Predictions for 2017: Digital Health tides will trump timing.

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As 2017 kicks off, many have already called for a unpredictable year in healthcare - especially here in the US.  On the contrary, I think that 2017 will be anything if not predictable.  While 2016 gave us a year of maturity and pattern recognition, 2017 will be a year when the tides of the last few years will wash over any policy or breakthrough technologies.

2017 is the year we should anticipate scale in healthcare innovation.  Scale across many dimensions.  Scale of investment, innovation, partnerships and and ultimately, scale of digital health solutions that truly meet both human and business needs.  2017 is a year that offers a host of opportunities for meaningful innovation as much of what will happen has been underway for a while now.

The tide of consolidation will accelerate in “crowded” segments.

While it’s difficult to call any segment of digital health “mature”, it’s probably safe to call some areas a little saturated.  Many successful efforts in corporate wellness, analytics, care coordination will continue to consolidate for two reasons: a) the segment cannot continue to be as crowded and fragmented, and b) many of these solutions do not provide enough value on their own. Recent examples include Welltok-Silverlink, Castlight-Jiff.  EMRs, AI, and wearables will do the same.  FitBit’s acquisition of Pebble is arguably the most exciting in digital health.  While I mourn the disappearance of Pebble as we knew it, the acquisition finally matches hardware prowess with software prowess.  Can’t wait to see an ecosystem growing out a possible “FitBit OS”! Scale!

The tide of investment chasing clinical, integrated solutions will ebb upward.

With consolidation shaping consumer health and wellness, smart money is chasing more robust and outcomes-driven solutions in digital health.  As expected, it is on the rise across the board.  These are the long poles in the tent: requiring longer and more robust development methods while also targeting populations where the most care is needed and the most return is to be had with success.  Clinical, integrated solutions in digital health bring the industry closer to value-based and transparent ecosystems.  This is where partnership and the care experience, not just the patient experience, matter the most.  

The tide of partnerships between small and large organizations will raise all ships.

While headlines are loudest when the “800lb gorillas” announce partnerships, there has been a distinct lack of follow through in innovation announcements with this genre.  That wave will give way to partnerships between large, experienced companies and small, nimble ones bringing collaborative solutions to markets globally.  It’s where the investment capital is going, and where tech money goes, appropriate disruption usually follows.  But digital health entrepreneurs continue to learn that credibility - that can be gained by meaningful partnership with larger companies - is a must have to achieve scale.

The tide of consumer expectations will remain high.

Whatever you want to call the US healthcare legislation, the healthcare expectations of the US consumer have permanently shifted.  Demand for coverage and access is on the rise and regardless of the political posturing over legislation that has already begun in Washington, our high expectations as consumers is not going away.  Most enrollees in the ACA marketplaces are happy with their plans, most need to save money, and most don’t understand HSAs.  Decisions will be made to move business goals, not consumer unmet needs. An opportunity awaits those who can close the digital divide despite what government chooses to do, not because of it.  

The tide of liberated data will help bridge inequality.

Which brings us to the issue of fragmentation and data liberation.  Electronic health record vendors will continue to be more open with the data sets that they govern.  When combined with a myriad of other sources, these data build deeper understanding of smaller, often underserved, populations.  Digital health use is still very fragmented across the United States. Underserved populations in rural and/or economically challenged communities rarely see digital health tools, as many people in those regions don’t often have access to powerful devices or high speed internet. And even if people do have access to new, digital tools, they often find that the solutions are expensive and hard to understand. State-level autonomy, or lack thereof, has often been noted as a significant weakness of Affordable Care Act. State-level funding, on the other hand, is often noted as the best use of public funds in healthcare.  Is this an opportunity to scale bridging inequality then?  We are not fully connected as a nation, so there is hope that we could make real progress on this in 2017.  

The tide of globalization will not discriminate in digital health.  

The US can learn much from the rest of the world when it comes to healthcare and technology.  Singapore and Switzerland are blending democracy and technocracy deftly - producing cutting-edge solutions with technology and science at a societal, even political, level.  Just as many digital economies around the world skipped “client-server” and went to “mobile-and-cloud” computing, so some will skip the “app economy” and use the power of networks.  China has seen great success in implementing telemedicine and remote health services across the country. Two companies in particular, Ping An’s Good Doctor and We Doctor, have shown both backing and adoption. So what is their secret? What can we learn from China’s adoption of telemedicine to increase acceptance here at home? Can fewer regulations in the US present opportunities to deliver such impact responsibly?

Timing is one of the most important elements in comedy, drama, politics and … innovation.  2017, however, is all about tides and how the best healthcare innovators will ride them.  

Written By:
Ahmed Albaiti
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