Monday’s WSJ (online now) features an exceptionally important and courageous op-ed by Harvard professor (and frequent co-author of mine, although not in this case) Tom Stossel, discussing a rule within recently enacted healthcare legislation with the Orwellian title, “The Physician Payment Sunshine Act,” focused on physician/industry relationships.
Taking its name from the assertion that “sunshine is the best disinfectant,” the Act apparently aims to help disinfect physicians who might be contaminated by industry contact, an interaction the Act seems to assume is intrinsically corrupting — in stark contrast, one suspects, to the many other activities in which physicians engage, and the many other factors in their environment that might influence their behavior, as Stossel and I previously discussed here and here; see here and here as well.
To restore physicians to their baseline state of virginal professional purity, the Act mandates a stultifying series of reporting requirements, impacting amounts as little as $10. While such reports may be a Pharmascold’s wet dream, they are a logistical nightmare for the physicians involved, and serve to create an enormous compliance bureaucracy for everyone.
My recent experience at an innovation symposium at Duke University, as well as my frequent informal conversations with academic physicians at other leading institutes, suggest the increasing bureaucratic hurdles confronting university physicians seeking to strengthen the essential translational relationship between academia and industry are a particularly unfortunate problem, and are having the presumably intended effect of stifling these interactions. Young physicians worry that the burdensome requirements are overwhelming, while senior leaders seek desperately to avoid the inevitable media takedowns predictably led by the NYT, public radio, and the rest of the usual suspects. (Not infrequently, these stories seem to originate with material selectively provided to a sympathetic journalist by a plantiff attorney — but of course, nothing cozy or sketchy here….)
While working away on my laptop at a hotel breakfast, I couldn’t help but overhear the four gentlemen poring over an iPad two tables way. Their intense discussion revolved around rolling out their high-tech prototypes in a medical care complex. Since I’ve written about prototypes and prototyping, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop.
The foursome represented a mix of medical care complex personnel and what was clearly an entrepreneurial innovator with a potentially high-impact idea. I’ll skip the technical details, but this was clearly a sophisticated group who were both smart and ambitious. The prototypes were their gateways to success. Their debates included whether it made more sense to field one or two more “finished” prototypes or whether they could get more information more quickly by fielding “roughs.” Were “staggered roll-outs” more cost-effective than “staggered builds”? They talked about the need to be able to “patch” quickly and whether their prototypes should optimize particular subsystems or overall system performance. They argued timelines and sequencing for test.
These questions are classic and it’s always fascinating to hear how — and what — decides them. Getting great value and insight from prototypes and pilots is more an art and craft than a science. Successful tech prototyping in health care contexts is particularly demanding.
That’s why the more passionately they spoke, the more nervous I got. Something was missing. Whenever innovators gather, I always listen for what’s not discussed. In almost 50 minutes of detailed discussion (yes, I am that kind of eavesdropper), I heard not a single mention, reference or allusion to the challenge of training the people onsite on how best to use or learn from the prototype. Details of prototype design and roll out were discussed as if the medical care personnel were irrelevant to the process. It reeked of “over the wall” technology transfer. OMG.
If you’re a hammer, you just want to smash nails; if you’re a programmer, you just want to build features. But features do not a successful product make. This is the central myopia that eventually blinds even the most brilliant engineer-entrepreneurs, unless they’re smart enough to surround themselves with people who can check their bias.
If you want an interesting example of this phenomenon, look no further than Adam Bosworth, the co-founder and chief technology officer at San Francisco-based health gamification startup Keas. There’s no question about this guy’s brilliance. At Citicorp in the late 1970s, he invented an analytical processing system that helped the bank predict changes in inflation and exchange rates. At Borland, he built the Quattro spreadsheet, and at Microsoft, he built the Access database. He was one of the first to propose standards for XML—the foundation of most Web services today. At Google, he helped to develop Google Docs before moving on to start Google Health.
But as everyone knows, Google Health was a failure—and so was Bosworth’s next effort, Keas, at least until the venture-backed startup went through a dramatic pivot in 2010. How Bosworth figured out that his old approach wasn’t working, and how Keas reinvented itself as a provider of health-focused games for large employers, is the tale I want to tell you today.
I’ve had the luck to attend medical school in the city of San Francisco during what will be looked back on as the start of transformational change in our health care system. My growing interest in technology and new business models as the disruptive forces behind this change, as well as marriage to a technology entrepreneur, has me frequently rubbing elbows with movers and shakers in the digital health space. One question I constantly receive (other than how I feel about being replaced by a computer) is how to get ideas and products in front of practicing physicians for product feedback or to test the market. Even more commonly, I’m asked why we are so resistant to technology and change in the way we practice. My reply usually takes some form of the following.
1. Show us the data.
The robust system medicine has developed for testing innovations in clinical care, disseminating these ideas, and transforming practice standards is being entirely overlooked (or alternatively scoffed at for being too cautious and slow) by most entrepreneurs. We insist on data to show that the newest pharmaceutical drug, procedure, or implantable device is safe and at least as efficacious as placebo, (and due to comparative effectiveness, this may soon become as compared to the standard of care). It should not be any different for an EKG iPhone app I use to rule out a myocardial infarction in your mother, or a motivational weight loss app the patient invests days of their time into with no results. These are not restaurant recommendations where a failure means bad sushi. These are people’s lives and well being, and we feel it’s unethical to start recommending unproven products.Continue reading…
The solution to the nation’s long-term deficit problem is generally portrayed as a choice among sharp budget cuts, major tax increases or a combination of the two. Given the magnitude of the problem, some level of sacrifice is probably unavoidable. But there is a third, overlooked approach to major budget savings — innovation — that the new congressional supercommittee should also include as a key component of its deficit-reduction strategy.
