Three questions every healthcare company should ask

26 February 2020

health care

As health care goes digital, and technology becomes an inseparable part of its delivery, companies should ask three questions to help them evaluate when to invest and when to pass. Investor interest in health care technology soared in 2019 and remains strong for 2020, reflecting excitement about its potential – and the deep need for integrated solutions.

But with a quickly evolving tech landscape, how should health care services organizations identify the tools that will make the biggest difference to the health of their populations? Many digital apps and similar technologies do more to attract the “worried well” than to support patients coping with chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension. Technology may be integral to the future of health care delivery, but every new technology product isn’t.

Every new opportunity by asking three questions, which guide decisions on where we invest our money and time.

What is the problem we need to solve?

One of the most frustrating aspects of health care today is how it simply isn’t easy:  Appointments take a long time to make, medical records must often be faxed, the doctor is running late, and what do you mean insurance doesn’t cover that prescription?

We often use the word “friction” to describe this phenomenon. The more friction there is, the harder it is to reach the desired outcome. In other industries, technology has excelled at removing friction and speeding up processes: think of travel booking or stock trading, not to mention the way e-commerce has revolutionised how we sell and shop.

Yet in health care, friction has persisted, despite a concerted push toward interoperability and the explosion of consumer tools like portals, apps, and wearables. Why? Reasons include regulation and complexity in the industry, as well as the fundamental problem of misaligned incentives that arose from payment models based on volume instead of value. These barriers are not insurmountable, but they do raise the stakes for health care technology. Knowing exactly what problem you are trying to solve and taking a targeted approach is crucial. Poorly identified goals could lead to frustration and misinformation in the best-case scenario or diminished health outcomes in the worst.

One example of a health tech company that solves a specific problem is GoodRx. This app allows people to check local pharmacies to see who has the best price on medications. It also offers coupons for those paying without insurance, which can deliver great savings. It’s a product that addresses a specific pain point – the price of prescription medications – by enhancing transparency and competition, both of which reduce friction for the patient.

Even so, if I was evaluating how this app would serve my organization, there is another question I would need to ask…

Who will use this product, platform or tool? How will they use it?

Health care delivery involves not one perspective, but two: patient and provider. With an admirable focus on consumers and their experiences, many technology companies have designed solutions that appeal to consumers but that providers find unhelpful. There is nothing wrong with developing a product that consumers love if the goal is simply to sell to consumers. But if the goal is to impact health care delivery and improve the health of a specific population, things change. The technology in question needs to fit into the value chain in a way that allows it to be fully leveraged.

A great example of a tech-enabled solution that considers both audiences is Cityblock Health, which invests in services outside of direct medical care, such as those related to food security, transportation, and stable housing. It’s a terrific offering that allows providers to better serve their most vulnerable patients, without having to navigate a complex web of social services on their own (while other patients wait). When tools like Cityblock Health remove friction, everyone wins. Patients get access to the services and support they need to live healthier. Meanwhile, providers get more time back in their day to provide care.

Even with the problem and audience identified, there is still one more question to consider.

How will this technology create value for the patient and my organisation?

There are lots of health tech companies that deliver great products that solve problems and appeal to the end-user. But if my goal is to create value – which I define as decreasing the overall cost of care by increasing access, quality, and experience – I want to understand how the product does that.

To do so, I need to look at not only what the product does but also how it will fit into my organisation. Does it integrate into existing technologies and workflows? If not, what steps will I have to take to implement it? How will we track and measure success? How will it be communicated to stakeholders, especially providers? I recommend asking these questions – and involving people from your organisation – before you buy. There are lots of examples of great products that failed to deliver value because they didn’t work within an organisational context.

That said, there are also great examples of organizations that have gotten it right. Consider Ochsner Health System in Louisiana and its digital medicine programs. These initiatives target patients with certain chronic diseases, such as hypertension, heart failure and diabetes, who could benefit from remote monitoring by their care teams. It helps patients access technologies like wireless blood pressure cuffs, provides the support they need to set-up and use them, and ensures their data is shared with their care teams. The results have been dramatic: Ochsner found that at 90 days, 71 percent of patients in the hypertension digital medicine cohort achieved target blood pressure control, compared to 31 percent of patients receiving usual hypertension care, according to a study published in The American Journal of Medicine.

By integrating health tech into its electronic health record and physician workflows, Ochsner is delivering a solution with real value. Far from benefitting the worried well, this initiative targets a patient population with urgent health needs and solves a well-defined problem. It takes a tool – wearable technology – and uses it to deliver a solution that works. Perhaps that’s the most important thing to remember with any new product or technology: they’re just tools. Whether they enhance health depends on us, and our capacity to identity the goal, the audience, and the value delivered. By answering these questions, we can sort through the noise, evaluate appropriately, and cut out the friction – creating a better health care future for everyone.

Published by on February 18, 2020
Image by Shutterstock


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