Casey Emerson from the School of Pharmacy at UNC Chapel Hill demonstrates an "iPad robot" that can facilitate video conferencing.
Casey Emerson from the School of Pharmacy at UNC Chapel Hill demonstrates an "iPad robot" that can facilitate video conferencing. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

Digital technologies are changing the way doctors work and the way health care gets delivered. But is that always a positive thing?

By Stephanie Soucheray

More than 100 entrepreneurs, health workers and tech industry insiders gathered at RTI International this week for the Health 2.0 NC Triangle meet-up.

Health 2.0, in the same vein as TED talks and South by South West, has chapters around the world that bring together different speakers on a single topic. This week, the Triangle chapter brought together keynote speakers on the future of the ePatient.

“The point of this event is to not have this event,” said Brian Moynihan, an event organizer and project manager at the UNC School of Medicine. “We want people to meet and network so they can work together and build this community.”

Citing rich opportunities for cross-pollination among the numerous health care businesses, research companies, universities and tech start-ups in the region, Moynihan said the Triangle was uniquely primed to become a leader in digital health.

Master of ceremonies Brent Anthony welcomes a capacity crowd to this week’s Health 2.0 gathering. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

“We’ve got people working at big hospitals, we’ve got pharma, we live in an amazing place,” said Moynihan. “The idea is, if we connect all these things together, we become better.”

He said that he wants the Research Triangle to be one of the top three places where health technology and innovation are created.

“The Triangle is a hub for digital health innovation because of the great universities we have,” said Moynihan. “They not only provide research and a steady stream of students, they also serve as a testing ground for new ideas, particularly through research at university hospitals.

“For instance, UNC is partnering with SAS to personalize diabetes care with better analytics.”

The evening’s first speaker was Cory Annis, a primary care physician in Carrboro. For years, Annis said, she’s been demoralized by how often new technology, including electronic medical records, have invaded the doctor’s office. Instead of helping her perform her job, she said screens remove her from the patient-physician relationship.

Annis made an appeal to the tech entrepreneurs in the room to create technology that keeps the physician and patient together.

“Step back out of the way,” said Annis. “If it takes more than two clicks, it doesn’t work.”

An entrepreneur herself, Annis explained her own medical practice, UnorthoDoc, which is billed as “healthcare for entrepreneurs.” Using video conferencing, texting and email, Annis establishes a personal, eye-to-eye relationship with her patients in a high-tech way. She still sees patients at her brick and mortar office, Carrboro Pediatrics, but has enjoyed using technology to serve a different client base.

Annas said that many of her patients are tech savvy, a population that Fard Johnmar, the second speaker, addressed. The author of the infographic “ePatient 2015: 15 Surprising Trends Changing Healthcare,” Johnmar runs Enspektos, a digital health-innovation and consulting company. He spoke about how patients use – or don’t use – technology to their advantage.

Johnmar urged the crowd to find the “human in the center of data circles,” and addressed concerns specific to the North Carolina Health 2.0 group, including cultural barriers to health innovations and healthy real estate, or planned healthy communities that improve the lives of occupants.

Casey Emerson from the School of Pharmacy at UNC Chapel Hill demonstrates an “iPad robot” that can facilitate video conferencing. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

Although he said he’s a believer in digital health, Johnmar said health will always be about human-to-human interactions.

Kate McCarthy, a digital health director from South Carolina, said she was impressed with the evening’s meeting.

“It’s amazing to see what’s in this region,” she said. “ And it was such an interesting mix of people, especially entrepreneurs.”

Emerson said the school is trying out different ways to connect pharmacy students at three different campuses.  Photo credit: Rose Hoban

Nnenna Ibeanusi, an masters student in Health Policy Management at UNC-Chapel Hill, said she’ll be back to future Health 2.0 events.

“There’s a great interest in the health field on how to use information technology,” she said. “Especially, how technology is being used to capture quality measures.”

Connecting students, employers and researchers was all part of Brent Anthony’s goal for the event. Anthony, an organizer of Health 2.0 and a business consultant, said he wanted to “engage the region to develop change.”

“It’s not just about developing the next mobile app,” said Anthony. “It’s about making a real-world change to people’s health.”

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