VP Product-Marketing at Itamar-Medical | Digital Health Expert | Business Growth Mentor | mHealth Israel | G-CMO.
Innovators are unique in their ability to pivot technology from other industries to use in new models and their ability to continuously test products in the real world to keep evolving. In the healthcare industry, however, “innovators have to navigate complex, often fragmented, processes and systems [that] can take time and waste energy and resources, diluting their ambition,” according to Chris Sawyer of Innovate UK.
So many times, healthcare tech companies fail to meet their financial goals and leaders must significantly cut their staff to operate in maintenance mode or rest in peace. Chris Sawyer explained that “the right connections can accelerate how quickly and effectively a new idea is developed, tested and adopted in the real world.”
Very straightforwardly, if we as healthcare tech leaders don’t understand the customers and ecosystem, how are we going to deliver value and create impact? Let us ask what processes and connections leaders should be focusing on.
• How can leaders nurture differentiation in a maturing healthcare tech market?
• What does “consumerism of health” mean?
• Why should we invest resources into smoothing the path to getting new ideas adopted?
Uniqueness: A Forever Work In Progress
Tech leaders understand the need to develop more than applications. If we look only at mental health solutions, for example, an article published in PharmaPhorum claims that “there are approximately 20,000 mental health apps and the overwhelming majority are considered ‘wellness’ products.” The article also claims that these apps are unregulated. One 2020 study found that just 2.08% of the applications studied were supported by original research publications.
When there is an absence of regulatory guidelines and research standards, payers and clinicians in search of quality digital therapeutics (Dtx) solutions should be looking for companies that meet three criteria. First, studies should be sufficiently powered, as higher power (i.e., greater statistical significance) in a study makes it more likely that the study will yield helpful data on the solution’s effects. Second, the studies should include long-term follow-ups to obtain comprehensive clinical outcome data on a well-characterized cohort of patients. Third, the gold standard should be using active controls (randomized controlled trials, or RCT). This is key to knowing whether a treatment will work.
These criteria can help raise convincing evidence that “software as a medical device” (SaMD) and its app-based interventions can deliver meaningful outcomes.
Focusing On Both Customer Enthusiasm And Concerns
Although the phrase “consumerism of health” may sound like a broken record, it has not yet been fully understood or implemented. I believe we’ll reach its apogee when ideas are both patient- and provider-led and concerns from all stakeholders have been properly evaluated and addressed.
Yes, according to McKinsey, “more than 60 percent of consumers expect to be able to change or schedule a healthcare appointment, check medical records and test results, and renew a medication online.” As Sami Inkinen, Cofounder/CEO, Virta Health, mentions in the McKinsey article, “Technology enables our patient centricity in three ways: accessibility through virtual health, building an experience around the patient 24/7 via continuous remote care, and accumulating massive amounts of data to drive proactive care.” In these models, companies should consider who will take responsibility for patients on a 24/7 basis. How will data signals be accessible? What does continuous care mean? Have we considered all the consequences of our programs?
Many argue that it will take time to educate providers and train their teams, but the benefit is clear to me. Yet the challenge is larger than connectivity and interoperability. Data and technology can be overwhelming and may not serve the purposes or work with the processes of everyone. I believe data and analytics can support a healthcare system best when it focuses on preventing a stroke rather than treating it. But, with what error range can practitioners utilize predictive analytics? What kind of evidence do physicians need to make use of such tools? How can tech leaders customize tools and technology that are suited to different healthcare professionals?
Hypothetically, healthcare providers could access patient data almost anywhere and anytime. But is this the market requirement? We can improve patient pathways toward better diagnostics and informed health treatment choices, but offering technology to do so demands more than access and education.
In my opinion, few companies are taking the right approach: involving stakeholders and key opinion leaders (KOLs) during research, aligning expectations around potential value and discussing economics, liability concerns, security measures, patient consent and other critical components. During high-level product design, partnering with providers on product components, data flow and service offerings will surely make the process longer but may prove efficient for nurturing these discussions and relationships in the long run. Going to market without managing these prior conversations and aligning expectations on outcomes could create unnecessary resistance and confusion. Moreover, companies that create partnerships for trialing new processes could help iron out their value.
Paving The Way To The Adoption Of New Ideas
Reality check: digital management solutions can benefit both patients and providers. Health practices may invest in digital tools to attract new business, trigger the very start of the care journey, get paid faster and provide better patient care. After all, Gartner reported “SMS open and response rates as high as 98% and 45%, respectively—in contrast to corresponding figures of 20% and 6% for email.”
To create impact, tech leaders should understand the chain of events they need to follow and identify partners who are most likely to gain value by setting up and making use of their tech platforms and patient management tools.
It will take time till more physicians write at-home tech prescriptions and more insurers cover digital health products. But, even before they make the preventive healthcare pitch, they should remember that chronic disease patients can also benefit in the long-term. And I believe the road to better patient care and improved operational efficiencies goes through digital transformation. This is “Fordian,” maybe, but digital health’s process of continuously testing innovations against reality may well result in tech leaders’ ability to offer “faster horses” while socializing state-of-the-art “car driving” by relentlessly conducting case studies and positioning their solutions.