WIRED healthcare conference shows data at work

Speaking via Skype at the first annual "WIRED Health Conference: Living By Numbers," on Tuesday, former Intel Chairman and CEO Andy Grove issued a call to arms to free healthcare data, making his case for radical price transparency in medicine.

[See also: Big data: opportunity and challenge]

Presented in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the WIRED forum, held in New York City, convened 200 experts from medicine, science, technology and business as it sought to spotlight the myriad new opportunities to bring data to bear on real-time decision-making for doctors, researchers, hospitals and consumers.


In his session, Grove, the semiconductor pioneer, who has battled Parkinson's disease in recent years, offered his up-close perspective on a healthcare system where it's in providers' "commericial interest" to be opaque about price.

[See also: Data analytics poised for big growth]

But the business and technology guru is alarmed at what he sees as a "consolidation of insurers moving in the opposite direction of transparency."

Grove lays out his case for reform in a new cri de coeur in WIRED, titled "Peeling Away Healthcare’s Sticker Shock."

Recent decades have seen "major strides in technology of all kinds," Grove writes. "Improvements in semiconductors have allowed faster computation and communications, as well as the construction of databases that outdo themselves every year." Nonetheless, in healthcare, "1950s-era thinking still rules the day, and irrational and inexplicable pricing is routine."

The industry, he writes, "plays a gigantic game of Blind Man’s Bluff, keeping patients in the dark while asking them to make life-and-death decisions. The odds that they will make the best choice are negligible and largely depend on chance. Patients need to have data, including costs and their own medical histories, liberated and made freely available for thorough analysis."

But with so many entrenched forces invested in maintaing the status quo at work, WIRED executive editor Thomas Goetz asked, where will the motivation for making that change come from?

Said Grove: "From you and I, if we get sufficiently pissed."

The slate of sessions at the live-streamed WIRED conference showcased the many ways data can be deployed to improve health and wellness. United States Army Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum, MD, former director of the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness initiative, explained how data is crucial to her work.