”iHealth”: Challenge or opportunity?

Rumors have been rife for some time that Apple is working on including sensors for blood pressure, blood sugar and alcohol levels in an upcoming upgrade of the Apple Watch-series.

“iHealth” – for the lack of a better term – seems to be on the horizon. And while nothing is certain at this point – and never is for Apple – the rumors should give Health- and MedTech startups in the consumer space some pause. Because a crux time for monumental decisions may be coming up.

For those focusing on consumer hardware and software the basic question is this: Should we continue on our hardware path, or should we double down on software and let the likes of Apple take care of the hardware part?

The question is a valid one for everybody working in the personal health space, and if the rumors hold true there is no reason to believe Apple is going to stop there. The giant will be innovating full steam ahead and include more and more sensors and features in their wearable devices with battery life most likely being the main hurdle to success.

And why will they double down in this area? Two reasons.

First of all while there is great need for consumer-related Health- and MedTech devices, there is probably not much love lost for any of them, if they went away – from a pure customer experience point-of-view. Very few people get that emotionally attached to more clinical devices, but they do to Apples slick design, and the Cupertino-based company will likely in general hold a huge advantage in moving from consumer towards Health- and MedTech rather than the other way around.

The other reason for Apples focus in this area is one that I have mentioned before: They simply have to to drive shareholder value at their current valuation. A company as big as Apple needs super big new opportunities to grow, and the health sector is one of the only ones left with an opportunity that is big enough to make a difference to shareholders.

What may end up helping some Health- and MedTech companies looking at this enlarged competitive threat is the fact that not every consumer is into Apple. While the companies products and design is popular in many quarters a lot of the less well-off customer segments, who may also very well be overrepresented in the health statistics, simply can’t afford Apple products or don’t see the value to justify the price tag.

In order words there may be room for an Android like ecosystem of products and services that serves specific purposes at an affordable price. But is that juice enough for a Health- or MedTech startup looking to make it big in the consumer space?

That’s a really good question.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The battle for health care

One of the most interesting industries from a startup point-of-view is the health care industry.

Before the pandemic hit it was widely recognized that there are a lot of costly, structural issues afoot in the healthcare industry that technology can provide better and more cost efficient solutions for, but nonetheless newcomer struggled to really get inside the conservative system.

Covid-19 changed a lot of that for the sheer reason that suddenly the demand for telemedicine solutions and remote care skyrocketed. This meant that some of the old cultural barriers became if not irrelevant then at the very least less of a pain to startups.

I guess you could say that in a sense, digital health startups got their Covid-19 ‘vaccines’ early in terms of increased demand and opportunity to succeed in the market.

For startups operating in this space this is of course great news. And you could be forgiven for suggesting that we’re on the brink of a golden age for digital health to upend, uproot and improve our healthcare sector.

And you would probably be right. Because startups are not the only ones flocking to the health care sector to deliver new valuable solutions.

Big tech are there as well. Amazon is going in strong, and the same can be said about Google, Microsoft and Apple. And they have very good reasons to.

Forget for a second the market opportunity in itself. Big tech simply has to look this way. Why? Because the health care sector is among a very small group of sectors left, where big tech can drive the kind of top line growth they need to in order to sustain their hefty valuations.

Thus it is not as much an opportunity as a necessity for them to be in this space. And they need to win it.

This is not to say that startups shouldn’t look towards bringing new, exciting and value-driving digital health services and solutions to market. Of course they should. No doubt about it. They just need to be acutely aware that the battle for the market is going to be brutal, and that they are up against all the giants.

Realizing this before diving in and having the right frame of mind to take the competition on can make all the difference between success and failure.

No matter what it will be a super interesting space to watch.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The living room clinic

Have you ever tried going to a hospital for a consultation on something only to end up feeling it was a bit of a waste of time?

I certainly have. While I have the utmost respect for doctors, I find the format of a 20 minute chat that in essence can ruin an entire day somehow obsolete. And when I combine that with the financial strain the healthcare sector is under, I cannot help thinking that we should be able to do it in a much better way.

So here’s an idea:

What if we left the hospitals for the really sick? Those with such severe problems that they need to be there physically to receive the absolute best care. And then leave the doctors to focus on that?

What if on top of that we moved all the consultations – the chats, status updates etc. – to the comfort of peoples own homes. Moved the clinics into the living rooms so to say?

The technology is more or less there. And the readiness is getting there too.

On the technology side we have more and more point-of-care devices and services that we can use in the comfort of our own homes. Sensors get developed all the time enabling us to be always-on with the healthcare systems, if we need to be. And they are all getting easier to use effectively driving down the barrier of usage.

