Digital Health

Cost, carrots, diversity and dreams: 5 lessons from the 2018 Haas Healthcare Conference

2018 Haas Healthcare Conference

On the spectrum of innovation in healthcare, it’s way too easy to fall into the extremes. Healthcare conversations often vacillate between the pessimism of “here’s a list of unsolvable problems” or the futurism of “precision medicine and AI mean we'll live forever.” Which is why I look forward to the Haas Healthcare Conference every year. There’s a balance at this event, a focus on what can change from the technology and policy sides to address the biggest issues in patient outcomes and healthcare cost in the next few years. It’s a perspective that results from the conference being organized by students from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley with crossover from the schools of public health, information, translational medicine and public policy. These are pragmatic, optimistic future leaders!

Here are five big lessons on creating sustainable change in healthcare I picked up at #HaasHealth2018 last week:

It’s more for less, dummies - Innovation is a favorite buzzword in healthcare - however, the real meaning seems to get diluted in our sector’s complicated economics. Traditionally, innovation in business means finding ways to deliver “more for less” to consumers. We have plenty of new ideas in the sector and yet still face dramatically rising healthcare costs and dropping lifespans in the US. The day’s first speaker, Jason Girzadas (@jgirzadas) from Deloitte, talked about what's driving real innovation, mostly MACRA’s shift to value-based care and CMS innovation around payment.

Health data exchange requires incentives - A second big theme tied to the broken economic drivers in the healthcare sector. Julia Adler-Milstein (@j_r_a_m) from UCSF started with the question: “can the competitive instincts that keep healthcare organizations hoarding data be overcome?” The answer was a tentative yes - only if we get over a naive belief that hospitals and practices will share patient data because it’s the right thing to do and instead focus on real bottom-line incentives (aka carrots and sticks). It was perfect timing related to an announcement I'd been working on earlier in the week that Blue Shield of California is becoming the first health plan to require health data exchange for all their network hospitals and providers.

Diversity creates better conversations about healthcare - The speaker lineup and audience at this event was a veritable United Nations of healthcare voices. By my count, around 70% of the speakers were women. During the startup competition pitches most founders highlighted the diversity of the teams as a major asset. There was even a pregnant executive from Fitbit on one panel. It was a beautiful fever dream compared to the mix at the HIMSS or JPMorgan Healthcare conferences. Conversations about the future of health certainly benefit with a diversity of perspectives from future innovators and patients. Nice work by Paul Norton and his co-chairs.

Dream of sustainable revenue models - My favorite quote of the conference, and one I hope I’ll repeat to so many clients came from Dr. Cameron Sepah (@DrSepah):

"Dream big but understand healthcare business models."

Far too many talented healthcare entrepreneurs start with big ideas and good intentions just to stumble when trying to figure out who will pay for their product. Hint: It’s pretty much never going to be doctors or patients.

Don’t stop believing - It was the exhausted end of seven hours of healthcare conference when Chris Waugh (@_waugh) took the stage for the final keynote. His session on the innovation program at Sutter Health had most of the audience choked up in just a few minutes. He showed how focusing on patient experience with empathy and humanity is helping the health system reduce costs. Little things like the sound experience at end of life to a new device that allows blood to be drawn through an existing IV line. Sutter Health was smart to bring over this IDEO alumni to lead their innovation programs.

I left feeling inspired that we can have nice things in healthcare while also reducing costs and improving outcomes. It’s a beautiful vision for where our sector is headed in the next decade and I can’t wait to see what they have lined up for next year’s event!

Brand Workshop: Differentiating Based on Ethics in Healthcare

It's hard enough to stand out as a healthcare company, even harder to try to stand above. In April, Uncommon Bold hosted a Florida healthcare company for a brand workshop in San Francisco. The company operates in a segment of the market dogged with fraudulent activity. Feeling frustrated, they wanted to not only show their legitimacy as a business, but to clearly communicate their mission and work to set a higher standard. 

Uncommon Bold conducted a brand audit that reviewed previous marketing materials, explored the challenges of their industry and interviewed employees and clients. The client's custom brand strategy workshop focused on:

  • Balancing the company's mission with the economic realities of healthcare transformation
  • Exploring external validators, including becoming B-Corporation Certified
  • Developing strategic partnerships with healthcare influencers
  • Communicating a company "manifesto" both internally and externally
  • Ranking and understanding key audiences
  • Innovative ways to establish donation and award programs
  • How to stay focused on the mission and avoid chasing time-consuming distractions
  • The risks and rewards of differentiation around company ethics 

Health Startups & the "Bikini Medicine" Problem


Halle Tecco, founder of Rock Health, hosted a fantastic lunch in April for women entrepreneurs to discuss innovation and opportunity in reproductive health. One of the common themes that emerged in the discussion was the way startups focused on women's health are often dismissed as "niche" markets or "bikini medicine" by investors. This in a segment covering 51% of the global population. And, in the fertility sector alone, easily as many as 1 in 7 US women and a $4 billion market.

