As seen in MedCityNews 

By NEIL VERSEL

In all my years of covering health IT, I had never made it to Partners HealthCare‘sConnected Health Symposium, even though this year’s event was the 12th annual. Now that I’m with MedCity News, it’s on my agenda.

For this first-timer, last week’s Connected Health Symposium felt like a nice mix of whiz-bang technology, great case studies and much-needed reality checks.

The latter came largely, but not exclusively from self-described “technoskeptic: Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel during a keynote address on Friday that we covered. That story has already generated some differing opinions in the comments section, as well as on Twitter. Like his brother, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Zeke Emanuel is a polarizing figure.

For what it’s worth, CAP is the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank whereEmanuel is a senior fellow. Also, for what it’s worth, Emanuel did not mention UnitedHealthcare subsidiary Optum during his talk on Friday.

Emanuel wasn’t the only skeptic there.

During a breakout session immediately after Emanuel’s keynote, Dr. Brennan Spiegel, director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai Health System in Los Angeles, said that he describes himself as a “technoskeptical technophile.” He has had mixed results with new technologies.

Spiegel is on the faculty of UCLA, which has mandatory curriculum in digital health. “We see digital health as a public good. We see it as a branch of public health,” he said.

Cedars-Sinai connected its Epic Systems EHR to Apple’s HealthKit. Some physicians wondered who was managing it.

The hospital also has tried virtual reality to relieve pain and reduce opiod usage in lupus patients and others with terminal diseases. It has worked in those who have tried it, but few want to try it. “We have to approach 10 people before we find one person who wants to use it,” Spiegel reported.

He talked about his experience with an end-stage cancer patient who was in pain but just wanted to spend time with her family. “This is about healthcare and I’m walking in here with some toy that will transport her to another world, and it’s a world where she doesn’t want to go,” Spiegel said.

Perhaps the coolest bit of technology demonstrated at the Boston event actually wassomething that CBS News featured nearly 3 1/2 years ago.

Dr. Leigh Hochberg, a critical care neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston and at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Providence, Rhode Island, showed a video of a paralyzed woman controlling a robot with her mind. The audience was enthralled.

During the same session, Rana el Kaliouby, chief strategy and science officer of Waltham, Massachusetts-based Affectiva, maker of “emotion recognition” technology, demonstrated her company’s cloud-based service.

Though Affectiva has collected data on more than 1 million smiles and operates in 75 countries, most of its business comes from other industries. In fact, el Kaliouby said that Affectiva has not yet figured out its go-to-market strategy in healthcare.

That’s a microcosm of the potential and barriers in digital and connected health.