Interview with Indu Subaiya | co-founder and CEO of Health 2.0


Few people know the environment of mHealth and eHealth like Indu Subaiya, co-founder and CEO of Health 2.0. This organization has been arranging events and summits focused on this healthcare sector since 2007. In this issue, Indu shares her expertise with us, talking about the present and future of modern healthcare and its companies.

By Beatriz Cortiles  and Jorge González-Páramo


Health 2.0 tries to showcase the latest trends and innovations in healthcare since 2007. How has this sector changed in the last years?

When Health 2.0 started as a project or movement, it was mostly about people finding content online. Since then, it has grown incredibly both in terms of sheer numbers – from the 30 companies that we listed in 2007 to the 3,000 companies of today - and in terms of the potential of the project itself. We think of Health 2.0 in terms of 3 criteria: adaptable technology, user experience; and data-driven decisions. These three core tenets haven’t changed, however, we have witnessed an evolution of what we’ve defined as the four stages of Health 2.0 technology: user generated health care; connecting consumers to providers; partnerships to reform delivery; and data-driven decisions & discovery. 

In user generated health care, many companies that started small are now being taken into account and incorporated within the networks of larger organizations. Innovative channels of communication between consumers and providers are more accessible than ever, and partnerships to reform delivery have also evolved with collaboration on multiple levels that have enabled the innovation of new technologies. 


The Health 2.0 conference is so disclosing and entertaining. How do you get all the speakers being part of the show?

We decided early on that we wanted a live demo format to separate the signal from the noise and we were lucky to launch the same year as Google Health and Microsoft Health Vault. Now, of course, the big players have been joined by Apple, Samsung, Google, and others, but Health 2.0 has always been the place where the established tech companies and startups could unveil something new, and that’s what’s contributed to the success of the events. A number of notable companies have debuted on our stage, including Castlight and Basis. Moments like those define what we’re trying to do and set the standard for the type of show we’re able to produce each year.   


We have to stop blaming the patients and start designing technology that connects with the user, and not the other way around


You have also launched the Health 2.0 Developer Challenge. Could you explain us how it works?

The challenge program was launched at the first Health Data Initiative meeting in 2010 with support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Since then, Health 2.0 has partnered with private, non-profit, and government organizations, including the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT to run challenges and pilot programs to commercialize new technologies and provide innovation consulting.

Our program offers services across the spectrum so that organizations seeking solutions can connect with the innovator community who can develop them, and that partnership is critical at all stages of the innovation process.

Over the course of a challenge (typically 3-6 months), teams self-assemble and develop novel technological solutions to health care problems. Teams may create software and hardware solutions such as web and mobile applications, visualizations, sensor systems, and data models. Submissions are evaluated by a panel of expert judges and awarded non-dilutive funding, recognition, support, and partnership opportunities with the sponsoring organization.


Digital revolution is already part of our society. Why this transformation is much slower in the healthcare sector?

Because so much money is made doing business the way it has always been done, health care has been reluctant to change. In times of disruption, all industries are averse to change. I disagree with the widely held view that health care is particularly backwards and slow moving. I think the health care industry is indeed changing and in some ways faster than other sectors. Policy and incentives can help a lot. Take the HITECH Act and the Affordable Care Act, for example, which have expanded access to care, catalyzed the adoption of electronic medical records, and seen the birth of state and federal exchanges where consumers can shop for insurance like other consumer products. These first steps have by no means been perfect, but we’ll continue to see the industry adopt, embrace, and innovate around digital technologies. 


You run conferences all over the world. Which countries or areas are more advanced in the development and implementation of healthcare technology and what are the main differences between them?

Each region is different and has its peculiarities. In Europe, there is a good startup ecosystem now and the NHS in the UK and other systems are making inroads to working with small and medium enterprises. India, meanwhile, has a growing digital tech industry with lots of engineering talent and social enterprise. Regions where physical infrastructure is poor can really be impacted by technology. Apps like HealthifyMe or MyFitnessPal can help users in tracking their diets and correcting them according to their needs.