How do we work on this? First, more lunches and meetings like the one Halle hosted. There are incredible women working in health technology today who deserve recognition. Second, more women in health technology and our associated VC landscape in general. Rock Health provides shocking data on this gap:

  • Despite making up more than half the healthcare workforce, women represent only 21% of executives and 21% of board members at Fortune 500 healthcare companies.
  • There’s only one woman CEO of a Fortune 500 healthcare company.
  • Women make up only 6% of digital health CEOs funded in the last four years.
  • Women represent only 10% of partners, those responsible for making final investment decisions, in 148 VC firms that invest in digital health.

At every stage of innovation, simply having more women's voices involved could help bring this sector from "bikini" to the next "boom."

Brand Workshop: Embracing your Unique Corner of the Market

Startup Branding Project

In December, Uncommon Bold worked with a fantastic, fast-growing healthcare startup in New York on market positioning and brand strategy. Even though they've had amazing success, the team was challenged by simplifying their story, building buzz and getting people excited about the bigger picture:

  • What are the risks and rewards of doing something that no one else is doing?
  • What to do when investors are wrong about our sector?
  • How can we stay clear about customers when building a complex platform?
  • What happens when our biggest and best customers may be a liability?
  • How can we balance the vision for 5 years in the future with what we need to do today?
  • Is it possible to have one tagline for every audience?
  • Who will really be the most important enterprise partners?

Uncommon Bold on NPR: Fresh Strategies for Social Media in Medicine


KQED's brand-new Future of You series is taking a dynamic look at the intersection of technology and health around the world. Covering everything from the Ebola crisis to surgery with robots to the shortage of women executives in digital health startups, the reporting is led by tech journalist Christina Farr.

In our first piece for Future of You, Uncommon Bold looked at nine clever strategies that make use of social media in medicine. What happens when a hospital live broadcasts a brain surgery? Can crowdsourcing solve a 20-year medical mystery? Do angry tweets accurately predict fatal heart attacks? Read about patients, doctors, startups, researchers, and hospitals finding life saving new ways to use social media >

Colors trends in digital health: Sex may play a surprising role in the blue logo boom

Tweet it: In the red-hot #digitalhealth sector, nearly half the companies’ logos are blue.

It’s a trope (that I’ve not only used but disseminated frequently) that the digital health landscape is a veritable sea of blue logos. The massive, hyper-fluorescent HIMSS exhibit hall (the organization itself has a blue logo) does look a bit like 40,000 attendees at a Smurf conference when you squint.

Is the blue logo stereotype true? And, if so, why does blue have such a strong grasp on digital health?

To get a perspective outside my own bias (both of the health tech startups where I’ve worked in-house, Practice Fusion and Doximity, have the healthcare “black and blue” color scheme nailed), I mapped out 130 established and emerging digital health brands (methodology at the end):


Blue is the clear digital health logo leader with a 40% share of the market—not even counting the many, many logos that combined blue and another color. Orange is the next most popular hue, barely edging out, green, red and black. Yellow came in last with a mere two brands embracing the sulfuric hue.


Why blue? I remembered an article in The New Yorker a few years back where Zuckerberg talked about choosing blue for Facebook because he is red-green color blind and “blue is the richest color for me—I can see all of blue.” About 8% of men are thought to be color blind while less than 1% of women have the recessive sex-linked vision deficiency.

Let’s do some back-of-the-napkin math: If 96% of healthcare CEOs are male, as according to a 2012 Rock Health report, that translates to 7.68% of all healthcare CEOs being color blind. Would that explain the rise of blue? Imagine 1,000 healthcare execs picking their logo colors; with the current male-led mix, 78 of those CEOs would be biased against red-green and more likely to pick blue vs. just 45 CEOs if the gender mix reflected the larger population. There could be nearly twice as many blue logo picks in the male-led group, just accounting for color blind bias. Add in a dash of compounding peer-pressure from other brands, and you can see how the scales might be tipped.

Of course, even if my theory holds true, 85% of healthcare decisions in the U.S. are made by women, and 78% of the healthcare workforce is female. Brands might be smart to pick something that stands out to their customer base. Let’s take a closer look at this spectrum of digital health brands in each color:

Pink—Only five brave digital health brands start us out on the fuchsia side of red.  Diagnostics companies Alere and 23andMe, plus BetterDoctor, DaisyBill and Hi.Q “think pink.” Pantone reports that pink represents “festive and fun”—just like a diagnostic blood test.

