January is perennially a time for hopefully predictions . 2011 was a year that healthcare startups broke into the scene and on that momentum there have been some heady and futuristic forecasting. While I share the enthusiasm, as most of us shake off the hangovers and get back to work this week, I make some less sensational but more sober thoughts on 3 trends in healthcare tech drawing on analogies from other industries.
Zocdoc.com (and healthaware.ca in Canada) are two of the first major players in this space and the $50 million additional round of funding for Zocdocs shows how much room there is to grow in this space.
One opportunity is to make e-scheduling more useful for doctors is by having patients enter their medical history rather than the doctor collecting that data at the visit. Medical histories lend themselves to forms and algorithms. Adaptive forms would give patients the freedom to enter that important information before the often rushed clinical encounter improving the quality of the data.
For example, do you have a family history of diabetes? If the patients is unsure, they can call home and check. Histories before the visit gives doctors and managers advance business intelligence on who and what is coming through the door to optimize the number and type of staffing required.
2. Personal medical records
While 2011 saw the success of healthcare startups it also saw impressive failures by both Google and Microsoft who closed Google Health and Microsoft Health Solutions Group. Building electronic medical records is still a risky prospect despite the success of Dr. Chrono.
However in the banking world, Mint and Hellowallet have been able to build successful models to manage people’s finanical history. I’m the first to say that healthcare has unique privacy and ethical issues that are incompatible with traditional marketing models where personalized ads and deals are pushed based on personal content.
We need to stop waiting endlessly for governments, HMOs, or individual practices to build EMRs. In 2012 we should flip the model and create services that empower patients to curate their medical histories in personal medical records (PMR). Think of a paid subscription style Mint – but managing your medical history (labs, imaging, consults) instead of managing your financial history.
PMRs depend on the ease of incorporating data from multiple and disparate sources with most the information still in paper format. But again turning to finance, services like shoeboxed.com already do this. Creating APIs for pharmacies, clinics, and labs that interface with branded PMRs can be a competitive advantage for providers competing for market share.
Ultimately, your health – like your money – is most important to you so it makes sense to empower the individual with tools and services to control and manage their information.
3. Collaborative tools
One trend that cannot be denied is the the sheer growth of medical knowledge and growing complexity of chronic disease. Patients have never fit into the arbitrary specialities of medicine and wards of a hospital. The movement towards managing patients by a team of specialists in concert with allied health professionals for holistic care is growing.
But even though we are building integrated clinics and funding cooperative teams of health professionals, tools that allow different health professionals to collaborate as a team virtually are nascent and often in-house solutions. These tools already exist – just think of google docs or even Salesforce.
There is considerable opportunities in translating these existing technologies into platforms that will enable health professionals to work collaboratively on a patients care plan.
How? Building from the ground up.
In 2012 we will probably not see the end of aging or mass market replacement organs, but as consumer technologies penetrate into healthcare, innovative startups can make accessing and managing healthcare more like modern banking and travel.
The failures of big corporations and government in innovating healthcare demonstrate that this kind of innovation cannot be imposed from the top down – particularly in healthcare where professionals (and not only doctors) are territorial and resistant to change. Rather these innovations must be built from the ground up with frontline clinical experience – whether that be from receptionists, nurses, physicians, or managers – at the heart of design and implementation.
For most health professionals, the burden of clinical care is all encompassing and their expertise and insight into opportunities for innovation are untapped. For most developers, healthcare has too many barriers to access – professional accreditations, medical-legal liabilities to name a few.
Fortunately, there is a growing community bridging the gap between technology innovators and healthcare professionals through incubators like Rock Health and Healthbox and health themed hackathons like h@ckingmedicine and hackinghealth.ca here in montreal.
Here’s to a healthy and innovative 2012!
Jeeshan is a MD/DPhil candidate jointly at the Universities of Alberta and Oxford where he was Rhodes Scholar. He is currently in Montréal as a Sauvé Scholar helping to launch startups that will make healthcare sustainable.