Needed: New breed of digital health tools

So far we have been used to medical breakthroughs in treatment of various conditions in terms of new medicines, where a new pill can be the solution to serious conditions and ailments of various sorts. The new and highly successful obesity drug from Danish manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, is just one example.

But every time a new drug pops up, questions are raised: Wouldn’t it be better to preempt the condition – if at all possible – rather than wait until it occurs and then try to provide medical treatment against it?

Some of those arguments go towards thinking of digital services and tools as a way of being more preemptive and over time reduce the need for often very costly medical treatment. The thinking is that we have the ability to provide tools and services of such a quality that it will efficiently be able to support or even replace doctors looking to preempt serious health conditions.

The argument does have some merit. We do indeed have a lot of knowledge about how to prevent things from happening, and we also have the most basic abilities towards putting those ‘recipes’ into digital tools and services. Yet, we still seem to fall back on high hopes for new drugs and treatments.

I think there is a very good reason for this; preemptive treatment while making a ton of sense is super, super hard for the patient. Think about it for a second: There are limitless examples of people trying to preempt a condition with the support of doctors, coaches, dietitians and whatever, and most of the time, these people still don’t succeed. Often because of the lack of stamina.

Thus I think it’s about time to start thinking about the next generation of digital health tools and services. This will be tools and services that should not only be looking to repackage what is already known about how to prevent certain conditions from occurring. They should also – and perhaps even more – be about how to grow stamina in the patients to help them succeed with the preemptive project so to say.

Until we have digital health tools and services that cater for those more psychological factors in more profound ways, I don’t think digital will play the pivotal role in keeping future costs of medical treatment down that many – including myself – would love to see.

(Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash)

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)

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)