Driven by a passion to use new technologies to improve healthcare for patients and professionals, Denise founded Basil Strategies communications consultancy and the Doctors 2.0 & You conference series. A digital health consultant and thought leader with a global perspective, Denise is a regular keynote, master of ceremonies, and curator of digital health conferences, as well as a coach to start-ups and industry. In 2011, Denise, a Harvard MBA, was one of the rare Americans to receive France’s highest civilian honor, the Legion of Honor for her work in eHealth in Europe and the United States.
How did you get to become an expert in health tech?
I became interested in supporting patients, early on in my life, when I saw how vulnerable they are in relation to the health system. After my MBA, I had the opportunity to become a pharmaceutical marketing executive in Europe, both in industry and later in my own strategic communications agency. Healthcare professionals then did not have drug information at their fingertips. Patients were pretty much out of the loop and dependent on the luck of the draw. A serendipitous encounter at Harvard led me to discover the web in 1994. Struck by the web’s potential to close some of that information gap in health and medicine, I decided to focus our consultancy on digital tools. We became the only ones in Paris to offer internet workshops and websites. But it was really slow going. Journalists, professionals, industry, the government…were all opposed to this open web in healthcare. So, I returned to the US, where I joined an early start-up called World Care, a pioneer in the second opinion space of telemedicine, providing advice from a consortium of the Cleveland Clinic, Duke University, Johns Hopkins, and the Partners Hospitals at Harvard. We caught many clinical errors thanks to that service; simultaneously I saw the movement to empower patients take off, thanks to the Internet.
I became an eHealth expert because I saw how it could improve life for all patients, whether empowered or not. I wanted to be part of that. And that’s what I do. I motivate, advise, and train healthcare stakeholders regarding each successive wave of technology. I do this through whatever tools seem the most relevant to the problem.
What areas of health tech are you most passionate about?
Currently I am very excited about virtual reality, because I have met healthcare professionals who have used and witnessed the instantaneous therapeutic effects VR can have on some patients. VR may be the inflection point for traditional stakeholders who have not yet truly bought into new technologies. The clinical use of VR is separate from its training applications, which are also quickly growing.
Augmented Reality which superposes data on the viewer’s field of vision, also has great potential for professionals, because it can facilitate real-time telemedicine or simply enable access to data while engaging with the patient.
We can contrast this with the electronic health record which takes a long time to integrate and where the benefit is not visible on the surface.
Secondly, in my passion to move things forward, I love to help digital health startups. I have interacted with hundreds of them in various contests as organizer or judge and enjoy working with my clients on their business models, pitches, and marketing.
Finally, I am very attentive towards all digital health trends and how they fit or not into the existing healthcare systems. Healthcare applies what comes up: mobile technology, connected objects, augmented reality…but, so far has not rethought its models sufficiently.
Which health tech influencers influence you?
My favourite influencers are patients involved in technical innovation or digital communication. They provide a level of experience and sincerity that no one else can. Each of their stories and observations has an originality, whereas ‘health tech influencers’ tend to circulate similar information on social media. When a new study or concept appears, there is a race to put it out on LinkedIn or Twitter and the other social media channels.
I read content in English, French and Spanish. In English for your readership, I’d cite Michael J Seres, Hugo Campos, Marie Ennis-O’Connor, Vanessa Carter, Sarah Kucharski. These are all people who have had very serious medical issues to deal with, acquired high levels of knowledge, and maintained strong empathy. They are my models.
Outside of health tech who else influences you?
I am interested in all digital innovation, in the transformation of Society, and in the ethical implications. I know what is of potential interest to a broader audience, because I’ve been observing the trends over the past 20 years. So I select my information on content and keywords more so than on individuals. Of course, when I search on a specific question, I identify the relevant influencers of that topic.
Which brands or products stand out for you in health tech?
I prefer to cite the start-ups that have ‘proven’ themselves with a service that brings something to the patient.
- HealthTap is an American medical question and answer service that provides consumers with access to a huge number of clinicians via text, audio, or video. The user sees detailed information about the physician’s background before deciding to call upon them.
- MySugr was founded by a patient who struggled with ‘burn out’ from his diabetes. Patients who have had to manage their diabetes several times every day, for years can burn out, which is catastrophic for their health. This patient, Fredrik Debong, an Austrian, imagined, with his co-founders, a way to gamify diabetes management. The company incorporated multiple language options early on. They added new services regularly and recently were purchased by Roche Pharma.
- 11Health was started by Michael Seres. Michael, a colon transplant patient from the UK, wears a stoma bag and knows how imperfect these pouches are. So, he created a connected pouch that limits accidents and collects a lot of valuable medical information conjoined with the topic. 11Health operates in Europe and the US and has already won multiple contests.
- Withings stands out for having been an early entrant in the connected preventive health space with scales, blood pressure, sleep measurement devices. Originally French but with a strong US base, Withings was recently purchased by the Finnish company Nokia.
- One final exception to the start-up list would be the Mayo Clinic, a hospital and health system who played a pivotal role in making social media acceptable and even attractive for physicians by creating a social media center in 2011.
If a brand wanted to work with you, what offline / online activities would you be most interested in?
I can join the brand in evaluating the situation and the way forward strategically. Do they need to reposition their service internally or externally, redo their site or app, generate buzz? In each case, I can contribute to the solution with a study, advice and contacts, communication. I can help validate or generate interest in their concept by producing interviews, a white paper, an online or real event, social media strategy….
What would be the best way for a brand to contact you?
I would be more than happy for brands to reach me via my LinkedIn profile or via my website.