Guest Column | March 6, 2019

Why U.S. Healthcare Needs To Adopt A Startup Mentality

By Christopher McCann, Current Health

ONC Pushes For Health IT Innovation With Startup “Challenge”

Technology has made us all closer and more connected than ever before. Yet even in a world brimming with technologies unimaginable as recently as a decade ago, preventable medical events claim 400,000 lives in the U.S., and cost $1 trillion a year. Addressing this should be a top priority of policymakers and professionals.

But there’s not exactly an app for that — it’s a complex challenge for which there’s no quick fix. And even though technology will be — must be — part of the solution, its application has already made healthcare more convoluted and, at times, more difficult.

In most hospitals today, 90 percent of patients’ vital signs are being collected manually and repetitively by a nurse. Why isn’t technology doing this? The adoption of electronic medical records (EMR) was supposed to lessen the burden, but the 2018 Medscape National Physician Burnout Report showed two main drivers of physician burnout are too many bureaucratic tasks and increased computerization, including EMR integration.

Technology should be a force multiplier — it allows one person to achieve more than they ever could on their own. How can we help clinicians do more, without overtaxing them? The remote patient monitoring (RPM) industry has been attempting this for years, but, until now, it’s been poorly executed. One reason for this is a lack of clarity on who the product is really for.

Think of the iPhone. More often than not, the person buying it is the one who will use it. So, when Apple optimizes the iPhone with each generation, it’s optimizing the product for the buyer and the user. In healthcare, it’s not always this simple. With remote patient monitoring, specifically, there are multiple users — in this case clinicians and patients who have varying degrees of training and expertise.

Healthcare purchasing can be a complex process that involves multiple decision makers at each touchpoint. Because of this, it’s common to have widely differing priorities from each group, and those priorities are not always aligned. Ultimately, the product in these cases are generally optimized for the buyer, not the user. It’s not just remote patient monitoring systems. EMRs are another example of a product designed for the benefit of senior healthcare leaders (purchasers) rather than patients, as demonstrated in this recent EMR study in JAMA.

This means that software engineers, designers, product managers all need to prioritize user experience. It may determine the success or failure of your product.

For these engineers and designers to fully understand the impact of the product they designed, it’s imperative they have first-hand experience observing medical professionals work with patients. One thing that companies like Amazon, Apple and consumer-facing tech startups do incredibly well is optimize for the user experience, because it's so critical to their success. Healthcare is far more complex, but the product still needs to work exceptionally well for users.

A successful healthcare technology product needs to work operationally, day in and day out, a fact that makes product design extremely complicated. Muddying that process even more is the fluidity of workflows, which differ in the case of each physician, provider and disease being treated.

To really ignite change, healthcare providers must embrace more startup tech vendors, who work harder to ensure the end user loves their products. Startups are willing and eager to quickly respond to the needs of their customers. Healthcare providers must also be willing to bring startups in for first-hand experiences so they can see the impact their products have on a patient’s life, and so they can build a deeper understanding of the sheer complexities of healthcare delivery.

There is no question that innovation within healthcare is urgently needed. We have a societal imperative to encourage more tech founders, startups and entrepreneurs to enter the healthcare tech space. Our lives depend on it. In fact, in the time it’s taken you to read this, another four people have died of problems we can — and must — solve.