The theme of the 7th annual Forbes Healthcare Summit, “Starting a Health Renaissance,” lived up to its billing. Pharmaceutical, hospital and biotech executives, along with researchers, insurers, providers and patient advocates were among those challenged to think big, exchange new ideas and search out solutions to enhance the world of healthcare during the flurry of this 24-hour event.

The power of patient data permeated discussions throughout the Summit. The focus wasn’t on how access to massive amounts of intelligence will impact drug discovery or reshape medicine delivery, but when significant change will proliferate.

Silicon Valley powerhouse disruptors Google and Apple and Northwest behemoths Amazon and Microsoft all have plans to advance healthcare initiatives, with big data being a key ingredient of their secret sauce.

There have also been perceived failures and shortcomings in how companies can effectively integrate with biopharma, regulators and payer/delivery systems. Even tech pioneers have such doubts, as noted in STAT recently (“Sean Parker: Health care’s big breakthroughs aren’t going to come out of Google or Amazon”).

During the Summit, however, optimism for patient data as the next true positive disruption in healthcare was shining bright. Here is what a few of the forward-looking trailblazers had to say:

  • John Doerr, chairman, Kleiner Perkins and VC who funded Google, Amazon and Uber: Two things have crippled the adoption of data applications in healthcare: data has been incarcerated, and many payment models are inflexible. Doerr is convinced change will happen in the next three to five years, as we will see a “data quake” culminating in Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announcing the launch of Health Prime.
  • Sam Marwaha, senior partner and managing director, Boston Consulting Group (BCG): Data is driving patient finding, patient matching and patient engagement, and speed is of the essence. Marwaha’s recipe for success is to pick up the pace of innovation, as the battle between disrupters and incumbents comes down to whether disrupters get distribution before incumbents get innovation.
  • Nat Turner, co-founder and CEO, Flatiron Health: Flatiron’s secret sauce is refining crude data from electronic health records (EHRs). Turner employs an analogy about the current state of regulating patient data and provides a solution: “You can't put oil out of the ground into your car. If the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] wanted to look at patient records from EHR it wouldn’t work. You have to spend 80 percent time building a data set before spending 20 percent analyzing it. We wanted to flip that to unlock value for the cancer patient.”
  • Robert Nelsen, co-founder & managing director, ARCH Venture Partners: A different mindset is needed as you approach detection and treatment of disease. “There will be a whole different way of thinking about disease as essentially an algorithm. We are heading to early intervention, [a] curative system that’s going to be a cheaper system.” Nelsen believes the industry needs to staff up with people who understand machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) and “get creative” to move the needle.  

There was no silver bullet or single big idea to improve the efficiency or breakthrough the bottleneck in the healthcare industry, but there was a strong consensus that patient data is powerful and vital to reach new heights. Open thinking and collaboration across the healthcare ecosystem will be key to free the way for the Googles and Amazons of the world to conquer their next quest in health.

As communicators, it will be our mission to align stakeholders to find common ground and articulate a narrative that embraces disruption and promotes the same bold, unique thinking that was so beautifully showcased during the Forbes Healthcare Summit.

Steven Cooper is an executive vice president, San Francisco, Health.