Transparent communication, clinically-validated technologies, and addressing real-life clinical needs might sound like no-brainer components to a digital health company since they are working in the healthcare sector. It is also a rapidly expanding one where investments were heavily channelled during the pandemic.
However, some estimate that 90% of digital health startups will go bust or be ‘acqui-hired’ within a few years of being founded. If digital health represents the future of medicine and healthcare, it is important to understand why this is the case.
We previously dissected the reasons why digital health startups go bust and the human element that jeopardised promising digital health tech. So in this article, we decided to go back to the dissection room to explore the anatomy of a good digital health company. So let’s take our digital scalpel and get to the task!
The five features of a good digital health company
Scalpel equipped and ready? Follow along the incision lines and you’ll find that a good digital health company will have the following elements:
1. Transparent communication through social media
In the age of the internet, social media is where a company can reach out to most people. By leveraging this reach, companies can build trust in their products/services through transparent communication. However, going against this trend doesn’t bode well for the company and its audience.
As a negative example, we can take now defunct Nima. The startup launched two promising portable food sensors some years ago. We tested both the peanut sensor and the gluten sensor and found them to be accurate and very practical to use.
But since our reviews in 2018, Nima hasn’t released any new products and went silent. Online, users were reporting a lack of the availability of testing capsules required for the devices and a lack of communication from the company itself. And they were blaming the new management for these issues.
2. Showing their claims through evidence-based studies
Given how digital health companies operate in the delicate area of healthcare, backing the claims of their tools through research will make them more noteworthy. For example, Nightingale uses nuclear magnetic resonance and its proprietary software to analyse numerous biomarkers in a single blood sample. But unlike Theranos and its false claims, Nightingale teamed with researchers to be more transparent about their tech. Now, over 350 studies have applied their method.
3. Meeting real-life clinical or patient needs
For a technology, and subsequently, the company behind it, to be successful, it should integrate into the practical reality of healthcare.
For example, during the pandemic, telemedicine presented itself as a ready-made option that surged during the pandemic. Companies offering such services saw a boom in adoption. Amwell’s telemedicine app usage went up by 158% in the U.S. and appointments through PlushCare increased by 70%. In comparison, only 1 in 10 U.S. patients had used telemedicine services before the pandemic. And although the pandemic has passed, telemedicine usage among US adults remained significantly higher than before, the CDC reported that 37% of Americans used such services in 2021, and data from 2022 shows that such services were utilized by 22% during the 4-week survey period.
4. Catering to niche areas
The more niche of an area that a digital health company focuses on, the higher its chances of success. Austrian startup mySugr is an example of this. Their app helps diabetics reinterpret the condition as a “monster” that can be tamed through their app. Through motivating challenges, personalised insights and a scoring system, it encourages patients to “tame the monster” by keeping their glucose level at a desirable one.
Pharma giant Roche even saw the potential in mySugr’s gamified approach and acquired the startup in 2017. It paired the mySugr app with its existing Accu-Chek Guide glucose meter to create the mySugr Bundle; thereby augmenting diabetics’ management of their condition.
5. Adoption of patient design
Often left out of the equation are patients who, conversely, are often the end-user of digital health services. Their input can be paramount in developing products attending to their medical needs. Incorporating a patient advisory board and including patient design can help a digital health company stand out from the crowd.
The #wearenotwaiting movement from diabetics illustrates this. With the artificial pancreas not available on the market due to lagging regulations, the diabetics’ community designed their own DIY one that works. After two years since the DIY version was freely available, the FDA finally approved an artificial pancreas. If a company integrated a patient advisory board, leveraged its insight to develop such a product and pushed to have it approved, it would have a significant edge over other competitors.
The importance of separating the wheat from the chaff
Now that the dissection is complete and the anatomical components of a good digital health company are identified, we can turn our attention to an actual example of such a company.
For this purpose, we’ll look at the path taken by manufacturers of portable ECG monitors like AliveCor. Since releasing its first FDA-approved portable ECG device in 2012, the company has pushed to have its devices tested in clinical trials while refining their design. By 2020, AliveCor’s products were tested in more than 40 clinical studies (and counting). Integrated technologies like A. I. and their device were deemed comparable to a traditional (and bulky) 12-lead ECG by a study. By getting their products validated and pushing for good digital communication, the device can become part of everyday practice.
When venturing forth into the digital health industry, companies have to dream big as they intend to disrupt the healthcare industry.
However, companies that tend to fly too close to the sun by overpromising and under-delivering make it hard to identify good companies. Some like Theranos build on hype and overclaims but turn out to be scams that leave a sour taste in investors’ mouths. This can impede progress in an otherwise promising sector. Also impeding progress is mismanagement like in the case of Proteus and the development of digital pills. While the technology is sound, the human factor ultimately led to its bankruptcy.
As such, we hope that this anatomy will help you discern digital health companies and the services they offer that are worth your while from those that aren’t.
Written by Dr. Bertalan Meskó & Dr. Pranavsingh Dhunnoo
The post 5 Best Practices To Build A Future-Ready Digital Health Company appeared first on The Medical Futurist.