We’ll be having our second conference this year in Sao Paolo, Brazil, with a lot of participation on the hospital and health system side. In Latin America, the technology development we’ve seen closely mirrors that of the US. For example, one of the demos was from Doctor’s Way, a social network for providers accessible via an app that lets users crowdsourcing opinions for tough cases, look up content, and more. Finally, we head to Tokyo for the first time this fall for Health 2.0 Asia, where a large and growing elderly population needs tools to help people stay healthy, active, and engaged, but also to minimize the burden on the health care system. All in all there are very specific regional challenges, but most systems are also trying to provide more consistent high quality care for lower costs, which creates similarities across the globe.   


More and more companies have entered the eHealth and mHealth market. What business potential does this area have?

This market has huge business potential for all the reasons mentioned earlier about health care. We track more than 3,000 companies in this space in our Health 2.0 Source Database. To understand all these new companies, we’ve developed a tracking method that includes no less than 19 segments to comprehend and support them all according to their characteristics. Those numbers alone give a good idea of the variety of business areas and models that can be pursued in Health 2.0 as this point.  

Several companies are also seeing success with IPOs like Castlight, Fitbit, and Teladoc, and we continue to see movement on the M&A side with players like IBM snapping up Exploys, Phytel, and Merge Healthcare, and Under Armour building out a digital portfolio with MyFitnessPal, Endomondo, Gritness, and MapMyRun. A lot of this activity can be seen as preparation for the time when large provider systems will need to deliver accountable care with money being spent to ensure the health of populations. 


What are the main challenges that healthcare will be facing next?

Here in the US, we’re working towards what’s called the triple aim: improving the experience of care, improving the health of the population, and lowering the cost of care. With these challenges, we’re seeing some consolidation, which might make bargaining power harder for the end user, but that’s where platforms that connect consumers and communities with health care can balance that out, hopefully. 


Could you give us some examples of how the implementation of healthcare technologies could improve citizen’s life?

Three examples come immediately to mind. First, a company called Doctor on Demand, which provides on-demand virtual visits via the web to doctors, psychologists, and even lactation consultants. Users pay a flat rate per “visit” and have the convenience to access care wherever they are as well as whenever they need it. Telemedicine was one of the first promising areas of Health 2.0, and it seems it´s finally taking off. 

Another example of how these technologies are improving daily life is Theranos. The company is valued at nearly $10 billion dollars and performs a number of routine tests from a small blood sample. The test is not only a huge improvement on previous blood testing, but it also allows consumers can even get tests performed without needing a doctor’s order. In other words, Theranos is giving consumers the power to actively manage their health via a relative inexpensive and convenient experience. 

The last example that comes to mind is Lively: a home monitoring system that, for the most part, provides tranquility to adults who are living away from their elderly parents. Small, well-designed motion sensors are placed around the house and collect small pieces of data about normal daily life that can help them know if everything is in order or if something seems to be off at their house. The system collects enough data for caregivers to feel comfortable, but no so much that it feels invasive to the ‘monitored’ parties. 


We’re working towards what’s called the triple aim: improving the experience of care, improving the health of the population, and lowering the cost of care


We need empowered patients who take part in their own healthcare. How do we can inculcate this change of role?

People will use products that are easy and valuable to them. I don’t think the concern should be behavior, but to redesign the way people live through specific-tailored devices and platforms. We have to stop blaming the patients and start designing technology that connects with the user, and not forcing the user to adapt to it. MyFitnessPal has 60 million users and the rest of the playing field in their space doesn’t compare, same with Doctor on Demand - they got the user experience right, and behavior change followed.


In your opinion, which device, technology or app will be essential in the near future?

Building on what I just mentioned earlier, the next essential technology or app will really depend on user experience. Whoever can figure out how to elegantly disrupt a part of our lives with technology maybe in a way we didn’t even know we needed...that’s where the success will come. If I had to pick an area ripe for the next big breakthrough, I’d point to either technology for the elderly or some sort of data play connecting the worlds of user generated data and clinical data.