The big four tech giants – Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft – and tech companies of all sizes are diving into the business of health, creating apps and tools powered by data and geared toward helping patients manage their health. But the jury is still out on whether early offerings are effective and improving patients’ lives. Does their new technology provide effective solutions for patients? Or is it all just hype?
A healthcare technology is effective when patients reap real value following their interaction with the tool. This is something upon which companies seeking to solve inefficiencies in our healthcare system must focus. If we are going to ask patients to actively engage with novel technologies to improve their lives, they must see immediate and tangible benefits.
Apple recently announced a vast partnership with the U.S. Veterans Administration to provide 9 million veterans in 1,243 facilities with tools that organize their health records. However, the number of patients or hospitals the tools reach is not as important as earning ongoing patient utilization and investment.
This approach has characterized Apple since its earliest days, when it disrupted the personal computer market with carefully designed relevance that met the immediate needs of its users. As Apple did with such great success nearly 40 years ago, technology companies interested in disrupting healthcare must strive to engage patients through their tools, empowering them as catalysts in creating a better healthcare system. For example, patients engaging with technology tools such as data-consolidation apps can expedite the amalgamation of their medical records, overcoming the challenges of data fragmentation and access that plague the industry.
The trajectory of wearables provides some important lessons in engaging users via technology tools. For example, we learned that fitness and health tracking for its own sake is a poor entry point for patient partnership. The problem has been a lack of engagement: after a number of runs and sleep cycles, the gadget often ends up in a drawer. Importantly, patients seem to perceive more value in wearables when integrated into real clinical care and supporting their goals for better health.
Consider the clinical trial realm. Patients may be inspired to participate out of a sense of altruism, in hopes that their efforts can help future generations affected by their illness. They may participate in pursuit of access to new therapies that offer hope. Technology can be introduced to make it easier for these patients to participate in clinical trials, in addition to presenting new value propositions to those who may not otherwise enroll.
These new value propositions could include a pre-qualification service where medical records and data can be precision-matched with clinical trials without creating more work for the patient or doctor. They could connect patients with experts to get the latest information on managing their condition from the comfort of their own homes. Patients may find great value in a mobile app that simplifies symptom-tracking between doctor visits – an integral part of trials – if they are able to leverage the benefits of generating and tracking more complete health information in real time.
While patient-friendly features are not necessarily connected to trials themselves, all patients can use them to better organize health records and app data into a single digital record that is easily shared and viewed with doctors or caregivers. These data and records can then be used to improve trial matching.
Ultimately, if tech companies, and all players in the space, are going to develop tools that meaningfully reduce the inefficiencies in healthcare, they need to engage patients. To do this, they must first prove that their tools are effective in ways that patients care about.
Komathi Stem is founder and CEO of monARC Bionetworks