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Digital Health is Dead! Long Live Digital Health!

Posted on October 2, 2017 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

Rob Coppedge, CEO of Echo Health Ventures recently wrote a provocative post for CNBC proclaiming that digital health is dead.

As evidence, Coppedge cited the work of Rock Health that shows $16 Billion in VC funding has gone to approximately 800 digital health companies since 2014 (note: Rock Health tracks VC deals >$2M for US-based digital health companies). He argued that in order for these VCs to see their expected returns, the entire digital health market would have to triple in value by 2021 – well beyond current projections. Coppedge’s conclusion was that fewer and fewer VC deals in the digital health space will happen in the years ahead – effectively signaling the death of the market.

Although I don’t agree with Coppedge’s claim that that digital health overall is dead, I do concur with his observations and commentary on why VCs may exit the space. Here are some of his lessons learned after investing in digital health:

  1. Better mousetraps are not enough. Inadequate attention was paid to solving how to go to market.
  2. Ill-equipped for enterprise health care. Subject matter expertise, outcomes measurement and political savvy is needed in healthcare – which is rarely necessary in star-ups targeting other industries.
  3. Consumers and patients are not the same. Unlike consumers, patients may not be the ones paying for the service they receive. Plus, engaging individuals in their health is surprisingly difficult and low engagement is common.
  4. Healthcare sales cycles are slow and industry adoption is measured. Growth expectations need to be tempered.
  5. DC is not to blame for stalling digital health. There is no evidence that supports the theory that healthcare innovation has stalled because of the uncertainty surrounding funding and regulations.

For long-time readers of this publication, the list above states the obvious.

Technology alone has never been enough to guarantee success in healthcare. Not only do healthcare customers need evidence a company’s solution actually works, they also need to help through (and beyond) the implementation of the technology. For companies, this often means creating new workflows that incorporate the new technology and helping their client’s staff adjust to those changes. Digital health companies cannot simply activate an account then foist self-serve instructional videos onto clients and expect success.

For me Coppedge’s post reaffirmed something I have long believed – Success in healthcare IT/digital health takes effort. Not only do you need a good product that actually solves a problem, you need a dedicated team of individuals who are healthcare-savvy that can help you navigate the complex health ecosystem. You need people on your team who are truly passionate about and dedicated to improving healthcare – those are the people with staying power and who will help you ride through the frustrating slow pace of change.

In my opinion, digital health is far from dead. It is evolving and changing. The influx of VC money has brought in smart, enthusiastic risk-takers from other industries who have now gotten a sobering dose of cold water dumped on them. Now that many companies are waking up to the reality that it takes years to become an overnight success in healthcare, we will see more consolidation and flame-outs in digital health. To me this potential turmoil represents an evolution of the market rather than a death spiral. The easy money and opportunists will soon be making an exit – leaving the market wide open for true believers and passionate hard workers.

FDA-Approved Digital Health Should Save $100B+ Over Next Four Years

Posted on June 8, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Here’s some research which suggests that a lack of “medical grade” digital health tools is perhaps the final obstacle holding healthcare back adopting them full scale — and reaping the benefits.

Accenture released a study last week concluding that FDA-regulated digital health solutions should save the U.S. healthcare system more than $100 billion between now and the next four years.

The scant number of digital health solutions the FDA has already approved has already had a meaningful impact, generating $6 billion in cost savings last year courtesy of improved med adherence, fewer ED visits and digitally-supported behavior changes, Accenture reports.

But that’s just a drop in the bucket, if Accenture is right. The consulting firm expects our health system to save $10 billion this year thanks to use of such devices. And then, as the FDA approves more digital health technology, the savings figure should make dramatic jumps over the next few years, hitting $18 billion in ’16, $30 billion in ’17 and $50 billion in ’18.

What’s intriguing about these numbers is that they assume each FDA approval will seemingly generate not only more savings, but also a cumulative “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” effect.

After all, in raw numbers, the number of devices Accenture is relying on to achieve this effect is small, from 33 approved last year to 100 by the end of 2018. In other words, 67 devices will help to generate an additional $44 billion in savings.

That being said, what makes Accenture so sure that the ever-so-slow FDA will approve even 70-odd devices over the next few years?

* Provider demand:  At present, about one-quarter of U.S. doctors “routinely” use tele-monitoring devices for chronic disease management, researchers found. As hospitals and medical practices look to integrate such solutions with their core EMR infrastructure, they’ll look to please providers who want digital health tech they can trust.

Reimbursement shifts:  Accenture argues that as value-based reimbursement becomes more the norm, health leaders will increasingly see digital health solutions as a means of meeting their goals. And medical device providers will be only to happy to provide them.

Regulatory conditions: With FDA guidelines in place specifying when wellness tools like heart rate monitors become health devices, it will be easier for the FDA to speed up the process of digital health technologies, Accenture predicts. This should support 30% annual growth of such solutions through 2018, the study found.

Consumer health tracking:  Consumer demand for health tracking devices, especially wearables, should continue its rapid expansion, with the number of consumers owning a wearable fitness device to double from 22% this year to 43% by 2020, according to the consulting firm.

While Accenture doesn’t address the impact of digital health tech that doesn’t get FDA approval, there’s little doubt that it too will have a significant impact on both health outcomes and cost savings. Ultimately, though, it could be that it will take an FDA seal of approval to get widespread adoption of such technologies.