I am not a doctor, nor I do not play one on TV. However, even I can recognize that heathcare technology is a sector set for massive growth and poised to have a transformative effect on how medicine is practiced.
While not a new part of the technology ecosystem, up until recently, health technology has been viewed by many ‘mainstream’ technologists as the purview of doctors and medical professionals — for good reason, too. After all, what do engineers know about the human body?
The recent growth in healthtech was given momentum when, at the recent TechCrunch Disrupt SF show, SUN Microsystems’ co-founder, technology VC giant Vinod Khosla pronounced that: “in the next 10 years, data science and software will do more for medicine than all of the biological sciences together.”
Consistent with Khosla’s proclamation, many of the startups now emerging in this sector do not require a medical degree or even familiarity with the healthcare business to understand, because they are using software, hardware, or data to solve some glaring, practical problems with healthcare that have to do with efficiency, productivity, and challenging the dominant paradigms that have operated (excuse the pun) in the hospital environment for decades.
This newly-honed focus on healthcare technology was evident at the DEMO Fall show in Silicon Valley — an annual gathering of entrepreneurs, media, technologists, and VCs, where early-stage companies debut and DEMO their products and services to a sophisticated audience. Here are the three healthtech startups at DEMO that stood out most for me:
Hello Doctor: Let me start by saying that Hello Doctor was also popular with the other attendees at DEMO. This was confirmed when it was awarded one of the ‘DEMO God’ awards — essentially a ”best in show” for DEMO — that is voted on by the crowd. It was born out of the founders’ own experience with the U.S. healthcare system, and offers a straightforward and strong value proposition: helping patients better organize and use their personal health data. For patients and family members who have dealt with a major medical issue, this really hits home. Hello Doctor turns paper health records into scanned, searchable electronic records and works with cell phone cameras, replacing the need for a scanner or any specialized equipment. It allows patients and care givers to get rid of binders full of records — a ubiquitous characteristic of navigating the U.S. healthcare system if you have a major illness.
Hello Doctor targets the fact that much of the healthcare system, at least on the patient side, is run on paper records. Founder and CEO Maayan Cohen said that the idea for the company came from her own experience with a partner who came down with a serious illness, and her disbelief at the large quantities of paper records that came along with it. Since it resides in the cloud, the app can be accessed via mobile device, and includes an extra layer of interactivity by allowing patients to search their records and compose notes as they review them. They also offer a tagging service where Hello Doctor essentially organizes the records for the patient.
Pristine: Pristine, another DEMO God winner,is an example of the stunning potential of new technology in the hospital setting and on the way doctors do their jobs. The company has developed a platform using Google Glass that enables doctors to collaborate on patient care in real-time. The potential benefits to this are obvious, especially considering that most healthcare professionals in hospitals still rely primarily on pagers, land-line phones, and whiteboards to collaborate, costing money and time. Thisundoubtedly results in less efficient and lower quality care for patients.
For any healthcare technology like this, there are hurdles—in the U.S. they include HIPPA regulation, the fact that the platform has to be purchased and implemented hospital-wide, and overcoming the potential hesitancy of healthcare professionals to adopt new technology. On top of this, these kinds of platforms will require extremely reliable broadband networks in order to work effectively. However, the potential is huge, and Pristine’s demo—which included a simulated surgery—powerfully showed the extent to which a technology like this could enhance doctor collaboration, and potentially improve patient outcomes.
Seratis: This is a smartphone-based platform that allows doctors, nurses, and caregivers to better coordinate and track in-patient care. Co-founder and CEO Divya Dhar, a physician by trade, argues that the vast majority of doctors still use pagers to communicate with each other about patient care in hospitals. She argues that this results in tremendous inefficiencies that lead to extended hospital stays and increased per-patient spending on care. The Seratis solution is a mobile app designed to enable doctors, nurses, social workers, case managers and even patients to collaborate in real-time on a case. The goal is to increase efficiencies and responsiveness, get patients out of the hospital faster, cut costs, and move on from the pagers.
Clearly, healthcare tech is on an upward trajectory and is poised for a breakthrough in terms of growth and revenue in the long term. These three startups and their peers exemplify the fact that it is all being driven by a sea change in the way technologists and entrepreneurs are approaching health and patient care. It is the new recognition that ‘mainstream’ technology, like data analysis, wearable tech, and the cloud, now have a critical place in the healthcare ecosystem.