For the last six years, I’ve written this blog under the title “Medinnovation” with the tag line, “Where Innovation, Health Reform, and Physician Practices Meet.”
The novelty of use of word “innovation” is wearing thin. And for good reasons.
Sad to say, as a piece in the Wall Street Journal says. “Companies love to say they innovate, but the term has begun to lose its meaning.” Companies are touting chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovation strategies, and even innovation days.
Companies last year mentioned “innovation” 33,552 times in their annual and quarterly reports.
Publishers issued 255 books in the last 90 days with “innovation” in their titles.
43% of 260 companies said they have appointed chief “innovation” officers.
28% of business schools use the word “innovation” in their mission statements.
When I entered the VC business 10 years ago, I tried to keep thinking about venture capital as a business, where the key focus area was on meeting the needs of our target customers — entrepreneurs and limited partner investors.
In the case of entrepreneurs, those needs have changed radically in these last 10 years. The surge in seed investing over the last few years has been well-reported and analyzed. With advances in cloud computing, open source infrastructure, development tools and general “Lean Start-Up” techniques, entrepreneurs need less capital than ever before. And when entrepreneurs’ needs change (i.e., requiring less capital), smart investors adjust to meet those new needs. Hence, the rise of angels, super-angels, incubators, accelerators, micro-VCs and VC-led seed programs.
But as the “Great Seed Experiment” (as my partner, Michael Greeley, calls it) matures, a new trend is emerging. Entrepreneurs are beginning to learn the difference between what I’ll call Passive Seeds and Activist Seeds. And entrepreneurs are learning that the difference between the two, although somewhat subtle, matters greatly.
Passive Seeds are when a VC invests a small amount of money (for a $200-500M mid-sized fund, typically $250k or less, for a large $1B fund, perhaps $500k or less), to achieve a very small amount of ownership (typically less than 5%) to simply create an option to participate as a more meaningful investor in the future. Passive seed programs get most of the press attention because of their sheer volume.
In just about a month, the third Annual Health Datapalooza will take place in Washington, DC – a celebration of data-driven healthcare innovation (tax-payer funded data, by the way). The part of the program that I’m personally looking forward to is the Apps Expo of about a hundred or so health apps that will be showcased throughout the event. While there will be center stage presentations by a cavalcade of inspiring leaders (including Thomas Geotz and Bob Kocher), what is noteworthy is that there will be the opportunity to participate in roundtable discussions and deep dive sessions on top-of-mind areas of development such as big data, ACOs, and consumer data liberation. (liberacion!)
But what is the value in attendance? Better question, why has the event attracted more and more new attendees recently?
I’ve spent the last few years supporting private-sector healthcare innovation – especially around health IT. What I’ve come to appreciate from those dedicated to the space – whether a two person startup or a carve-out within a large technology prime – is that success at every stage of innovative development is predicated on how quickly one can create value based on the expectations of the relevant stakeholders at that stage.
Last week I found my usually-diverse Twitter feed had coalesced into a single hashtag, the trolley buses chugging through the streets of Washington, D.C. were sporting bold logos on their sides, and all around the city people were wearing giant nametags bearing their name, face, and three things they liked to talk about. There was no mistaking it: TEDMED was in town.
For the world of health care, TEDMED was the only party at which to see and be seen. The thousand or so delegates had been specifically “curated” to encapsulate the epitome of health care innovation. For 3.5 days they basked in cutting-edge, quirky talks by people “shaping and creating the future of health and medicine,” punctuated by lavish dinners and parties, TEDMED-themed M&Ms, and morning runs, as sanctioned by the Cookie Monster (one of the celebrity speakers at this extravaganza). Meanwhile, the rest of the medical world followed the #TEDMED hashtag on Twitter or soaked up the inspiration in real time at one of TEDMED’s mostly academic simulcast venues around the U.S.
