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Big Data in Healthcare – Could This Be the Answer to a Broken System?

The U.S. healthcare system has many issues. Generally speaking, Americans spend twice as much on healthcare as other developed nations. Likewise, significant inequities exist in both access to care and specialized treatments. Numerous inefficiencies also exist that drive up costs and result in lower quality outcomes. Over the years, a variety of policies and strategies have been tried, but to date, none have been highly effective. Because of this, many are now hoping healthcare data analytics may hold promise. If implemented well, big data in healthcare could provide tremendous advantages and revolutionize the care we receive.

With this in mind, one company focused on big data in healthcare is a startup called Truveta. The company consists of only 50 employees currently. However, it hopes to collect vast amounts of data, anonymize it, and leverage it to provide enhanced healthcare. Already, Truveta has convinced more than a dozen major healthcare systems to come on board. By using healthcare data analytics, these partners seen potential in personalized medicine, research and many other areas. Given the ramifications, it’s worth taking a deeper look into the company’s potential.

“Our vision is to save lives with data. We want to help researchers find cures faster, empower every clinician to be an expert, and help families make the most informed decisions on their care. We believe the Truveta platform can help improve health equity and advance personalized medicine.” – Terry Myerson, CEO of Truveta.

Truveta’s Vision for Healthcare Data Analytics

The origins of Truveta’s vision for using big data in healthcare arose from conversations with Providence Health System. Those involved connected with Terry Myerson, previously Executive VP at Microsoft in charge of Windows and devices. Myerson, intrigued by the potential of healthcare data analytics, then organized a team to expand the idea. The culmination of that idea was Truveta, which plans to collect, anonymize, aggregate, and sell it for a variety of purposes. Interested parties of this data is extensive including researchers and public health systems. It also will attract interest from many others including large systems offering patient care services and institutional health programs.

In terms of rates for accessing Truveta’s healthcare data analytics, different sources will be charged different fees. Commercial entities will naturally pay the most while research and public health sources will pay less. The key for success will be acquiring enough big data in healthcare to make the model work. Thus far, Truveta is off to a good start with 14 major health systems already as partners. These include health systems like Providence Health System, Novant Health, and Advent Health. (Read more about Novant Health and its drive for digital healthcare in this Bold article.) Current partners account for tens of millions of patients already in 40 different states. It therefore appears Truveta is off to a good start.

“For years we have seen the opportunity for diverse health providers to come together with a shared sense of purpose and use our collective data for the common good of humanity. With Truveta, we created a unique model that is led by the health providers yet supported by one of the most talented technical teams to focus on health.” – Dr. Rod Hochman, President and CEO of Providence Health System

Sources of Big Data in Healthcare

Healthcare data analytics is believed to have tremendous potential for change because it exists in large quantities. Both internal and external datasets exist, and these cover a range of healthcare areas. For example, internal systems include electronic health records as well as customer relations management data and health insurance transactional information. Similarly, the boom of wearable health devices, biometric sensors, and digital therapeutics offer a rich source of data also. And this fails to consider other sources like research data, social media, online blogs and journals, and more.

A doctor accessing big data on her tablet
Healthcare data analytics are reshaping the healthcare industry–for the better.

To date, the ability to collect and organize these vast sources of information has been hindered. Healthcare in the U.S. is notably fragmented, and privacy concerns have created barriers to such pursuits. The goal for Truveta is to anonymize these sources so this concern can be alleviated and obstacles removed. If successful, never before will such massive amounts of data be used to guide healthcare choices. These choices extend well beyond patient care and research. They involve a much broader scope of healthcare data analytics applications affecting policy, administration, and more.