On the readiness side, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a blessing in disguise. We all now realize that we need to find new solutions that are not based on physical presence, and in those terms the past year has done more for acceptance of telemedicine than the past couple of decades combined.

Maybe such a move towards the living room might also have some other unintended positive consequences?

Maybe communication between patient and doctors would improve? Coming into the hospital clinic on the doctors home turf might be a challenge to patients who may leave after a consultation feeling that they didn’t get to tell, how they were really feeling or what really bothered them, because they were somehow stifled by ‘the system’.

Maybe being able to communicate from your own living room based on your own observations and own readings would level the playing field more and – ultimately – lead to better outcomes?

It is certainly worth to take this unique moment in time to investigate the potential positive impact of the clinic in the living room more.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Regulation as a business model

One of the most potent business models, you can have, is if the use of your product or service is directly mandated by law. Or, in the absence of the complete model, heavily subsidized by law.

When something becomes a law, it automatically drives decisions; people and organizations are required to do x, y and purchase z – your product – to stay within the law or at least get subsidized by the government (which has roughly the same effect on helping grow your revenues).

What could be better?

Let’s say you’re in HealthTech. You may not necessarily be required by law, but indirectly the laws governing subsidies for specific treatments can materialize into official recommendation for treatments that specifically includes your product or service.

You become a de facto public standard.

If you can make it to this point, you have really got it made.

Getting there, though, is super, super hard. Because if there are things, you don’t control and should have no ambition to even try to control let alone influence heavily, it’s lawmaking and the creation of rules and regulations.

Ok, you could have the ambition to influence it. But the obvious risk is that by choosing that as a focus, you end up spending your time and effort in the wrong way.

Because no matter your best efforts, you have absolutely no guarantee that you will end up being successful in your endeavors. Quite on the contrary; the overwhelming risk is that you will come up short. And then you will have nothing to show for it.

The best thing you can do is therefore to figure out where you can join to apply gentle pressure – trade organizations of any sort, special interest groups – and then show up, when there is an opportunity to do so, speak your case. And then let them do the heavy lifting for you.

That will effectively allow you to have a leg in both camps: On the one hand you’re trying to influence a development that furthers your ambition in the long run, while you’re busy executing on your business plan on the short term.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Prepare for the digital health struggle

If you had the need for a piece of advice from a doctor, would you launch a super-app like WeChat to find one who could help you?

No matter what you say you would do, it is already happening in China, where WeDoctor is part of the WeChat overall experience. And working to be available “24/7 across the globe”.

Now, if you thought China and data protection was a dubious match in itself, think about how WeDoctor thinks about privacy and then think about it again when they start collecting your health information. Because, of course you will use such a service if it’s available, right?

Well, maybe YOU won’t. But many people like you will. Because we have developed a digital culture, where it’s so persuasive to just use what’s conveniently available here and now instead of truly thinking the potential consequences through before we act.

And not only for privacy. But also for trustworthiness.

That’s also one of the reasons why we have tons of regulation in place to ensure that even if you’re tempted to act before you really think, the risk is somewhat limited. But the good question then becomes what the real value of a lot of that regulation is if bending the rules is as simple as clicking a link in a Chinese app (or from some other less regulated place)?

Despite the efforts to develop regulation to fit the times, we live in – which I am all for – it will be interesting to watch the battle unfold between those who insist that we still have the highest bars for privacy, trustworthiness and ethics when it comes to peoples health and those that just want to commercially exploit an industry that is so ripe for new solutions.

I hope that trustworthiness, ethics and standards will prevail, as I remain absolutely convinced that outsize rules apply when you’re dealing with peoples health. But I am also realistic enough to know that the stakes and potential returns are so huge in this space that we will likely see an epic struggle in this space between good and…hhmm…not so good.

So buckle up and prepare. And remember to think it through before you just click that convenient link.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The negative value proposition

Is creating value as a startup with something new always inherently positive for everybody concerned?

Maybe not.

What if part of the value creation you offer is to help take away the uncomfortable pain of someone having to confront someone else with a problem, the first one really just want to be rid off? Is that a positive for everyone concerned?

Case in point:

If a healthtech startup as part of it’s value proposition offers doctors the ability to spend less time with patients, is that a net positive for all? Why it may help drive down cost for the health sector as such, wouldn’t it be a loss of value instead to a lot of the patients affected by being less able to actually meet an expert?

I am not saying here that it’s wrong, and you shouldn’t try to deliver that kind of value. I am just suggesting that what you may offer as a positive value to one set of stakeholders might be seen as the opposite to another. And you need to be aware of that and own up to the fact that that is what you (also) do.

Especially so if you’re dealing with vulnerable people.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)