And as for me? I threw myself into getting invited to the cool kids’ party. Or to be more accurate, the cool, privileged kids’ party. Because as well as being accepted on merit, attending TEDMED in person costs an eye-watering $4,950. A wealth of sponsors paid for 200 people to attend on scholarships (and for the Simulcasts), but by the time I’d realized this and persuaded them of my innovative brilliance, they’d already allocated their funds and I was consigned to their priority waiting list. But at the last minute, delightfully, my persistence and anticipation were rewarded with a pass for the Thursday night party and the final Friday morning session.
When I was a teenager, the older women in my family taught me to cook. I learned it was traditional not to add salt when cooking lentils, because it would slow down the cooking. For some reason, perhaps the sheer pleasure of being difficult, I insisted on taking two identical pots and cooking identical quantities of lentils, one with salt and one without. That caused quite a bit of a stir, and not only because I proved that the salted lentils cooked just as fast. On the one hand, my mother, grandmother, and aunts sensed more difficulties were to come. On the other, they knew they’d participated in something different and important: a scientific experiment.
The women in my family were courageous, smart, and resourceful. They knew many things: useful wonderful things. For the most part, their knowledge was received knowledge, knowledge they’d been given, not figured out on their own. This is a common situation. The idea that anybody can be taught to figure things out, that there is a logic to discovery and invention, would have struck our ancestors as radical and strange. Until quite recently — until science education became institutionalized and widespread — the creation of new knowledge depended on either genius or luck.
It will take more than a Band-aid to fix the medical device market. This was the message delivered by Alex Gorsky, future Johnson & Johnson CEO, to an auditorium full of students and entrepreneurs at the Stanford Biodesign From the Innovator’s Workbench event last week.
Gorsky, who in a few weeks will take the helm of the world’s largest health-care corporation, discussed challenges and opportunities in medical device market, as his company navigates through a turbulent world economy and a string of product recalls.
“It’s a difficult market,” he said. “The days of incremental innovation are over.”
And, while Gorsky thinks population growth will drive up worldwide demand for health care, it’s unclear who will pay for it.
Gorsky sees a fundamental shift in the way medical devices are purchased, which may change the innovator’s design approach. In the United States, buying decisions will shift from surgeons to cost-conscious hospital buyers. And that may create demand for keep-it-simple medical devices – designs that provide 50 percent of the bells-and-whistles of current devices for 15 percent of the cost. In addition, he cited the need for more clinical information on efficacy and safety, to help hospital administrators justify medical device purchases.
As the U.S. struggles to stem rising health care costs, his company will look to emerging markets – especially China – for growth. He predicts that these health care markets will grow at 4 to 5 times the rate of the domestic market.
While there are important differences between the NHS and the US health system, both face similar challenges in improving productivity and disrupting the traditional model of healthcare that is no longer fit for purpose. Both are facing rising demands of an ageing population, increasing prevalence of chronic conditions and consumer expectations. Both systems have powerful incumbent providers such as general hospitals that are not always responsive to changing patient and system needs. As Elizbaeth Tesiberg and many others of both sides of the Atlantic have argued, “innovation is the only long-term solution to high-quality, affordable health care.”
Leading pioneers from around the world are already transforming healthcare. In its recent report, Healthy competition, the London based think tank Reform, highlighted a number of case studies of successful change. Reform explored four crucial areas that can improve productivity in healthcare: service reconfiguration, integrating care, standardisation of processes and procedures, and measuring and publishing outcomes.
Greater patient safety through service reconfiguration
Successful reconfiguration has achieved higher quality and greater value for money. In Finland, the Pirkanmaa region closed joint replacement departments in five hospitals and concentrated care at one specialist hospital. The new hospital delivered complication rates below 1 per cent compared to an average of up to 12 per cent for general hospitals. The NHS in London moved emergency stroke care from 34 general hospitals to eight specialist units with dedicated staff. London now has the highest standards of stroke care of any major international city.
The congressional legislators who oversee the Food and Drug Administration and control the nation’s coffers have shown again that they neither understand drug development nor the regulatory problems that plague it.