“We believe the cure for certain diseases could lie within the Truveta platform. For the first time in the history of health, we have enough data at scale to dramatically advance innovation in healthcare with collective commitment to partner on ethical innovation.” – Michael Slubowski, CEO of Trinity Health

The Promise of Big Data in Healthcare

The potential for healthcare data analytics is not something that has been recently recognized. For decades, healthcare experts have touted big data in healthcare as a solution to address a disjointed and disorganize system. In fact, trends have been moving in this way for some time. Between 2012 and 2017, the healthcare data analytics market grew by 23.7 percent. Truveta and its partners are simply trying to scale a concept large enough to make a needed impact. If it’s successful, projections suggest big data in healthcare could reduce costs up to $450 billion for the U.S. That is a figure that attention-grabbing to say the least.

Beyond major cost savings and greater efficiencies, big data in healthcare is expected to usher in additional benefits as well. For example, healthcare data analytics can provide better surveillance of various health conditions and healthcare operations. This can then better establish predictive models that design proactive strategies within healthcare. Similarly, these same insights can drive better prevention efforts in a wide variety of areas. And healthcare data analytics will also advance precision medicine rapidly as these new insights are learned. Truveta and others understand this, which is why they are passionate about their mission. Though hurdles will undoubtedly exist, the hope that big data in healthcare offers will continue to push these efforts forward.

Read more about how big data is being used to revolutionize healthcare in this Bold Business article: A Painless Change That Could Improve Healthcare and Save Trillions of Dollars.


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Optimizing Work and Wellness – How Wellness Apps Are Blurring the Lines

Business have long recognized the benefits of employee wellness. Since the 1950s, companies have progressively invested in the well-being of their employees to some extent. This initially involved attracting employees by offering health insurance benefits. But this soon led to other worker perks involving a host of different wellness programs. But nothing compared to the investments that companies are making today in the aftermath of the pandemic. And many are finding wellness apps an attractive way to provide these services to their company members.

For employees, however, the benefits of wellness apps are less clear. Without question, these virtual solutions have enabled millions to exercise, meditate and de-stress during COVID. This has come at a great time when a variety of stressors are affecting global populations. This not only includes those associated with the pandemic but also those linked to social unrest and inequalities. Likewise, we’re constantly connected to our mobile devices and computer, making the distinction between work and wellness screen time confusing. Therefore, it’s worth questioning the effectiveness of these wellness apps in the first place.

“Mindfulness is less about reducing stress and more about reducing dissatisfaction through direct investigation of our experiences. But marketing stress reduction is more successful, and definitely more likely to win a download or corporate account.” – Randima Fernando, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Center for Humane Technology

The Inherent Connection Between Work and Wellness

In terms of wellness, a progressive evolution of health has embraced a holistic point of view. We commonly appreciate that there’s more to wellness than physical health alone. Emotional well-being, mental health, restorative sleep as well as social wellness are also important. If we didn’t realize it before, we have certainly come to appreciate it amidst the pandemic. And along with this realization can a host of wellness apps to accommodate our needs while working form home. However, we view these wellness apps on the same devices on which we work. Thus, it’s no wonder boundaries between work and wellness are not well-delineated. (Read more about the push for maintaining mental health during COVID in this Bold Business article.)

Not only have employees purchased subscriptions to these wellness apps in large numbers. Businesses also appreciate the potential advantage of these virtual fitness platforms and are incentivizing members to do so. Work and wellness are tightly linked with every dollar invested on wellness having an ROI six-fold. Sick workers cost companies roughly $575 billion a year globally. Likewise, for every dollar spent on wellness programs, healthcare costs fall by more than three dollars. Understanding the stresses associated with working from home, many companies proactively chose to up their game.

“I think [wellness apps are] probably mostly sinister primarily because of social media and capitalism’s ability to cannibalize everything…We’re all trying to feel better, and unfortunately feeling better takes a lot of individual labor outside of purchasing things, but there’s also a pleasure and an eroticism to capitalist consumption that we partake in.” – Kate Berlant, Comedian and Cohost of wellness comedy podcast, Poog

Balancing Work and Wellness – There’s an App for That!

