Promise & Challenges of Digital Health


Digital Health has been an emerging sector in medical device arena.  A panel at Wilson Sonsini Medical Device Conference (www.wsgr/news/medicaldevice.com) discussed the challenges and opportunities in this area.  Moderator Milena Adamian is founder and executive director of the Life Sciences Angel Network, which is focused on early-stage investing and entrepreneurial activities in medical devices and healthcare information technology arena.   Having spent 20 years in medical device development, she brings the perspective of a clinician and academic researcher and opened the panel with historical background and broad overview.  Panelists included Chilukuri Sastry, Associated Principal at McKinsey & Co., Jonathan Javitt, CEO & Vice Chairman at Telcare, Jay Silverstein, Co-founder of Oxford Health Plans, and Lisa Suennen, Co-founder and managing member of Psiolos Group.

Silverstein raised a key question, right upfront.  “Show me it works”, he said.  While there are some neat ideas and lot of hope, it is not yet backed up by reality, he said.  Sastry said, there is an evolution under way, with a focus on data interpretation from earlier focus on data accumulation.  According to Javitt, it is a matter of making a business case and applying technology, to increasing efficiency.  Suennen pointed out the shift that is happening broadly in the industry, with the entrepreneurs focusing on enabling consumers to engage in matters of their health, more cheaply.  Currently, 7 out of 10 dollars in healthcare are spent on management of chronic diseases and about 5 thousand kids with asthma, die on the way to the hospital, where there is an opportunity to make an impact, pointed out Javitt.  The challenge is to make healthcare sensing as ubiquitous as auto sensing.  Disconnected medical devices will not help transform healthcare, he said.

Silverstein pointed to the gorilla in the room, the challenge of patient engagement.  The panelists had several perspectives on dealing with this challenge.  Silverstein stressed the need to incentivize health, Javitt suggested combining healthcare with gaming.  Suennen pointed out that gaming might attract short term focus that may not have a lasting impact, as people get bored of games.  Silverstein emphasized the need for segmentation so that there can be constant communication, marketing, and efforts to engage patients with specific needs, on a continuing basis.  Sastry said, while behavior modification is challenging, the new and emerging technology will allow for better patient engagement.

Sharing advice for entrepreneurs in this sector, Silverstein suggested that they carefully pick customers and value proposition.  They should not claim to be good for payer, investor, physician, but instead find a niche.  Suennen said, right now it is too easy to start a company in this area; all they need is an iPhone and a starbucks card; but failure is also fast.  A big lesson, observed Javitt, is that a lot of great ideas are poorly marketed and poorly packaged and do not take into account that an average consumer needs 3+ touches, to be noticed.  Sastry stressed the need to become a data scientist.

Adamian concluded the panel saying that as an investor, she would consider the team, look at the market, sustainability, analytics and suggested that entrepreneurs be mindful of regulations and also focus on how to engage patients.  The area of preventative medicine is a whole other area that will be of a lot of interest, said Adamian.

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