An Open-Data Optimist

In a recent post, I outed myself as a “glass half-full” guy. I tend to think that my optimism serves me well as an early-stage investor. I get excited thinking about innovation that can improve our world and working with great entrepreneurs to try and do so.

But there is no one I have met in my life that is more of an optimist than this week’s guest on our podcast — Aneesh Chopra. His unfailingly positive perspective probably served as a helpful trait in Aneesh’s role as the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer, where he sought to solve some of the government’s most intractable problems through the application of technology.

How can you not smile when in the presence of the ever optimistic Aneesh?

As CTO, Aneesh was one of the main figures in Washington, D.C. who was responsible for shepherding and implementing President Obama’s HITECH act which mandated (and even rewarded) doctors and hospitals to be better actors when it comes to using and sharing medical data. I can’t stress how important a piece of legislation the HITECH act was. And it always amazes me how little attention it gets in the mainstream press — probably because it was overshadowed by the much more controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”).

Literally, before the adoption of the HITECH Act in 2009, two thirds of doctors in our country were using pad and paper to record your medical records. Today there is near 100% adoption and usage of electronic medical records. The equivalent in most other industries in our economy is literally businesses still using faxes to communicate rather than email. It is rather astonishing that we are just now entering the “digital age” in healthcare but the opportunities ahead, as a result, are pretty mind-blowing when you think about it.

As if his efforts here weren’t enough, Aneesh has also been a leader in the calling for more data sharing and open data access throughout our healthcare system. He has been an advocate pushing the industry to adopt modern APIs and interoperability standards like FHIR. For far too long, various data sets have been silo’d in our healthcare system with large IT vendors having no incentive to share records with one another. While creating these barriers may have been a profitable business strategy for incumbents, it came at the expense of the healthcare consumer who clearly would benefit from greater access to and sharing of medical records, lab information, healthcare cost data, etc. We still have a long way to go on this front but there has been a lot of good progress in recent years. For those of us who believe access to this data is key to innovation, it’s about time and we are all thankful for Aneesh’s great work here!

And even after all this, there are still many more hills to climb in the effort to modernize our healthcare system. Probably none more important than the need for greater adoption and usage of personal health records (PHRs). It has always amazed me that so many consumers know how to pay bills, shop for groceries, and hail a car service online but so few know how to access their health records. Recent studies have shown that a majority of millennials want the ability to access their PHR via their smartphone and yet less than 7% of those surveyed have ever done so. One of the reasons for this is that until the passage of the HITECH act, it was quite difficult (if not impossible) for a consumer to access this data. Even today, the online “portals” (an outdated term still used in healthcare — ooy vey!) via which an individual can access their own PHR are still very kludgy.

My favorite part of this week’s podcast is when I get to talk with Aneesh about our shared interest in creating and investing in technologies and companies that help consumers access their own healthcare data. To me, the potential to build a “Mint for PHR data” is both massive and exciting. It would be the last step in truly democratizing healthcare data. And so, if you are a founder who is working in this area, please introduce yourself. I’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy our conversation with Aneesh on this and many other important healthcare topics.


Steve Kraus is recognized as one of the top healthcare investors in the country, with a unique combination of VC, healthcare and policy experience. He serves on the Massachusetts Digital Health Council, as an advisor to Boston Children’s Hospital, BCBS MA, and Rock Health, and co-hosts “A Healthy Dose” - a podcast focused on healthcare innovation, policy and trends. You can listen and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud