend both innovation and research – still a work in progress but progress is being made.


Paul Wallace, M.D.

Paul Wallace, MD, is the former Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President for Clinical Translation at Op... Read Bio

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