Innovation in this case is the process of trying a range of promising approaches and using rigorous evaluation methods to determine which of them really work. In many areas of the economy — such as information technology, agriculture and manufacturing — innovation has often identified ways to both reduce cost and improve performance. This has led to amazing progress over time, including exponential gains in computing power over the past half-century at a steadily decreasing price. So a logical question is: Can innovation in policy produce more effective government at lower cost?
The answer is yes. There are proven examples, from U.S. welfare policy and other areas, where innovative reforms produced major budget savings while simultaneously improving people’s lives. This suggests that part of the answer to our deficit problem lies in American ingenuity and not just sacrifice.
Blueprint Health is a specialist health IT incubator that just opened its doors this week and selected its first group of startups who get $20K each and a chance to hang in a nice art gallery in Soho that’s opening officially Thursday (FD Health 2.0′s NY city team will be moving in too). You can read more at Techcrunch and see the HUGE list of mentors here (I was thinking of throwing my hat in the ring until they told me it involved work!). But I wanted to ask Brad Weinberg & Mat Farkash, the founders, what was so special about Blueprint, so Mat told me:
Matthew H: Describe the Blueprint program
Mat Farkash: Blueprint Health is a New York based health-focused accelerator that is a Charter member of the TechStars Network. Blueprint Health kicked off its three-monthWinter program on January 9 in its 12,000 square foot office in SoHo and will also host a summer program in 2012. The program is a heavily mentorship focused, providing teams with access to over 120 mentors, all of whom have experience in the healthcare industry, including many physicians and health providers.
Health startups are emerging in high numbers this year and it’s no surprise. The health tech space is booming with new advances in HTML5, mobile health, and social media. But with the economic downturn, it’s hard to go out on your own without funding or guidance. But there’s help. Over the past year, four startup incubators have surfaced offering a mentoring program specific to health technology entrepreneurs. But, which one should you apply to? Here’s a breakdown of each accelerator and their offerings:
I am contemplating writing a book on physicians seeking venture capital to escape the fetters of practice and to launch innovative ideas.
If I decide to go ahead, I will author the book my colleague, Dr. Luis Pareras. Dr. Pereras is a venture capitalist. He lives in Barcelona. In Europe, aging populations, plummeting birth rates, and soaring costs make it hard to sustain overly generous social welfare states. I live in the U.S, where, to a lesser degree, a similar situation is emerging.
Here Medicare is approaching bankruptcy. Medicare is the single biggest contributor to our growing budget deficit. In Europe, centralized bureaucracies often smother innovation. This may soon be the case in the U.S. Europe and the U.S. are inextricably interlocked sectors of the global economy – economically. clinically, but not always culturally.
Nevertheless, both physicians in Europe and the U.S. are unhappy because government is cutting their pay and ramping up regulations to make national ends meet. Some physicians in Europe and the U.S are turning to venture capitalists to get the money required to launch start-up health –related enterprises. Others rely on their own finances or angel investors.
A few months ago, I heard a young design entrepreneur named Aza Raskin talk about his idea for a consumer health company, MassiveHealth, built around the concept of providing rapid feedback. For example, if you had a skin dye that faded a certain amount each time you took a dose of your antibiotic, you would be more likely to complete the full course.
Skip ahead not very far. Recently, MassiveHealth launched its first, free app (dubbed an experiment), called the Eatery. The idea is that you take a picture of your meal and rate its healthiness, which is then shared with other users. You benefit, as I understand it, by thinking more about your food and by getting input on your food from other users. What the company itself gets is not yet clear. They’ve shared some pretty maps of San Francisco and New York City showing where people are eating more vs. less healthy foods, and they’ve drawn some fairly general conclusions about how the supposed healthiness of our food changes during the day (good at breakfast, bad during the day, partial recovery at dinner).
At least as important, I’d imagine, they have an engaged group of users who seem (at least at this early stage) to be interested in interacting with the platform, and thus contributing to the development of the emerging data set; after only a week, more than one million food ratings were reportedly received.
I cannot resist writing one more time about the entire market access discussion currently ongoing everywhere, as I believe many of those numerous articles and reports are missing the point.
It is amusing, at least to me, to see the continued flood of articles, consultant presentations, blogs, congress announcements, workshops, summits, reorganizations, speeches, etc. all over the place, basically suggesting how the industry just needs to throw a few more people with fancy titles here and there, coupled with slight organizational changes, onto the problem and involve stakeholders and—guess what?!—actually talk to patients and perhaps even payers and all of a sudden, like Alice in Wonderland, everything will be good, after all.
The uncomfortable truth is, it won’t be. All this “noise” is only good for one thing, paying the bills of the consultants, which is fine, too, as I have been one myself so I can understand. But it will not address the problem the research-based pharmaceutical industry and its employees are facing. Without a substantial increase in R&D productivity, the pharmaceutical industry’s survival (let alone its continued growth prospects), at least in its current form, is in great jeopardy.