According to the press release, the bill will invest “in public-private partnerships to ensure scientists and researchers are able to develop new safe and effective drugs,” shrink product development timelines, increase the number of drugs in the development pipeline and expedite the FDA review process.
However, there is currently plenty in the development pipeline. The federal government is boosting funding for research and development on Alzheimer’s disease; the Department of Health and Human Services alone will allot more than $500 million to it in fiscal year 2013. Moreover, drug companies spend more than $65 billion annually on R&D.
For example, there are now nearly 100 drugs in development for Alzheimer’s disease, dementias and other cognitive disorders, and almost 900 medicines being tested for cancer.
Personalized medicine, iPads, insurance exchanges, non-profit/private partnerships…what will healthcare look like in 2020? The healthcare industry today is under enormous stress. Big Pharma is struggling to fill its pipeline, and the biotech industry has failed to deliver sustainable profits for its investors. Health plans operate under enormous uncertainty as reform hits one political roadblock after another. Hospitals struggle to find profitable business models, while patients struggle to find safe, affordable and high-quality care.
But the future of healthcare remains incredibly promising. Scientific discoveries and business model innovations are shaping the healthcare of tomorrow, today. But what will that future look like? On February 4th, over 600 industry leaders, professionals, and students will gather at Harvard Business School for its 9th Annual Healthcare Conference to answer that very question. Karen Ignagni, CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and one of Modern Healthcare’s “100 Most Influential People in Healthcare”, will discuss the future of the health insurance industry. Other keynote speakers include Bill Crounse, Senior Director, Worldwide Health for Microsoft and contributor to Microsoft Healthblog, and Larry Culp, CEO of Danaher, who will discuss broader trends in healthcare IT and innovation.
A variety of topics will be debated during panel sessions where moderators are encouraged to challenge panelists to envision the healthcare business models of tomorrow. In the Biotech & Pharma panel, for example, panelists will discuss the rise of tailored therapeutics―Dr. Stephen Spielberg, Deputy Commissioner of the FDA, will provide his perspective on the regulation of personalized treatments. The Payor & Provider Panel will explore the shift to an outcomes-based future―Regina Herzlinger, author of “Who Killed Health Care?” and often dubbed the “Godmother” of consumer-driven Healthcare movement, will share her viewpoint.
A leading scientist once claimed that, with the relevant data and a large enough computer, he could “compute the organism” – meaning completely describe its anatomy, physiology, and behavior. Another legendary researcher asserted that, following capture of the relevant data, “we will know what it is to be human.” The breathless excitement of Sydney Brenner and Walter Gilbert —voiced more than a decade ago and captured by the skeptical Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin – was sparked by the sequencing of the human genome. Its echoes can be heard in the bold promises made for digital health today.
The human genome project, while an extraordinary technological accomplishment, has not translated easily into improved medicine nor unleashed a torrent of new cures. Perhaps the most successful “genomics” company, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, achieved lasting success not by virtue of the molecular cures they organically discovered, but by the more traditional pipeline they shrewdly acquired (notably via the purchase of LeukoSite, which ultimately yielded Campath and Velcade).
The enduring lesson of the genomics frenzy was succinctly captured by Brown and Goldstein, when they observed, “a gene sequence is not a drug.”
Flash forward to today: technologists, investors, providers, and policy makers all exalt the potential of digital health . Like genomics, the big idea – or leap of faith — is that through the more complete collection and analysis of data, we’ll be able to essentially “compute” healthcare – to the point, some envision, where computers will become the care providers, and doctors will at best be customer service personnel, like the attendants at PepBoys, interfacing with libraries of software driven algorithms.
A measure of humility is in order. Just as a gene sequence is not a drug, information is not a cure. Getting there will take patience, persistence, money and aligned interests. The most successful innovators in digital health will see the promise of the technology, but also accept, embrace, and ideally leverage the ambiguity of disease, the variability of patients, and the complexities of clinical care. Continue reading…