Medical Data Is About To Move

Fifteen years ago, I indentified data businesses as good place for venture capital investing.  Being located in New York, I found investing in core technology to be hard.  Data businesses had similar return characteristics and there were a lot more of them in places I could get to easily.

And I identified three areas that I thought were particularly interesting; financial data, marketing data, and medical data.

In the past 15 years, I have personally invested in roughly 10 companies that were involved someway in financial data and about the same that were involved in marketing data.

But I have found relatively few interesting opportunities to invest in medical data businesses.

Financial data, both on companies and on people has become highly available.  The financial markets’ incessant drive for transparency has forced companies to deliver ever more data about their business and operations.  And this data has been sliced and diced by intermediaries and traders creating even more data. And the rapid expansion of consumer financial services has forced most consumers to provide ever more data on their own finances which is then used to determine their suitability for a vast array of financial products and services.  Take credit databases for example.  My credit history is available for anyone, including me, to look at it if they have my social security number.

Marketing data is even more available today.  The Internet has been an incredible driver in this regard.  We had the direct marketing business collecting postal and transactional data on consumers for many years.  But the Internet has made the availability of this kind of data explode and we have seen many businesses formed to capitalize on the massive consumer marketing data opportunities that the Internet has unleashed.

Medical data has not enjoyed this freedom.  Yet.

Yesterday I attended a really great event put on by Esther Dyson’s Release 1.0.  It was called the Personal Health Information Workshop and it featured a bunch of interesting people and companies working on the problem of unleashing medical data so that it can be used by consumers and physicians to improve our collective health and reduce the costs of providing health care.

I came away from the event convinced that we are on the cusp of a revolution in the way medical information is collected, shared, and used that will mirror the revolutions we have witnessed in fnancial and marketing data.

Img_1123This is a picture of Esther moderating the first panel in the afternoon.  Next to Esther is George Church, professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and the person behind the Personal Genome Project.  The Personal Genome Project is to the Human Genome Project what Linux is to Windows.  Open source genomes.  Very cool stuff.  I am going to see if I can get involved.  If I get my genome sequenced, I’d like to post it on this blog for the world to see, assuming that is allowed.

I have always believed that information is like water.  The more it flows, the better.  And I believe that the more medical data is allowed to flow out of the silos of clinical (doctors and hospitals) and administrative (health care plans) databases, the better off we will all be.

Clearly, there are privacy issues.  But HIPAA has set the rules.  And my experience in the marketing data world suggests that once the rules are set, the data starts to flow.  The absence of rules is a bigger deterrent to data moving because nobody wants to do anything wrong.  Now with the rules set, data is going to flow.

According to HIPAA, if I request my medical records from Oxford (my health plan), they must provide it to me within 30 days.

I just took the Real Age test.  Over 14 million people have taken it.  For those of you who want to know, I have a Real Age of 40.3 years (3.8 years younger than my actual age).  If I gave up the 5 or 10 cigars a year I smoke, I bet I could get into the 30s.

What if I wanted Oxford to send my health care data to Real Age so they could continually monitor and update my Real Age for me?  Not possible today.  But that’s coming I bet.  It’s my data.  I should own it and be able to move it wherever I want.

Katrina was a real wakeup call for many in the health care business.  Millions of people displaced.  Many on medication and medical care.  Records lost or unavailable.  We need control of our data so we can secure it, put it in a place where it will be available in a crisis like Katrina, so that we can continue to get the care we need.  The public doesn’t understand this yet.  But some people do.  I met a bunch of them yesterday.

So my bet is that medical data is about to start moving out of the hospitals, doctors offices, and health care plans, into the hands of consumer and the intermediaries they authorize to handle their data for them.  This is a big opportunity.  I’ve seen the movie before and it’s a good one.

If you are working on interesting projects in this area, let me know.  I’d love to get involved in the right ones.