Interview With Connected Health Symposium Organizing Chair Joe Ternullo

As organizing chair and founder of the Connected Health Symposium, Joe Ternullo is working with his talented team of co-chairs on the next Symposium October 24 -25 in Boston – with a timely theme “Collaborations and Innovations to Engage Patients and Elevate Care.”

Given that this is the 10th annual Symposium – a milestone event – Joe gave an interview to the Federal Telemedicine News to offer his perspective on the growing importance of the Symposium over the past decade and on notable changes we’ve seen in the field of health IT over the past ten years.

Q. What was the first Symposium like? How many attended? Can you recall what types of topics were covered?

A. Our inaugural Symposium, entitled Optimizing Care Though Communications Technologies, was a remarkably simple one day, one room event. There were four keynotes, four reaction panels and opening and closing remarks. Topics included “Technology, Reimbursement, Risk Management, and Lessons Learned.” There were 15 exhibitors and sponsors.

In convening the Symposium, we sought to build a community of interest with a view toward knowledge sharing, collaboration and service to others.  Our method was to produce a high quality educational event that included ample networking and could financially sustain itself. Our initial goal was to attract 75 attendees.

We were aided in our mission by wonderful support from many, including the leadership at Partners HealthCare, the speakers, exhibitors and sponsors, and the Conference Center at Harvard Medical. They were a magical concoction of collaborators, new and old friends alike, who came together to ensure success and build community. Our first year, we exceeded our goal, with 135 attendees, great survey results and much enthusiasm to look to year two and beyond.

 

Q. What has changed about the Symposium over the past ten years? What are some of the most notable changes you’ve made in how you program the event?

A. Today, the Symposium is a multiday festival of ideas featuring abbreviated keynotes, blue ribbon panels, debates, interviews, product demos, book signings, “flipped classroom” experiences, extensive networking and speakers and attendees of both the domestic and international variety.

The Symposium has moved well beyond a one day/one room event.  Attendance has grown nearly tenfold. That has necessitated two venue changes. We started at the Conference Center at Harvard Medical, moved to Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel in 2009 and this year are in a brand new venue, Boston’s fabulous Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center on Boston’s waterfront.

The Symposium has also spawned other derivative relationships and events. Last year, the US Commerce Department and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts were involved in creating the EU-US eHealth MarketPlace, which was held the two days prior to the Symposium at the Massachusetts State House.

We are especially proud of the fact that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has declared the third week in October as “Connected Health Week.” That is a tribute to the importance of Connected Health and the contribution of the Symposium and its speakers, exhibitors and supporters in advancing the field and pointing the way forward.

Our commitment to the community remains. Through their deans or their designees, we offer student scholarships to area students. We also offer courtesy registrations to professionals in transition. And we now offer continuing education credits for physicians and continuing nursing credits for nurses, thereby providing more value and attracting a larger group of health practitioners with real world clinical experience.

We have enjoyed world renowned keynote speakers from around the globe, including leaders from academia, industry and government. In 2011, we were honored with a keynote from a future head of state, Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark, Count of Monpezat, RE SKmd.

 

Q. What has changed in Health IT since the first Symposium? What technologies do we have now that were never envisioned back then, and also what technologies were in their infancy back then that are commonly used today?

A. The Health IT journey has been fascinating and the changes substantial and manifold these past ten years.

A decade ago, there was much yet to be proven. Through grant funding from the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth and others, it had been established that Health IT enabled reliable connectivity among rural providers and patients, thereby increasing access to care and improving quality. Many questions remained — what were the sustainable business models? How did connected health tools fit into the clinical workflow? Was the technology a novel toy or a needed tool in urban environments? How can new technologies that were coming to the fore (i.e., mHealth, apps, avatars, robotics) contribute to health, wellness, increased access, improved quality and cost containment?

Increased awareness of demographic changes and the search for new markets caused non-traditional players to explore the healthcare sector as a potentially fertile market ripe for innovation. Worldwide open industry alliances such as Continua Health Alliance, whose aim is to enable end-to-end, plug and play connectivity of devices and services for personal health management and healthcare delivery, were formed. Federal legislation such as the 2009 HITECH Act and the Affordable Care Act in 2010, further increase the level of interest and inquiry and the pace of adoption.

Today there is intense focus and vibrant interest in connected health innovation. It is routine to look to connected health technologies to monitor our most vulnerable patients remotely and to identify ways to encourage new behaviors that lead to better health and self-monitoring, and decreased provider visits. There is no doubt about it, for those interested in contributing to the advancement of healthcare, there is no better time to be in healthcare and no better field than connected health.

 

Q. What changes do you see to the Symposium and in Health IT in general over the next ten years?

A. The Symposium and Health IT will evolve in response to the broader changes in healthcare. For sure, unexpected occurrences — a transformational medical breakthrough that ameliorates a chronic and/or vexing medical condition, the emergence of a global pandemic occur, etc. — will cause healthcare to grow organically in one direction or another. The Symposium and Health IT will evolve and respond accordingly.

Unexpected occurrences aside, most observers would agree on general trends for the next ten years and beyond. These include more: (1) patients, (2) government regulation and reporting requirements, (3) competition for patients, (4) empowered patients, and (5) pressure on providers.

These require an increased need for information, data analysis, and assistive health information technologies. Accordingly, there is no doubt that the presence and prominence of Health IT looms large over the next 10 years and beyond. This era of innovation and the ascendency of Health IT will increase quality, open new avenues of access to care and enable us as a society to meet the healthcare challenges and commitments of our time.

For those already in healthcare or those seeking a high impact career and entering the healthcare workforce, there is knowledge to be shared, relationships to be formed, research to be presented, products to be evaluated, debates to be had, books to be read and communities of interest to be maintained and refreshed and expanded. For all of these reasons, I expect the Symposium will stay true to its mission of service to others and will expand and innovate to meet the challenges ahead and continue to serve a convener role.

For more information on the Symposium, visit http://symposium.connected-health.org/

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