In the healthcare industry, be attentive to where medicine and technology intersect—where people from the clinical and pharmaceutical worlds rub elbows with computer scientists and programmers.

That’s where Shelley Zhuang, founder of investment firm Eleven Two Capital, said her company looks to invest during one of the many discussions that took place this week in Philadelphia during the MedCity CONVERGE conference. But Zhuang’s investment strategy also serves as a good summary of the conference itself, where questions of where the healthcare industry would be in five or 10 years were regularly analyzed in terms of where new or burgeoning technologies might pull it.

There’s excitement in the healthcare sector right now given what companies, large and small, are now researching. At CONVERGE, Nishan Kulatilaka, associate director of product management and applied technology at pharmaceutical giant Merck, talked about how Bitcoin’s blockchain technology could be used to streamline transactional histories and blood test information for patients. Sampriti Bhattacharyya, the founder of Hydroswarm, discussed how her startup’s underwater drones communicate with one another to uncover some of the mysteries of the ocean, and how similar technology could be applied to diagnostics and surgery.

But there’s also a degree of uncertainty afoot, driven in part by that same disruptive excitement that the potential promises of new technology bring. At a panel discussion on the promises of genomics and what lies ahead in genetic testing patients for markers of disease—the very panel where Zhuang shared some insight into Eleven Two Capital’s investment strategy—the consensus appeared to be that no one is quite sure how much utility patients and physicians get out of new genetics testing, or how much insurance premiums might cover. Consumers themselves are also something of a code to crack: Most health consumers today consult their smartphones with medical questions, but when they’re sitting in the waiting room of their primary care physician, are they getting the information they need in the moment to make informed health decisions?

“We don’t really know to some degree how consumers make decisions in healthcare,” said Kirk Pion, vice president and “innovation champion” at UnitedHealthcare.

Moreover, there are still conundrums within the health sector to be worked out now that the Affordable Care Act is being implemented. CONVERGE attendees heard from AdvaMed president and CEO Scott Whitaker and his southern drawl about how the medical device industry fought for a two-year reprieve from the 2.3 percent medical device tax that was part of the law. It’s a measure that was necessary, Whitaker argues, to encourage larger companies with capital to spend to continue investing in smaller companies pushing the boundaries at the intersection of medicine and technology.

Taken altogether, CONVERGE is not only the name of a MedCity conference, but an accurate way of describing the shifts that are happening within the health sector right now. It’s too soon to tell precisely where advances in the blockchain or costs of genetics testing ultimately lead to when it comes to pushing the medical field further. All of these forces are intertwined, intermingling, and making healthcare in the 21st century ever the more interesting. But the singular focus, throughout the whole of the conference, was kept on the most important person the healthcare industry talks to every day: the patient.

As Whitaker said during a one-on-one conversation, the question of technology and medicine is important for health workers to get right because “it impacts patients’ lives at the end of the day.”

Photo: Free Images/ Ear_Candy

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The exciting convergence in healthcare also raises some tough questions