Roberto Ascione welcomes attendees to where healthcare meets innovation. Photo: Frontiers Health 2018

Cross-Pollination at Frontiers Health 2018

Discovery and Networking Advance Digital Health

Frontiers Health is a remarkable conference in both its scope and focus. It’s a mental game-changer with a clear purpose: to alter the way we think about digital health.

FH18 was held at Funkhaus, the former East Berlin radio broadcasting house. Photo: Frontiers Health 2018
A new feature of FH18 was conference ambassadors, which included scientists, investors, journalists, and other e-health pioneers. Photo: Frontiers Health 2018

I witnessed first-hand how these two crucial themes of discovery and networking played out at Frontiers Health.

Here’s how:

Discovery happens because you stumble upon, or strategically attend, informative talks and diverse panels curated to offer multiple perspectives. You learn from people you might never have had contact with: pharma execs, AI wizards, famous podcasters, European students, NGO reps, Doctors without Borders, etc. Which brings me to the topic of PEOPLE who attend.

Networking opportunities abounded throughout the two-day event. Photo: Frontiers Health 2018


Below is a rapid-fire assessment of six presentations covering a range of topics that reveal some of what’s happening across the digital health spectrum. (Note that for this piece, I focus on the first day of the conference. And that said, there were so many worthy, simultaneous events that I cover only a portion of the full offerings here.)

Topics include sensors, decision-making, diabetes innovation, partnership tips, and investment awareness.

  1. Digimeds as Business Multipliers
  2. Why Trust Autonomous Agents?
  3. Not Waiting Around– the DIY Artificial Pancreas
  4. Skirting ad-hoc Partnerships in Healthcare
  5. Digital Health in the Developing World
  6. Early Investment Panel Insights (& Homework)

1. Digimeds Multiply the Business Value

Thompson discussed how digital medicines can help alleviate issues in mental health patients who can’t miss medications without disrupting their behavior, and in hepatitis C patients.

Andrew Thompson from Proteus explains digimeds as a business multiplier. Photo: Frontiers Health 2018

Thompson says the FDA has created a new category that is the healthcare opportunity of a lifetime.

2. Autonomous Agents Need Trust & Communication Powers

Jumping over to a philosophical talk by Gabriel Scali from Reckon Digital provided a contrast in focus. Scali says “healthcare is the king of dynamic environments.” So he explored how scalable autonomous agents can become affordable as they aid in decision-making across healthcare settings. But a necessary precursor to that scenario is trust and transparency.

Scali mentioned there is a “time dimension to trust.”

In other words, people typically need to have a history with something or someone to be able to see his, her, or its competence. Additionally, there must be an understandability to the communication with that person or thing. Communication thrives on transparency.

Gabriel Scali from Reckon Digital on autonomous agents in healthcare. Photo: Frontiers Health 2018

3. DIY with an Artificial Pancreas

Dr. Katarina Braune from Charité Hospital in Berlin knows diabetes from every angle. Along with computer scientist and developer Adrian Tappe, Dr. Braune presented a compelling case for an ‘Autopilot for Diabetes,’ which tackles typical frustrations with a patient-centric, proactive approach to diabetes management. Tappe is a developer of AndroidAPS, a free and open-source research tool-kit, which patients can use to build their own closed-loop artificial pancreas system, and control an insulin pump.

Adrian Tappe (L) & Dr. Katarina Braune (R) present why people with diabetes invent DIY solutions for managing the condition. Photo: Frontiers Health 2018
  • People with diabetes have different goals: For some people, not having a hypo state (very low blood sugar) is more important than staying in range (of blood glucose levels.) For some, getting through the night without having waking up to address blood sugar levels is the goal.

4. Avoiding Ad-hoc Collaborative Partnerships in Healthcare

Greg Zwisler discusses the Hidden Potential Study and what factors lead to better partnerships in healthcare. Photo: Frontiers Health 2018
  • Don’t approach a collaborative partnership like a client meeting; the party with more “power” can benefit itself and the partnership by opting to effectively share that power with its collaborative partners.
  • Corporates are great, but don’t forget about SMEs!

Entrepreneurs out there: Zwisler also has an idea for a startup: “a stock exchange for partnership.”

Zwisler suggests that we are beyond simply patient empowerment and that what is considered the highest value is a direct connection to patients, including so-called citizen patients.

5. Digital Health for the Developing World

Polina Hanin from StartUp Health moderated an engaging panel entitled “Digital Health for the Developing World.” Five panelists represented diverse angles which made for an interesting discussion. The topics for the developing world appear a bit removed from the high-tech advances mentioned in the digestible sensors session, and that is just the point: circumstances for implementing innovation differ depending on context.

Polina Hanin from StartUp Health leads a panel on digital health for the developing world. Photo: Frontiers Health 2018
  1. Delivery of diagnostic results, like in the case of HIV-infected babies, needs to happen via SMS and not a slow paper-route which risks dangerous delays in care. Bioinformatics, like using a fingertip or eye scan to track people in the care system, could also be a great help.
  2. Healthcare finances: People tend to postpone care due to expenditure. What about a platform that links payers and individuals in one place?
  3. VisualizenoMalaria’ is a tech stack that uses visualization to figure out where to spray and put nest against malaria-transmitting mosquitos. Attention to movements of water and climate tracking matter here.
  4. National immunization reminders can have a big impact on reducing diseases like measles.
  • Person-to-person contact is still the key touchpoint in Subsaharan Africa.
  • Some health centers, like in the Congolese context, are outfitted the same way they were 20 years ago.
  • Interoperability of the solution is key and so is front-loading resources.
  • Innovation starts with questions and listening to your target audience and different sources.
Panel discussion moderated by Polina Hanin from StartUp Health at FH18. Photo: Frontiers Health 2018

There are 3 billion people in need of higher quality care. So it makes a difference if you are early and first to add value, save lives, and increase your ROI.

Every dollar invested stretches farther and can be rewarding monetarily but also in how you grow your network and leave your mark on society. You can read more from StartUp Health here.

6. Homework From an Early Investment Panel

Final thoughts from an investment panel on nurturing early stage companies encouraged a little homework from listeners.

Martin Kelly from Health XL moderated the panel on nurturing early-stage investment to accelerate innovation. Photo: Frontiers Health 2018
  1. Be prepared to answer these two questions: Are you solving a problem? What’s your business model?
  2. Ask yourself: If you replace the tech in your solution with another tech, does the whole concept fall apart? (They say tech is usually less than 50% of solutions, but I have some of my own questions on that.)
  3. Well-known tech hubs are a deep pool for talent, but for some specialization, like AI, look to home countries.
  4. Early-stage digital health investment takes time. You have to have the right DNA of the investor and the right investment vehicle.
  5. Regarding pharma, tech will be the answer to more clever medication dosages and personalized treatment. At the moment, “Drugs are currently a very expensive diagnostic.”
  6. Finally, take a birds-eye view; think about global demographics and what’s changing around the world when you are building your idea.

Thanks, and see you again in Berlin soon!

It was a delight to learn from and support Frontiers Health this year. Attending strengthens relationships across the industry and sparks new ideas to pursue in the future. I hope these insights will encourage you to come to Berlin for it in 2019! The networking and discovery are unbeatable. Come check it out for yourself.

Media and press welcome station at FH18. Photo: Frontiers Health 2018

Reporting from within a Venn diagram of health, tech and empowerment. Berlin-based. Internationally minded. Comms @ Earlybird Venture Capital

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