Startups

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Startups announce new technologies to solve healthcare problems every week, but how much of these new technologies hit the public market and reach widespread adoption? Even more, how much technology gets adopted by key institutions that work directly with patients and deliver care? 6 out of 10 physicians reported that they did not use digital health technology for clinical purposes, including communication with patients and other providers and only 27% of physicians actively encourage their patients to use digital health applications, according to PriceWaterhouseCooper’s Top Health Industry Issues 2014 report.  While many health systems are beginning to explore different avenues for innovation, some even creating internal departments to address innovation, many are still slow to adopt. As many as 36% of healthcare service organizations report that their organization has no mobile technology or innovation strategy.

Digital health startups, compared to traditional technology startups, have the additional burden of breaking into an established health care system before their solution can really gain traction. Whether it’s a hospital network, health plan provider or direct consumers, all of these groups want to see a product or service that has been validated. With so much activity in the digital health space, potential customers, especially large health systems, want to mitigate risk by purchasing a solution that has shown evidence of the benefits they claim to deliver.

Continue reading “Innovation Isn’t A Pipe Dream, How Health Care Organizations Can Adopt Digital Health Technologies”

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farzad_mostashariToday, I’m launching a new company, called Aledade.

Aledade partners with independent primary care physicians to make it easy and inexpensive for them to form and join Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) in which doctors are paid to deliver the best care, not the most care.

This is good for patients who will find that their trusted primary care doctors are more available and better informed than ever before. It’s good for doctors who want to practice the best medicine possible, the way they always wanted to. It’s good for businesses and health plans looking for healthcare partners that deliver the highest possible value and outcomes. And it’s good for the country as higher quality, lower cost care will help lessen the strain on our budget and our economy.

The world of start-ups may not be the usual path for those leaving a senior federal post, but it’s the right decision.

For me, Health IT was never the “ends,” but a “means” to better health and better care, and I continue to believe that better data and technology is the key to a successful transformation of health care. And it is why the attempts to do so now can succeed, where they have failed before.

Empowering doctors on the frontlines of medicine with cutting edge technology that helps them understand and improve the health of all their patients- that is the mission of our new company, and one that has animated my entire career.  Continue reading “Launching Aledade”

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From childhood most of us remember the sage parental advice on how to deal with bullies–“sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”.

Of course, we all know that words do hurt, maybe not physically, but they certainly take a toll on our psyche.

These days in planning meetings at my own company, in articles I read on the web and at various tech industry conferences, I come across words and language that I know feel hurtful, or are at least disrespectful, to the health industry and the people who work there. I hear cavalier talk about the need to disrupt the healthcare industry.

Some thought leaders even say we will creatively destruct the healthcare industry. Consumers armed with technology will rise up, they say, and disrupt everything about the current state of healthcare.

Now imagine for a minute that you are a hospital executive, a doctor, a nurse or other clinician and you hear people who work outside your industry talking about disrupting or destructing it.

Imagine being told that consumers, patients, and tech companies will rise up and destroy your business.

There you are doing the best you can to make it through each day keeping your hospital or practice economically sound, dealing with the barrage of patients at your door, staying one step ahead of ever-increasing rules, regulations and rising costs, while those who’ve never worked a day in your world tell you they are going to disrupt and/or destroy it.

Even if there is a need to disrupt healthcare (and even many who work in the health industry might agree), nobody appreciates being told by some outsider that they know your business better than you do.

I don’t imagine my colleagues who work at Microsoft (or Google, or Apple, or Amazon) would appreciate being told by a hospital administrator or a doctor that they knew better how to run a tech company, or what ails the tech industry.

Nor do I think that most patients and consumers can really appreciate the amazing complexity of our healthcare system or the unbelievable pressures under which it operates these days.

Continue reading “Why the Creative Destruction of Healthcare May Not Be Such a Good Idea”

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Last week  I went to a panel presentation sponsored by the group NYC Health Business Leaders on the rollout of New York State’s health insurance exchange.  Among the speakers was Mario Schlosser, the co-founder and co-CEO of the venture-capital-backed start-up health insurance company Oscar Health, which offers a full range of plans through New York’s exchange.

As NPR reported last month in a story about Oscar, “it’s been years since a new, for-profit health insurance company launched in the U.S.”, but the Affordable Care Act created a window of opportunity for new entrants.