Red—With the Red Cross as the international symbol of medicine, it’s surprising that the color doesn’t have a stronger showing than 15 digital health logos. Pantone calls red “bold and passionate” for brands, but maybe they’re avoiding a possible tie-in with blood. In the red category, we have Epic, Viewics, HealthLoop, IncentFit, CRIXlabs (Quantified Skin), iMedicare, Meddik, Sano, Mango Health, Cardiio, Neumitra, Aidin, ChickRx, Beyond Lucid and Avva. There seems to be a loose theme of big data, measurement and larger enterprise focus in this color.

Orange—Categorized as “vibrant and energetic,” the color’s popularity with 17 logos was a surprise to me but makes sense for brands on the consumer wellness–end of the spectrum that appear more common in this color. Castlight, Omada, ForSight Labs, MindBody, Medikly, Lantern, Proteus, Welkin, Wello, Moxe, ReferBright, AllazoHealth, HealthRally,, HomeTeam, GeriJoy and Pager.

Yellow—Yellow may be “optimistic and innovative,” but it is also a tough color to work with on the web. If you go yellow, you’ve got to go big. Grand Rounds pairs it with gray. Healthify goes for a buttercup hue. AthenaHealth used to be a loud and proud yellow with green but recently deserted their yellow hue for a crisp purple.

Green—The color thought to be “rejuvenating and natural” comes in No. 3 after Orange. On team scrub green, there’s drchrono, HealthyOut, Lift Labs, Zipongo, Kurbo Health, Allscripts (formerly orange), Neurotrack , Kinsights, InquisitHealth, Symbiosis Health, StartUp Health, Skimble, AdhereTech, Rock Health, Sensore and Is there a pattern in the green brands? It looks like a diverse mix of everything digital health to me.

Blue—The heavyweight champion color of health technology. Blue denotes “trustworthy and secure,” according to Pantone and is generally thought to be a soothing hue. Blue includes ZocDoc, Practice Fusion, Fitbit, Theranos, Pad in Motion, Amplify Health, Guardant Health, Sharecare, Assurex Health, HelloMD, Podimetrics, CredSimple, Reify, MynewMD, IntelligentM, Propeller Health, StaffInsight, AgileMD, Luminate Health, Procured Health, Docphin, Board Vitals, Greatist, Blueprint Health, Health Recovery Solutions, Nurep, NoviMedicine, Genterpret, Zephyr Health, Vapotherm, BigEvidence, AirStrip Technologies, CellScope, Healthgrades, CliniCast, RxApps, Benefitter, Touch Surgery, Holaira, Care at Hand, WellTrackONE, Smart Patients, SERMO, Best Doctors, Fluid, Wildflower Health, Evolent Health, Kit Check, Benchling, Symcat, Ambient Clinical Analytics, Chrono Theraputics, American Well, Doctor on Demand and WebMD.

Purple—It seems like purple is having a moment, having just won the AthenaHealth brand over from yellow and also taking over the latex glove world. Iodine, AthenaHealth, Audax Health, Vitals, Acumen, PokitDok, Medmonk and OpenPlacement represent the end of the color spectrum with the shade considered “enchanting and regal.”

Black & Gray—“Sleek, timeless” and very “Uber for healthcare.”  Our analysis concludes with startup brands that have eschewed color for something a little more serious. Sensentia, Flatiron, BrainBot, LabDoor, Anapsis, Pipette, Healthy Labs, Artemis, Cognitive Health Innovations, AchieveMint, Spire, Sessions, Nephosity, HeartBeat and Enhatch.

Let’s wrap this up. If you’re asking “what is the best color for my digital health startup’s logo?,” blue seems like a safe choice, but you might have a hard time standing out from the crowd. Orange is popular for consumer-facing health and wellness apps. Green is up for grabs. Black seems to be increasingly popular (thanks, Uber). Pink and purple if you want to be a bit bolder. Maybe leave yellow to the experts.

What do you think explains the rise of blue logos in digital health? Which color do you think will challenge blue for the lead in 2015?


This report evaluated 130 established and emerging brands in digital health, sampling unscientifically from the portfolios of Rock Health, Startup Health and Blueprint Health as well as listings on CrunchBase, Canvas Venture Fund (Morganthaler) and Sequoia Capital. For the most part, I excluded hospitals, payers, HMOs, biotech, devices and pharma, which are a bit outside the digital health space. When logos included more than one color, I used the more dominant or less common as the placement. A couple startups were excluded because their logos included every possible color.

Am I missing your favorite digital health brand? Let me know >