During the pandemic, wellness apps have boomed. Luxe indoor gyms with virtual platforms are highly popular as well as pricey. Peloton has increased its membership by 232 percent this last year with millions stuck at home. The same is true for other wellness apps like Tonal and Mirror. In addition, mindfulness apps designed to help with stress at work and wellness have also grown exponentially. Calm and Headspace are among the most popular. In fact, Calm, which runs about $70 for an annual subscription, has seen 100 percent growth this year. These are just a few of the many digital therapeutic apps available for purchase today. (Read more about the digital therapeutic apps making a difference in holistic health in this Bold Business story.)

Someone running, presumably on their lunchbreak
Work and wellness go hand in hand when it comes to productivity and personal health.

The problem with many of these apps is their inability to actually help stress at work and wellness endeavors. The technology wellness firms promoting these virtual platforms suggest they will enable holistic health. Indeed, most will, but it still requires a significant amount of commitment and effort on the part of the individual. In this regard, wellness apps often provide the same opportunities as self-reflection, walking in nature, or a home gym. And because they don’t allow us to “disconnect” from our devices, we may never feel a work and wellness separation.

“We already walk around with the seed of dissatisfaction and the sense that something could be better. And the way we should navigate that sense of imperfection is taking a walk or meditating, but instead we reach for the supercomputers in our pockets.” – Randima Fernando

Sacrificing Long-Term Wellness for Short-Term Gratification

The promise of wellness apps in their ability to harmonize work and wellness may be misleading. Holistic health experts encourage that we disconnect from our devices and limit the time we spend digitally engaged. This has been difficult to do during a pandemic when work, socializing, and entertainment all revolve around virtual platforms. If we now add wellness apps to the mix, that’s another part of our day in front of a blue screen. When it’s all said and done, this may not be ideal in truly promoting our overall well-being.

Naturally, technology companies want to advertise these virtual products. However, their motivation extends beyond profits and revenues. By engaging individuals in these health-focused platforms, they also have the opportunity to collect information and data bout its users. Social psychologists have referred to this as surveillance capitalism, where we engage virtual platforms that monitor our behaviors. This data is then used to further promote items we might like for additional consumption. If this is the case with wellness apps, then the long-range health effects may not be beneficial.

Consider Adding an Old-School Approach to Wellness

There’s little doubt we will remain virtually connected in many ways after the pandemic. The majority of workers expect to work from home, at least part-time. Likewise, videoconferencing, telehealth, and online collaborations will continue. And of course, optimizing work and wellness will remain a priority. But rather than choosing to use wellness apps for these pursuits, disconnecting from technology might be a better approach. This will be easier once the pandemic subsides. But we can invest in non-technology wellness activities today without risking data privacy or cost. From a truly holistic perspective, this is likely to bee a much better long-term plan.


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The Future of Ghost Kitchens and Virtual Food Brands

Amidst the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent restrictions, restaurants found themselves in a tremendous dilemma. Customers in lockdown wanted meals delivered, and regulations limited or prohibited dining on-site. The obvious solution was to restructure how restaurants served their clients. This is when many turned their restaurant into a ghost kitchen, designed to create meals ready for delivery. Others also invested in virtual food brands as the world turned to an online marketplace. As the year has progressed, it seems nearly everyone has gotten in on the game.

The allure of a ghost kitchen and virtual food brands involved more than meeting changing customer needs. In addition, these new models offered a variety of efficiencies and cost-savings. Fewer staff and use of less real estate space initially meant lower overhead. Likewise, ghost kitchens, also known as cloud or dark kitchens, could streamline meal production creating less waste. And as time went on, new kitchens that served several restaurants at once began appearing. These structures allowed even better economies of scale. (Read more about the rise of ghost kitchens in this Bold Business story.)

In many ways, these innovative strategies saved the day for many restaurants. But many analysts question whether or not these models are sustainable. Once everyone is vaccinated, will a ghost kitchen still offer the same advantages? Likewise, will virtual food brands have the same appeal? If people return to dining on-site, and the demand for delivery declines, these COVID concepts may simply be a fad. Depending on who you talk to, predictions for the future in this regard are quite varied.

