San Francisco, CA – Once the innovation tours concluded at Rock Health we got into the speaker sessions which started with Leena Rao (Moderator), Senior Writer at Fortune, speaking to Susannah Fox, CTO at the US Department of Health and Human Services, and DJ Patil, Chief Data Scientist at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, about how the misconceptions concerning the government and innovation.

Fox and Patil both had similar takes on innovation in healthcare. The issue that the government often faces is that innovation is too slow for the “hype cycle” that drives the typical startup-type product. The government also has the daunting obstacle that there is no real room for a soft fail. The perception is that where other industries are allowed to take chances, the government is expected to get it right immediately. Healthcare solutions in government are often focused on the dollar sign first, rather than solving a problem and on top of that, failures are expensive.

Fox spent a bit of time covering the need to address the bigger problems and how they are looking at these problems through programs that operate as entrepreneurial incubators like the government’s HHS Buyer’s Club where she and others are looking for “ways to work to encourage the development of applications and services that can improve the health of people around the world.” Patil added that these innovations are “Neither radical or revolutionary unless it benefits all Americans” and that opening up their data sources is one of the answers to innovating in healthcare by making data accessible in order to invite innovators to improve the status quo.

Opening up these government data sets by building APIs around collected patient data makes it more accessible. An excellent example of this is the government’s “blue button” idea. Patil and Fox said no one really remembers whose idea it was, but it resonates as a type of minimum viable product where access to data is being used to improve the health experience for Veterans and their families. Innovations like the blue button are examples of what can happen when data is made available. Patil made an interesting point about concerns with the ownership of data and how fear is causing the hesitation to release data. He compared the hesitation to the days when hurricane data was kept from people because the belief was that people weren’t able to understand it. The difference now is that we can create products that give us ways to digest it.

Products like the “blue button” that helped Veterans get access to their own medical records is an excellent start. I was great to hear that minds like Patil and Fox are leading the charge to improve healthcare and put a premium on creating innovative ways to capitalize on patient data.

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation and Insights for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for building and scaling a global team of healthcare experts who together help life science leaders better understand the complex lives, influences and expectations of their customers. Specifically, they uncover actionable insights that fuel empathy and creativity; lead co-creation events that let marketers learn from peers, trends, and new possibilities; and help clients identify the most valuable and useful new customer experiences to create.

Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for nearly 20 years.She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she held several leadership roles at our largest agency, GSW.  There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business.

Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes.

A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. This year, she led over 250 experts to experts to focus on the most important changes in the commercial, consumer, marketing, digital and healthcare landscapes. (See reports at

Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice and Top 10 Innovation Catalysts of 2017 by MM&M, Leigh also was recognized  as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.