Earlier this year I wrote an article that questioned whether the Fitbit was really a digital health solution. I essentially came to the conclusion that Fitbit’s health data wasn’t clinically relevant and so that’s why we didn’t see it really impacting healthcare as we know it.
While Fitbit’s data may not be clinically relevant, Fitbit has still gone on to be an extremely successful wearable technology solution for consumers. For some reason we enjoy tracking our steps whether it really improves our health or not. Of course, maybe they’re also riding our own misconception that tracking steps improves health. Regardless, they’ve been extremely successful and haven’t had to prove that they actually do anything to move the needle in healthcare.
I wonder if this is the model that we’ll see happen most with digital health solutions. Instead of trying to actually take part in the ruthless, brutal, and complex healthcare infrastructure, I expect we’ll see most digital health solutions work on the outside.
Think about the overhead that comes with becoming FDA cleared or the overhead that comes with proving to a hospital that your solution really does improve patients’ health. That’s a lot of work compared with just creating the illusion of health and selling it directly to consumers. Maybe the illusion will play out as reality or maybe it will not. From a company’s point of view, all you have to do is keep the illusion in play and you can be successful.
No doubt this later strategy appeals to the startup culture that’s been created in the US. There’s so little that’s “lean startup” of MVP (minimum viable product) in healthcare. Most people in healthcare are afraid of anything that’s not mature. Healthcare regulations certainly discriminate against experimentation and show bias to mature technologies.
The only case that really can be made to entrepreneurs who want to pursue the harder path of proving their technologies is that once they’ve proved it they have a great defense against competitors who haven’t gone to that effort. That’s a powerful incentive, but not one that most will appreciated when starting a digital health startup company.
My gut tells me that the complexities of healthcare are holding many innovations from happening in healthcare. That’s unfortunate.