Health pioneer and president of Basil Strategies, Denise Silber, an American in Paris, is the founder of Doctors 2.0 & You, the first patient-included international digital health conference in Europe.
Which were your first steps in the world of the Digital Health?
My first activity in digital was producing some of the earliest medical websites and training courses in Europe around twenty years ago. Shortly thereafter, I had the opportunity to join one of the first telemedicine start-ups in the US, providing second medical opinions to international patients and their physicians. And thirdly, I was involved in developing one of the earliest online physician communities. There was such strong resistance to all of new technologies in the health sector that you necessarily spent a lot of time on education and persuasion whatever the specific activity.
“Digital innovations spread when they fit the existing system’s incentives”
In your company, Basil Strategies, you work as a strategic advisor and public speaker. What message do you try to convey to your clients and audience?
I’m often involved in reassuring audiences and helping people and organizations see their way through more clearly. People hear news about multiple innovations with different digital health tools and don’t know what to focus on or whether their project or plan has a chance of succeeding. My message is about “getting it right”. By that I mean, that we must first seek to understand the needs of healthcare stakeholders and how to achieve them, and then select the tools that will help.
You also founded the Doctors 2.0 & You event in Paris six years ago. How has the sector changed in Europe in the last years?
So many things have changed. We’ve seen usage shoot up amongst both professionals and patients; innovations that originally provoked resistance have become accepted. The spread of mobile helped significantly with that. And now that there is demand, there are many more services available. When we started, you couldn’t reserve an appointment online or get a distance consultation; using an online community whether as a patient or a professional was rare; healthcare apps were only just beginning. There was no Fitbit or Apple Watch and there were no hackathons. All of these activities are now part of the digital universe in health.
Digital revolution is already part of our society. Why this transformation is being slower in the healthcare sector?
It is often said that the healthcare system is rigid or more resistant to change than other areas. This may be true in part, because we can’t “take chances” with people’s health. Innovation must be safe and show a benefit and that takes time to demonstrate. But fundamentally the adoption of innovation depends on the business models in healthcare. Digital innovations spread when they fit the existing system’s incentives. In the mid 90’s, the Veteran’s Health Administration in the US, a large organization treating millions of patients adopted electronic health records and telemedicine services in just a couple of years. This was amazing for the time. How did it happen? The government brought in new leadership to completely renovate the organization from the ground up. Free to try new methods, they introduced health IT massively. Today most insurers are introducing teleconsultation because they’ve seen how it helps cut costs.
What advantages could social media platforms bring to healthcare professionals?
Professionals love to discuss cases and research with colleagues. Social Media platforms can facilitate that immensely. They can also make it easier to learn about patient’s needs and experiences. Social Media is a killer app, in that it is now so widespread, easy to use, and low cost.
We need empowered patients who take part in their own healthcare. How do we can inculcate this change of role?
This begins with every patient-physician encounter. Every professional has a role to play through the dialogue he or she establishes with a patient, by engaging them. Patient engagement is a term we hear all the time, but it is not just a fad. Helping people understand that the results they achieve require a partnership is fundamental. This requires time and that is the issue. It’s much quicker to give an order and skip the dialogue. But that is a huge error. Schools have a tremendous role to play in preparing young people in this sense as well. Good health starts with prevention and the individual has a massive role to play in that.
Social Media is a killer app, in that it is now so widespread, easy to use, and low cost
As an American living in France for years, what are the main differences between Europe and USA about the deployment of digital tools in healthcare?
Today innovation spreads globally. The news of what’s available is out there for all to see whether it comes from Silicon Valley or Barcelona. But the main differences depend, in my opinion, on reimbursement. Which services are covered by insurance? European citizens do not tend to accept “out of pocket” costs, whereas this is common in the US. So in Europe, insurers both public and private have a tremendous role in determining which services will spread.
What powerful changes do you see happening in the healthcare sector in the next few years?
I believe that we will see the rise of digital to make life easier for the elderly through the “smart home”, apps and connected objects, as healthcare systems find it imperative to provide new solutions. Also, virtual reality will contribute to medical education and to digital therapeutics. I’d add that blockchain, a new way of making transactions secure, will play a greater role over the next 5-10 years.
Good health starts with prevention and the individual has a massive role to play in that
Is there anything else that you feel is important to mention to our readers?
Yes, I think that “design” is a very important and under-estimated tool. All good innovation starts with co-creation, bringing together future users and producers together to understand the problem and which solutions can work.
Doctors 2.0 & You
Doctors 2.0 & You, now the “must-attend” digital health event in Europe, was launched in 2011 in Paris, just about the time of the first rush for the iPad, hence the photo of Steve Jobs looming over me during my first keynote at the event. Seems a million years ago that physicians were discovering that the iPad could fit in their white coat pockets. What was I looking to achieve? Despite the many events that were already dedicated to the internet and healthcare at that time, none brought together a truly open and inviting environment for all of healthcare stakeholders, including and especially for the first member of the team, the patients. None had an agenda based primarily on collaborative tools and experiences with results. None had a global, multi-cultural perspective.
Why Paris? Not just because I lived here, but because Paris is the leading B2B and conference destination in the world, and I was sure that the visitors would be very welcome.
I was always interested in innovation and so when I discovered the web at a Harvard alumni meeting in 1994, it was a major moment for me. Sensing the importance that the internet would have in healthcare, I embarked upon a personal and professional journey into “Information and Communication Technologies” as it was called then, even before "eHealth". This was followed by many “firsts” in the coming years. My company in France created the first websites and training programs in health on the web in the country. I met the first patient and physician "disrupters" of the time in the US. I was invited to join the early commissions and associations that were reflecting in the US and internationally on the quality of health and the net. I participated in the launch in the US of one of the first start-ups to provide second medical opinions.
And in the mid 2000’s along came the second generation of web tools and social media, followed by smartphones and apps. Digital tools were becoming participatory. And while social media in health advanced around the world, and there were more and more events and conferences, my experience told me that the agendas were not always on target. And so with the support of many fans from both real life and social media, a new annual digital health conference in Paris, Doctors 2.0 & You, was indeed born. The name Doctors 2.0 & You symbolizes our inviting all of healthcare to join together to work on the patient-professional relationship. The conference is appreciated by its participants both real and virtual, for the concrete content, the great networking and its significant place on social media.
By Denise Silber
Founder of Basil Strategies consultants, Silber is a valued strategic advisor and empathetic public speaker in ehealth. She is also a rare American to have been awarded the French Legion of Honor for her work in bringing eHealth communities together worldwide. A Smith College grad and Harvard MBA. Denise is bilingual in English and French with good proficiency in Spanish. A former US Foreign Service Officer, VP in industry, and currently an entrepreneur, Denise applies her diverse experiences to champion the cause of eHealth and to improve life for patients. She has authored many publications in both English and French and presided not for profit associations.