Despite Youth On Farm, Abbott Ventures Chief Avoids Spreading Manure


Abbott Ventures chief Evan Norton may have spent part of his youth on a farm, but there’s no manure in his manner when speaking of the medical device and diagnostics market landscape. The key, he says, is to avoid being blindsided by the transformational power of digital data.

“We’ve been competing against Medtronic and J&J, so that has the risk of us being disintermediated by other players that come into the market,” Norton told attendees at MedCity Invest, a meeting focused on health care entrepreneurs. “Physicians are coming to us and asking for access to data for decisions, and they don’t care who the manufacturer [of the device] is. Are we enabling data creation?”

Abbott, said Norton, wrestles with whether they are simply data creators or want to get paid for providing algorithmic guidance on how the data is used. (Full disclosure: I own Abbott shares.) Other panelists agreed making sense of the digital data deluge remains the central business challenge.

“We’re going through the same thing,” said Frederic Chanay-Savoyen, co-founder and chief executive officer of start-up OM Signal. The company provides Internet-enabled wearables whose data the company analyzes with sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithms. Providers want answers, not complexity. “Nobody needs hundreds of hours of this data,” Chanay-Savoyen noted.

Even if you have access to a digital read-out of a patient’s “breath by breath information,” agreed Norton, then “how do you translate that into an algorithm that helps clinical decision making but also allows people to get reimbursed?”

Whether it’s an implantable device or a wearable, “we can put things in people and we can put things on people, but we haven’t figured out a way to take all that information and make it actionable.”

Reflecting the way in which information beyond the traditional clinical measures is becoming integrated into practice, Norton added that companies need to tailor their offerings to “the demographic and phenotype you have to go to.”

At the same time as the panel met, the American Medical Association was announcing an additional $27.2 million investment in Health2047, an innovation incubator it launched in 2016 with a $15 million investment. The group said in a press release that the new funds would go to technology-based solutions in chronic disease reduction, “radical productivity change” and value-based health care.

Meanwhile, two other panelists reminded the attendees of the non-technological imperatives they faced. Sarah Hogan, a partner at law firm McDermott Will & Emery, provided a meme-worthy summary of the legal challenges to algorithm use: “Security, accessibility and managing liability.”

Separately, Dennis Robbins of Person-centric Solutions provided a different bottom line: “We in the health care space are seduced by knowledge and data,” he said. “It’s really about changing people’s lives.”

Michael Millenson is a consultant specializing in quality of care, patient empowerment and web-based health. He is President of Health Quality Advisors, an adjunct associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and an associate editor of THCB. This post originally appeared on Forbes here