Schlosser began his talk by giving us a tour of his personal account on Oscar’s website, www.hioscar.com.  Among other things, he showed us the Facebook-like timeline, updated in real time, which tracks his two young children’s many visits to the pediatrician.

He typed “my tummy hurts” into the site’s search engine and the site provided information on what might be wrong and on where he might turn for help, ranging from a pharmacist to a gastroenterologist, with cost estimates for each option.

Additional searches yielded information on covered podiatrists accepting new patients with offices near his apartment and on the out-of-pocket cost of a prescription for diazepam (which was zero, since there is no co-payment for generic drugs for Oscar enrollees).

As an audience member noted, none of this is new exactly.  What is new is to have this kind of data-driven, state-of-the-art user experience being offered by a health insurer.  Schlosser told the audience that Oscar’s pharmacy benefit manager and other vendors are providing the company with real-time data that other insurers have not demanded.

 

Continue reading “Can Oscar Succeed In Making Health Insurance Fun? Maybe Not Just Yet. But the Startup Is Shaking Things Up …”

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Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way:

We love Uber.

As physicians with roots in the Bay Area, we use Uber all the time. The service is convenient, (usually) swift and consistently pleasant. With a few taps of a smartphone, we know where and when we’ll be picked up — and we can see the Uber driver coming to get us in real time.

When the vagaries of San Francisco public transit don’t accommodate our varying schedules, it’s Uber that’s the most reliable form of transportation. (It might be that we like having some immediate gratification.)

So when we caught wind of the news that Uber’s founding architect, Oscar Salazar, has taken on the challenge of applying the “Uber way” to health care delivery, there was quite a bit to immediately like. From our collective vantage point, Uber’s appeal is obvious. When you’re feeling sick, you want convenience and immediacy in your care — two things Uber has perfected.

And who wouldn’t be excited by the idea of keeping patients out of overcrowded emergency rooms and urgent care waiting rooms? The concept of returning those patients to their homes (where they can then be evaluated and receive basic care) seems so simple that it’s brilliant.

Continue reading “Uber for Health Care?? Not So Much.”

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“Hey doctor, what do you think about this product/solution/service?”

These days, I look at a lot of websites describing some kind of product or solution related to the healthcare of older adults. Sometimes it’s because I have a clinical problem I’m trying to solve. (Can any of these sleep gadgets provide data — sleep latency, nighttime awakenings, total sleep time — on my elderly patient’s sleep complaints?)

In other cases, it’s because a family caregiver asks me if they should purchase some gizmo or sensor system they heard about. (“Do you think this will help keep my mom safe at home?”)

And increasingly, it’s because an entrepreneur asks me to check out his or her product.

So far, it’s been a bit of a bear to try to check out products. Part of it is that there are often too many choices, and there’s not yet a lot of help sifting through them. (And research has shown that choices create anxiety, decision-fatigue, and dissatisfaction with one’s ultimate pick.)

But even when I’m just considering a single product and trying to decide what to think of it, I find myself a bit stumped by most websites. And let’s face it, if I visit a website and it doesn’t speak to my needs and concerns fairly quickly, I’m going to bail. (Only in exceptional cases will I call or email for more information.)

So I thought it might be interesting to try to articulate what would help me more thoughtfully consider a product or service that is related to the healthcare of older adults.

Continue reading “How Doctors Think About New Technologies”

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Healthcare providers are finding their “play it safe” culture isn’t conducive to breakthrough innovation.

Facing the inevitable deflationary pressures being put upon the healthcare system, innovation is critically needed. Having spoken with several innovation groups in health systems, most examples of “innovation” are decidedly uninspiring. Primarily, it is due to the fact that virtually all of their decisions have to go through the prism of how new ideas will fit with current businesses — a guarantee that will doom so-called innovation to be little more than incremental improvements. Consequently, increasing numbers of hospitals and health systems are smartly allocating money to venture funds that have free reign to find truly disruptive new businesses.

Health systems have taken various approaches such as becoming a Limited Partner in venture funds like Health Enterprise Partners. Some of the larger systems, such as HCA and Dignity Health, have their own venture arms. A new development is a much smaller organization establishing their own venture fund. Implicit in this approach is a much more hands-on approach than as an investor in a 3rd party venture fund. Rex Health Ventures is an early example of venture-capital investment funds in the country started by a community, nonprofit hospital (Rex Health Care). The fund is being launched with an initial $10 million investment from Rex Healthcare and will help finance the most promising innovations among new medical services, tools and technologies.

