CNBC‘s Christina “Chrissy” Farr is one of the industry’s best-known health technology reporters. She’s been the first to break the news on many important health-related announcements from Apple, Amazon, and other firms over the past several years, and Medgadget often refers to her excellent reporting as part of our own coverage.
As 2017 was winding down, Chrissy was kind enough to share what medtech topics caught her eye, what 2018 might have in store, and how she became interested in medical technology in the first place.
Scott Jung, Medgadget: Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get into covering the medical/health beat?
Christina Farr: I started as a tech blogger for VentureBeat and slowly transitioned from covering enterprise consumer tech into health. I knew it would be big, but very few people were covering it at the time. Being early on the beat gave me a few years heads up – when I started, a bunch of different tech companies were beginning to explore and make their first steps into the space. Having a head start, I was able to get early tips from sources in healthcare and was breaking news right off the bat.
Medgadget: You’re currently based in San Francisco. What do you think makes the Bay Area a hotbed for health tech?
Farr: There are two hotbeds in the U.S. One on the East coast – where all of the biotech and biopharma companies are – and the other is here in Silicon Valley, which is driven by the big tech companies that started their own life sciences companies and funded a ton of them. And now, you have venture capitalists starting their own healthcare funds, many of them looking at the intersection between health and tech. So while they wouldn’t fund a therapeutics company, they are looking at computer-aided biology or how you could use AI to come up with better ways to develop new drug targets. So it has ended up becoming one of the two big biology hubs.
Medgadget: Back when we launched Medgadget in 2004, we were one of the first websites of its kind to utilize the blog platform to share medtech news. Today, you’re very active on Twitter to keep your readers informed. How do you think we’ll be sharing news to our readers in the next 15 years?
Farr: I think I would continue on Twitter because I’ve found it is a way for me to get feedback and build relationships with people. There’s no way I would know hundreds of doctors, nurses and other health experts that I can call at any given time without that connection. While it is important to stay accessible on social media, it shouldn’t be the only way you communicate. At CNBC, my job allows me to travel and meet people from all different backgrounds. Getting to know people and build their trust is key to being a good reporter.
Medgadget: What were some notable healthcare-related ideas or predictions that you thought would never happen, or catch on, that surprisingly later came true?
Farr: I have been really surprised by the role Amazon has played in healthcare this year. I think some people had predicted it – especially with Bezos’ personal interest in healthcare, going back to drugstore.com in the 90s. But I wasn’t expecting to be covering Amazon this year more than any other technology company.
I’ve also been surprised by how much the genetics space has exploded. Given this sort of limited utility, especially in cases where you are looking for health and wellness applications rather than medical, I didn’t expect it to take off so fast. But now, there is a huge interest in it with millions of people taking the tests.
Medgadget: What health tech products are currently around your wrist, in your home, or on your smartphone?
Farr: I really enjoy my Apple Watch, which surprised me because the wearables trend has not really stuck – at least not for me. But I like the Apple Watch because it is easy to use and feels like a personal trainer. I began exercising more and now, it is kind of an addiction – it’s a great workout tool. Then again, I do recognize that I’m young and pretty healthy. I’m hoping some of these wearable companies will move in the direction of wanting to help people who are sick and have health conditions and become medical trackers more than anything else. And for those people, I think they would be must haves.
Medgadget: Looking into your crystal ball for next year, what do you predict will be trending in medtech in 2018?
Farr: I think 2018 will see a lot of hype around a few areas. One will be blockchain and anything related to alt-currencies. There has already been a ton of interest in blockchain from the health care sector and we are seeing lots of investment go into it. I think it will eventually be used for things like fraud detection, which will be interesting to see. The other space is AI, which I think has become a term that is used very liberally to describe a wide range of data analysis-type projects and, in some cases, it is a little bit more than an Excel spreadsheet. However, there might be some interesting use cases – we are already seeing some cool research from companies like Google to see what can be done with piles of medical records.
More info: Christina’s profile on CNBC…