“I think when the pandemic is over, a lot of these restaurants will come off the delivery apps. The virtual brands will not make it … they’re not true operators.” Sam Nazarian, CEO, SBE Entertainment Group

An Evolving and Dynamic Market

For a number of businesses in the ghost kitchen industry, they believe these new models are here to stay. Kitchen United and Cloud Kitchens have both expanded their operations in anticipation of ongoing demand. These ghost kitchen concepts host multiple virtual food brands in single locations. As a result, they are able to keep labor and rent costs low. To support their claim, recent statistics have seen little decline in food delivery services. In December, third-party food delivery was up 138 percent comparing year-on-year results. Even Guy Fieri recently announced his own chain of ghost kitchens called Flavortown. In total, he’ll have 17 sites around the country that offer his own virtual food brands for delivery or pick-up.

Clearly, a number of companies have enjoyed success with these new food delivery models. Chili’s created its own virtual food brands under the name, “It’s Just Wings.” Reportedly, this brand is has generated over $150 million in sales. For companies that have strong social media support and gained a following of their virtual food brands, success may be perpetual. Even if customers return to on-site dining, they’ll still crave the items they have come to like during the pandemic. Many therefore argue that a temporary ghost kitchen fad isn’t likely. Instead, they believe it will continue to complement a full menu of meal options for customers.

“We are used to buying and ordering things online. Now if this pandemic happened 15 years ago, it would be a very different experience. Ghost kitchens would probably still be popular, but the timing today, the society is very ready for this, the infrastructure is there.” – Hung-bin Ding, Associate Professor of Management, Loyola University, Maryland

Over-Saturation Means Not All Will Thrive

When the concept of a ghost kitchen first emerged, it solved a key issue…making good use of space. After all, food delivery apps were booming. (Go in depth on how food delivery apps have reshaped the food service industry in this Bold Business story.) Restaurants without patrons turned their kitchens into food production sites geared for delivery. Industrial kitchens then emerged, serving multiple restaurants at once. This then led to virtual food brands that had no restaurant to speak of. But as the number of ghost kitchens have grown, so has the cost. The market has become so saturated that demand has driven up the rental fees. Thus, for many restaurants, the ghost kitchen model is becoming less and less attractive.

Someone prepping some delicious-looking food
Ghost kitchens and virtual food brands continue to drive the next evolution of the food service industry.

Notably, the same thing applies to virtual food brands. These too have increased substantially over the last year. There are so many new labels and names that securing a loyal consumer market for any of them is becoming nearly impossible. For those that were first to market and gained early brand recognition, this may not be the case. But for late-comers, the ability to persuade customers to choose your brand over others is more difficult. In fact, many see hundreds of virtual food brands disappearing once the pandemic is gone simply because they don’t have true staying power.

“From what I’m hearing, the demand for those [ghost kitchens] is skyrocketing, and so are the prices.” – Peter Saleh, Managing Director and Restaurants Analyst, BTIG

A Post-Pandemic Landscape for Meals

The blueprint as it relates to the future of ghost kitchens and virtual food brands may involve volume. C3, a food hall concept of virtual kitchens, is being pursued by SBE Entertainment Group, Simon Property, and Accor. The venture has over 400 new kitchens planned and plans to leverage its massive real estate holdings for this purpose. As a result, their industrial capacity would be better able to provide ghost kitchen space at reasonable prices. Like an Amazon distribution center, a typical site could service an area with a variety of meal types.

While this approach may or may not work, it’s likely a ghost kitchen concept will persist well past the pandemic. Consumers have embraced the Come-to-Me Economy, and virtual food brands and meal delivery will continue to be popular. Of course, many virtual food brands will fail, and only some will continue to support a ghost kitchen. In essence, a shakedown is coming, and only the most creative and strong will survive. But regardless, the ghost kitchen concept will likely be around for many years to come.


Want to make 2021 a better year than 2020? Then check out PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success.