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GUEST BLOG: Can Entrepreneurs “Cure” Healthcare With Technology?

September 18, 2013
by By Lisa Suennen & David Shaywitz, MD
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This week is the 8th annual Healthcare IT Week. Healthcare IT Week was started and continues on as a collaborative forum for public and private healthcare constituents to discuss the value of health information technology for the U.S. healthcare system.

It is amazing to see how far health IT has come over the last 10-15 years. It has its own week!  If, a decade ago, you told people that health IT would be a core focus of investors, entrepreneurs, and everyone else in healthcare, the energy produced from the eye rolling alone could power the lights on the Las Vegas Strip for a month.  The basic sentiment back then was this: Why would anyone invest in, think about, care about health IT when the consumer internet was rocking and companies selling online dog food could get started on Monday and sold on Friday for a bull mastiff’s weight in gold?

Today it is quite clear that healthcare IT is a hugely significant part of any success we are having and will continue to have in transforming our healthcare system from one where 30 percent of cost and care is wasted or the result of error to one where value reigns supreme.  We do not believe anyone rational would now argue that healthcare IT is non-essential to improving the quality, productivity, efficiency, cost and outcomes we produce in our healthcare system, although the path is not always smooth.

And it’s about time. Technology has been used to optimize and redefine virtually every key industry except healthcare. Manufacturing has gone from human assembly lines to robotics; banking has gone from tellers to home banking; travel has gone from agents with brochures to Travelocity; and yet in many ways, the fundamental practice of medicine hasn’t changed in decades.

Many of today’s most passionate entrepreneurs are trying to bring the dazzle and real promise of technology innovation to the challenges of healthcare, resulting in an explosion of companies focused on everything from wearable sensors and weight-loss apps to big data analytics and GPS-tagged hospital equipment—the “internet of things.” These emerging tools and promising technologies—which collectively comprise “digital health”—offer a promising path forward, and entrepreneurs and innovators are forging forward seeking to make a real difference in a vitally important field that is sorely in need of its own tender loving care if it is to flourish in tomorrow’s world.

The key challenge faced by would-be disruptive technologists is not only recognizing potentially useful analogs from other industries, but also understanding the ways in which health remains fundamentally different. Success in healthcare requires a nuanced understanding of the problems to be solved, since these problems are often less obvious and more personal than may be initially apparent.

Amid the clamor to disrupt healthcare, we should also take care to preserve and augment what may be right about medicine—the doctor/patient relationship for example, or the drive of inquisitive physicians, engineers and business people to continuously push and challenge the limits of what is known and what is possible.

As Hippocrates once said, “Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” And technology—if judiciously applied—may be just the tonic to help reinvigorate the health of our healthcare industry.

We have sought to capture the impact of the technology tremors reverberating through our healthcare system in Tech Tonics: Can Passionate Entrepreneurs Heal Healthcare with Technology? This newly-released book is a distillation of our writing and thinking over the last several years and particularly our thoughts about how we got where we are today and where these fields may be headed, including a ground-level view of the technology landscape, its structural challenges, players, progress and pitfalls.

In compiling Tech Tonics, we have particularly sought to chronicle the recent trials and tribulations of digital health, capturing the energy, passion, hope, and hype, the ambition—occasionally misguided—of wildly smart technologists trying to grapple with some of the most difficult challenges of the modern era.

Editor’s note: This blog has been republished from other media sites, with approval by the authors.

David Shaywitz is co-founder of the Center for Assessment Technology and Continuous Health (CATCH) in Boston.  He is a strategist at a biopharmaceutical company in South San Francisco. Lisa Suennen is a founding partner of Psilos Group Managers. She blogs at Venture Valkyrie. Their co-authored book, Tech Tonics: Can Passionate Entrepreneurs Heal Healthcare With Technology, is available from Amazon here.

Edited by Gabriel Perna

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