Breaking the innovation logjam in healthcare

I have argued that innovation is declining in many industries, including pharma, but in the rest of healthcare, I’m seeing an explosion of innovation. We have software that reads and diagnose images, apps that can take a picture of your face and evaluate your health, sensors that can see you stumble through walls, glasses that take doctors notes and provide advice, and companies working to grow new organs and attach mechanical arms to your brain. This innovation is coming from the usual sources (academia and industry), plus thousands of startups and hundreds of spinouts from established healthcare providers. However, these fragments of an amazing future are having a difficult time reaching the market. There’s a logjam on the way to customers, and technology is piling up behind it.

The problem: Institutions move much more slowly than people

Most people get health advice from “providers”, big organizations that employ doctors and such. That creates a problem, because these big organizations move quite slowly. It’s hard to manage a hospital network that has tens of thousands of employees, hundreds of thousands of customers, and provides thousands of different types of services. Just running the operation the way it exists now is so complicated that these organizations can only absorb and implement a small number of changes per year. It’s a classic problem of B2B sales (business selling to large businesses) that it takes the recipients two years to buy and deploy any new technique or technology.

What can we deliver to consumers?

Typically, a product that is sold directly to consumers is targeted at a “persona”, a consumer with a specific type of need. In the health business, consumers have personas like “healthy person seeking fitness”, or “mother with kids”, or “caring for an aging family member”, or “diabetic”, or “being treated for cancer X”, or “managing cardiovascular problems”… etc. This corresponds roughly to a service line at a full service healthcare provider.

  • Some way to gather data, which could be self-reported, through the app, through devices, and through organizing local facilities and caregivers.
  • An attempt to pull together a personal health record for the customer. This would be transferable to other solutions in the same category.
  • Some form of telehealth communication and coaching — chat, call, video
  • Automated, real-time advice
  • Yet-unknown mechanisms for influencing behavior

Where do we get these solutions?

There are companies selling this type of solution for big populations. For example, Virta bills itself as a “virtual clinic” to suppress type 2 diabetes at $400/month. However, this type of “solution” packaging for a complete persona is not quite what most of those startups and spinouts are producing. What they are producing are more like fragments of a solution. Someone needs to pull together and integrate the pieces.

SaaS entrepreneur/engineer. Founder of MAXOS, Real World DeFi. Previously founded Assembla, PowerSteering Software, on team at SNL Financial.