Where should digital health elevator pitches really start?
The following is a guest post from Jack Stockert, managing director at Health2047.
The latest comic book blockbuster Dr. Strange opened in theaters recently, and I happened upon a related article commenting on Marvel’s marvelous power in telling origin stories. The movie centers on a doctor turned superhero, and it got me thinking about origin stories in the sphere of healthcare innovation.
Origin stories are a mighty tool for capturing attention and conveying purpose, and they’ve played a central role in everything from the ancient myths that explained the mysteries of our world to the “rags to riches” narrative that makes the American Dream so compelling.
For an entrepreneurial venture, the origin story ties your passion to your work, communicates a particular insight on a market, and generates a window into a unique or proprietary viewpoint. For an investor, the origin story provides the evidence supporting an entrepreneur’s understanding of a given pain point in a target market and the logic behind an innovation’s development. The origin story encapsulates a meaningful “why” and connects to the vision of where a company or product is going. The stories are all unique in their own way, but similar in that they must be grounded in struggle — the underlying problem, the unwanted turn of events, the pain point that must be solved, for example — and signal a chance at redemption — solving the problem and delivering value through the company.
Yet as I look across the digital health landscape, it dawns on me that we’ve lost half the plot when it comes to current entrepreneurial origin stories. Yes, the personal/patient origin stories are evident. With over $4.5 billion of private funding in digital health ventures reported last year, each initiative is born of a person stricken with disease, a grandson of an Alzheimer’s patient, or a cancer survivor fighting on. There is a plethora of origin stories that champion these individuals, their companies and the products designed to solve their very real pain points.
The problem is that these solutions address only one perspective on the problem. In healthcare, there is an essential set of stakeholders who remain relatively muted in the innovation space and its stories: the practicing doctor. How…strange.
Complaints about technology and innovation in healthcare are nothing new. Practice experiences have not advanced significantly for doctors (or patients, for that matter), and productivity challenges permeate a care delivery model that has not changed for the better. We have not invested in innovation from the bottom up — where the actual care is transpiring — in large part because the stories and solutions are driven from a top-down point of view.
This often disabling character flaw in health innovation is driving more than poor patient experiences, it’s driving physician burnout in over half the work force (defined as lack of meaning in one’s work and/or a feeling of isolation). Furthermore, we know from other studies these feelings of burnout translate into medical errors. The workflow challenges – compounded by failed technologies with abysmal use cases and lapped innovation in other industries – highlight how the doctor side of the doctor-patient relationship in the modern world is missing a set of meaningful and unifying origin stories.
In any good origin story, the owner of the solution is integral to the story. However, our current model allows physicians to complain about what is wrong, but does not involve that ownership perspective in the solutions. It’s not as simple as identifying the pain points, which physicians are good at. And adding a physician as a chief medical officer to your company doesn’t suffice, no matter how many credentials they might have. Real solutions involve process. The suffering patient who inspires the innovation doesn’t get to just stop having the disease. Our physician innovation model must involve the practicing physician, and let them continue to practice as the measure of success.
Once you start considering the story from this vantage, the issue becomes how to translate the pain points into solutions that scale across the hyper-regional system of healthcare. The only way this can happen is if we reduce our innovations to the level that all healthcare is practiced: the interaction between the physician and the patient. You can find system-level innovations aplenty (particularly those driven by top-down initiatives such as the HITECH act or EMRs). While they may be well-meaning, these efforts do not focus on the doctor-patient relationship — and often ironically serve to impair it. Partnering at the care-delivery level, not the CIO level, is required.
Observe the hot topic of big data and health innovation, wherein the conversation generally centers on systemic considerations such as EMR standardization and integration and security. All of which are indeed important. But shockingly little analysis is focused at the actual data source. If we begin by addressing data centralized at the patient and physician level, unlocking interactions at those irreducible moments in real-world healthcare delivery, we can find the clarity lacking in top-down narratives. We will identify pain points that exist in Arizona and can be distributed immediately to Florida, and relief that is likewise viable. We enable effective and robust models for scalable new solutions that work in the real world for both physicians and patients.
It’s time to rewrite the healthcare script. We have to move on from the fragmented and partially focused innovation efforts that consume us today. As the tagline for Dr. Strange advises: “Open your mind, change your reality.” That’s the start of an origin story we need to hear.