Continue reading “Innovation Case Studies: Small Hospital Venture Funds”

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Practice Fusion, Castlight or ZocDoc will be the next digital health IPO. That’s according to a survey of over 100 innovative digital health entrepreneurs, conducted by my firm, InterWest Partners.

Nearly one third of respondents said Practice Fusion was most likely to be the next digital health IPO with approximately 20% of entrepreneurs voting for Castlight and ZocDoc, respectively.    Among the trio, all three have been impressive generating media coverage and raising money (collectively raising over $320m in the last 2 years alone with valuations ranging from $450m to upwards of three quarters of a billion dollars), in addition to having some of the most visionary leaders in the space.

Contrary to popular belief that digital health is primarily about the next iPhone app for weight loss, sleep or exercise, it was interesting to note that all of the leading “IPO” candidates in our survey have B2B models.  This is consistent with an insightful RockHealth report ( which found that nearly 80% of digital health companies have B2B models.   Future growth in this category is likely to continue as the leading healthcare accelerators such as RockHealth, BluePrint Health and Healthbox are all seeing more applications from B2B companies.

The responses to the IPO question reflect an interesting industry trend.  Though often classified as “B2B”, many of the leading digital health companies are really B2B2C – meaning that without the C there is no B2B.   Pricing transparency tools (Castlight), scheduling platforms (ZocDoc), employer based wellness programs, medication adherence solutions – they all must find a way to engage the end user or they won’t be purchased by the employer, physician, healthplan, hospital, or pharma company.    And though it’s impossible these days to sit through a day of pitches without hearing the phrase “consumer engagement” twenty times, I’m excited that people are starting to ask more of the right questions.  Why will someone want to use this?  Does it really solve a true need?  Is the product easy to use, intuitive, and fun? Continue reading “The Next Digital Health IPO?”

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I recently had the great fortune of attending Health 2.0 in San Francisco. The conference was abuzz with new medical technologies that are harnessing the power of innovation to solve healthcare problems including many new mobile medical application companies showcasing their potential. As I walked and talked around the exhibit floor, one thing caught my ear, or I should say one thing didn’t catch my ear. Among the chatter about these products, the concern about FDA regulation of this product segment, or even FDA regulation in general was noticeably absent. While many of the application developers are well aware of potential FDA involvement, most would be hard-pressed to outline the impact this would have on their companies and products.

Being labeled a medical device, which is the direction the FDA is leaning, could have a significant impact on business model organization, top-line revenue, and product deployment. For unprepared start-ups, FDA regulation could signal an end for their company. This is in stark contrast to well informed developers who are preparing themselves for the change and would most likely be able to leverage these regulations to their advantage.

Continue reading “A Coming Storm: FDA Regulation of Mobile Medical Applications”

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Picture 1There’s a big discussion going on in the health tech community about a controversial keynote speech given by Vinod Khosla at the Health Innovation Summit (HIS), in which he stated that 80% of what doctors do could be replaced by machines.

If you’re a doc like me who has no idea who the heck Vinod Khosla is (he’s a venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems), why he’d be a keynote speaker at a healthcare event and what the heck HIS is, well, that’s the point of this post. You see, there are a whole lot of folks like Khosla out there – investors, entrepreneurs, tech types – who are attempting to redefine healthcare according to their own personal vision. Where we see a healthcare system in crisis, they see opportunity – just another problem with a technological solution. Computer-driven algorithms are the answer to mis-diagnosis and medical error, IPhone apps can replace physician visits, video connectivity can increase access.

Where we see illness and distress, they see a market.

And what business folks like to call disruption in the marketplace. Think about what happened to downtown small town USA after the first shopping mall opened. Or what happened to movie houses when Netflix started offering DVD rentals online. Or where all the independent bookstores went when the first Borders opened up, and what happened to Borders when the Kindle hit the market.

Out with the old, in with the new.

If Khosla is right, the we docs in our offices and hospitals are the old downtown department stores, the bookstores and the bricks and mortar businesses in an online revolution. We’re replaceable. At least most of us.

Continue reading “The Day the Electronic Medical Record Tried to Kill Me”

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FROM THE VAULT

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