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October - 2009 - issue > Entrepreneur 101
Health Internet An Emerging Area of Opportunity
Gunjan Sinha
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
In the last few months there has been a roaring debate here in the United States on how to revamp the arcane and inefficient healthcare system. Numerous government agencies and businesses have begun to think about how the future of the health architecture should evolve. This focus on ‘health Internet’, which ultimately will connect up all kinds of data sources and applications from healthcare providers, hospitals, caregivers, insurance agencies, and patients will enable an efficient platform for a digital healthcare infrastructure. This newly commissioned focus by the Obama administration bodes well for entrepreneurs worldwide as a whole new class of technologies and companies would be required to help develop a global healthcare Internet. The year 1993 (invention of the browser) marked the rise of the Internet, 2001 (post September 11) led to a global focus on digital security and compliance, 2005 (global warming risks and escalating oil and commodity prices) led to the focus on clean-green and alternative energy.

This year, 2009, marks the beginning of a new era in healthcare. Moving forward, with a top-down commitment and focus coming from the governments around the world, healthcare reform is all set to begin, with particular opportunities for innovation through IT. Let me share my thoughts on how I see the evolution of the health Internet of the future.

Challenge #1: Developing the Electronic Health Record

The first and foremost challenge is to develop a way to ‘securely’ make the electronic patient record and information available in the cloud. How do you ensure that diverse records of each patient make their way to an electronic vault, where various health applications and service providers with the right authentication can access this vital data? There are lots of technology challenges behind this seemingly straightforward undertaking. Lots of patient data are sitting in ‘paper’ files in hospitals and clinics. In many cases, there is no standard interface defined where various entities can make their data available in a standard format. Such health standards have to be developed globally to enable data providers store the data in the secure cloud.

Challenge #2: Creating and Enforcing Compliance Policies

A well thought-out compliance policy has to be designed and enforced through technologies so that regulators can ensure that there is no abuse of the patient information by the various actors in the healthcare ecosystem. Also, government regulations and mandates, like security scans, have to be monitored in a realtime basis to ensure that there are no breaches, data leaks, or privacy concerns for the citizens and consumers. Numerous government agencies, insurance companies, and healthcare providers have to collaborate together in an efficient manner to help streamline regulatory compliance.

Challenge #3: Enabling Global Healthcare Intelligence

This would provide the top most layer of a universal healthcare architecture, assisting application providers, companies, and entrepreneurs to leverage the underlying patient record data to build a new class of health intelligence and applications. Examples of such applications include:
* Patient monitoring for chronic illness
* Doctor-patient collaboration on mobile platforms like iPhones
* Automated health alerts and preventive medicine techniques
* Disease control, virus control (e.g. N1H1), pandemic trends, and applications
* Dynamic pricing of insurance

This list of applications is inconclusive and endless as you can imagine that the entire healthcare system is now up for questions. The Obama administration has set a timeline that, by 2014, this national and global infrastructure will be in place. Now it is up to the imagination of daring entrepreneurs to take the plunge and create the last mile applications. To conclude, imagine a country without a national highway system and the economic and social transformation such a highway system can bring to the society. Health Internet has a similar potential, and we are in year 1 of its creation. Now is the time to dream the future and make it happen.

The author of the article is Gunjan Sinha, the Chairman of SiliconIndia.com and MetricStream. An internet pioneer, he was the Co-Founder and President of WhoWhere? Inc., a Internet directory services company acquired by Lycos in 1998 as well as eGain, an online customer service company. Sinha can be reached at gunjan@metricstream.com
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