Steve Jobs, Health Care Apps & Me

When I heard the news about Steve Jobs on Wednesday, I was surprised at how profoundly sad I felt. Although I had never met him, my company had the thrill of sharing the stage with Steve when Apple announced they would open their platform to third party developers. At the time, I was head of marketing and subscriptions for Epocrates, then best know for our Palm Pilot application for physicians.

At the time, we thought we had done a pretty good job of disproving the old notion that physicians are slow to adopt new technologies.  Steve was about to show us our full potential.

It was a surprise for us to be up on that stage, to say the least. Our fellow presenters were industry giants: EA, AOL, SalesForce, Sega and…us. The Sesame Street song ran through my head – “one of these things is not like the other.” Naturally, we were thrilled, but we had no idea how profoundly our company and industry were about to change.

Before the iPhone, Epocrates had built a great business creating drug, disease and formulary content for mobile devices. We launched our first product in 1999 with the premise that physicians were mobile and wanted to access information anywhere, anytime. Health care professionals loved their Palm Pilots – and I still have a bag of Palm IIIs, VX, Tungsten, Handspring, and Treo devices to prove it! Business was going well and we had grown to 25% of U.S. physicians. But we faced a challenge – we had already saturated the market of physicians with a device – and growth of the mobile device market had stagnated.

To this day, I don’t really know how we ended up that stage. But I like to believe the story we were told. Apparently, Steve asked one of his personal physicians why she wouldn’t switch to an iPhone and she replied “because I can’t use Epocrates on it.” True or not, we got an invitation from Apple to be one of their very first third party developers.When it was our turn, one of our developers took the stage and wowed the crowd with our new Pill I.D. feature that allows users to identify a medication by its visual characteristics. We got some great press and prepared for an uptick in users. That was in March. In June we launched Epocrates in the new App store. I will never forget that week. I had put together projections for our Board on iPhone adoption for the rest of the year. We beat those projections in one week.

Part of me felt embarrassed that my forecast was so off – but a bigger part of me knew that I really had no idea what the next year would look like – something fundamental had happened that would change our company and the health care technology industry forever.

The iPhone changed the way we saw the world and what was possible. The new technology allowed us to develop some of the features and functionalities, like Pill I.D. that we had thought about for years but did not have the technology platform to execute on. The iPhone raised the bar and made us work harder to create content and a user experience that lived up to the simplicity and beauty of the device. It also brought new competition to the space as others saw what we saw – doctors loved the iPhone. Suddenly Steve’s focus and vision, which so permeates Apple, was also inspiring our company.

I was sad again this morning looking at the Apple home page. I was sad because there are so few people who have the tenacity and vision to build their dreams and we lost one of them. But I was also inspired thinking about how 5, 10, 20 years from now medicine will be fundamentally different because of Steve Jobs.

In my current role as an advisor to health care investors, start-ups and incubators, I am fortunate to see new visionaries who are thinking not about “what is” but “what could be”. There will never be another Steve Jobs but there are health care technology visionaries in our midst today that are changing the world one device at a time.

Michelle Snyder is a consultant to the Health Care IT practice at InterWest Partners. She was formerly the SVP of Marketing and Subscription Services at Epocrates.

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5 replies »

  1. Great post Michelle. They say in death we mourn our own loss, and our loss last week was profound. He, more than anyone at any time in history, knew how to inspire, focus, and motivate knowledge workers.

    He made our engineers at Epocrates work like crazy to get that Pill pics feature done. There were 12 companies competing for 4 on-stage slots. He really knew how to bring out the best in us. And I’m so glad he did.

  2. Great article Michelle. We are excited to have you as a Blueprint Health mentor. The opportunities in healthcare are stunning and we are just at the tip of the iceberg. In some parts of healthcare we are using incredibly innovative technology. But in many parts of the the day-to-day work flow of doctors and nurses we are still using antiquated technology that other industries stopped using 10 to 20 years ago. The potential to bring real-time clinical information and clinical decision support tools to the bedside is immense and just starting to evolve. The basic infrastructure that Apple and other smart phone / tablet providers are building via the adoption of their devices is going to be immensely valuable to the healthcare industry in the years to come.

  3. I know the feeling, it is so frustrating. Reality is determined not by what scientists or anyone else says or believes but by what the evidence reveals to us.
    — Alan Hale