Stay focused on the big picture!
An entrepreneur / enterprise intrapreneur who ventures into innovating e-healthcare through web / mobile technologies cannot stay narrowly focused on the solution they are building. They need to stay receptively tuned to the environment within which their software-based business ventures are to operate. They are, for example, unlikely to deliver a unique and commercially viable product operating from within the ivory tower of technical product development; the answer to what “unique and commercially viable” really means lies outside and depends on the economic, social and technological trends affecting the business, its competitors’ offerings, etc. More importantly, the answer is very often redefined by the dynamic changes affecting the landscape within which innovation takes place.
By providing answers to the questions below you can form a fairly solid picture of your domain – the picture within which you develop your product and your business.
● What is the current state of e-health in the market you target? What are the trends affecting e-healthcare? How does the product you are building fit in with what is available today and may be available in the future?
● Who are the competitors? How do they perform? What kind of solutions do they offer? What are their USPs? Who succeeds? Who fails? Why? If there seems to be no direct competition – what are the substitutes?
● What are the insights you may gain from other e-health innovators – the people like you?
● Where does the e-health-focused investors’ money flows? What is the investors’ perspective? Even if you are bootstrapping, knowing what industry-focused angels, seed funds and VCs are after may offer valuable insights.
● What’s the industry-related news?
The real challenge is that you need to keep answering the questions on an ongoing basis; otherwise you may find your product – however unique and viable at the outset – no longer so due to the changes in the big picture you are in.
So where can you find the information with which to answer the questions? What are some of the valuable web resources where to find the information you need to stay relevant? Where can you find e-health-related:
● white papers, reports and trend analyses,
● product and venture listings and profiles; success and failure stories,
● insights from people like you, e.g. e-health communities, events and blogs.
● investor listings, profiles and portfolios,
● e-Health news sites and blogs?
We have curated our own list of such resources and would like to share it with those who are interested.
White papers, reports and trend analyses – understanding the current state and peering into the future.
There are a number of reports, analyses and white papers which allow you to form a general overview of the e-health business domain. Such resources attempt to review what has been done so far and offer insights for the better understanding of the current state of the processes applied in e-health businesses today. Re-inventing the wheel is probably the worst pattern to follow when you can just stand on the shoulders of giants, learn about the common problems and solutions currently used in the e-health industry. Know the foundations that have already been laid, acknowledge the mechanisms and how-tos that work and innovate on top of them.
Also examine trends to understand the changes affecting your business landscape. Customer needs today are not the same as they were five years ago and they will most probably be different in 5 years’ time, if not earlier. The technologies used to deliver the service to the customers are similarly evolving. New entrants are disrupting the brittle status quo in the emerging e-health market.Therefore, it is vital to identify and understand the trends affecting e-healthcare and – more importantly – to position yourself so that the trends work with rather than against you.
Here is a list of resources that we found to be very informative with respect to the current state and the future of e-health:
- Lessons on Innovating at Scale: How Big Providers Discover and Replicate Their Best Ideas – a white paper by the California Healthcare Foundation and the Mayo Clinic;
- Top 11 Healthcare IT Trends for 2011 and eHealth Best Practices – GE white papers available at GE Healthcare Resources;
- The State Alliance’s White Papers on electronic prescribing, electronic health information exchange, licensure, privacy and electronic health legislation;
- Mobihealthnews’ reviews of healthcare-related reports as well as the related reports themselves:
- Five must-read mobile health reports:
- How Smartphones Are Changing Health Care for Consumers and Providers,
- Booting Up Mobile Health: From Medical Mainframe to Distributed Intelligence,
- mHealth for Development: The Opportunity of Mobile Technology for Healthcare in the Developing World,
- FCC’s National Broadband Plan: Healthcare Chapter 10,
- Wireless & Mobile Health, a Triple Tree Industry Analysis;
- Four more must-read mobile health reports:
- Even more: Five must-read mobile health reports:
- The Future of Connected Health Devices,
- mHealth Technologies: Applications to Benefit Older Adults,
- mHealth: New horizons for health through mobile technologies,
- Mobile Communications for Medical Care: a study of current and future healthcare and health promotion applications, and their use in China and elsewhere,
- Mobilizing Development;
- Five must-read mobile health reports:
- Future e-Health – a special issue of Future Internet, where you can currently find the report Collaboration between Professionals: The Use of Videoconferencing for Delivering E-Health. There are more topics to be covered in the near future, e.g. Young Patients’ Views on the Open Web 2.0 Childhood Diabetes Patient Portal: A Qualitative Study; Has Anyone Else Had This? The Trend Towards the Use of Patient Experiential Information in E-health Websites; Family Interaction and Consensus with IT Support; Improving Data Quality of E-Health Information Systems for Tracking Chronic Diseases. Do not miss the relevant ones.
- To get the flavour of what trend analyses can provide you with, you might check the Rock Health's Digital Health Report Presentation, which focuses on the VC funding and the entrepreneurs’ perspectives in the digital health space.
- Standards and eHealth – a report that presents a snapshot of the current e-health standardization landscape, current limitations and problems in the area, as well as lists possible opportunities for the deployment of efficient and secure eHealth systems;
- A Holistic Framework to Improve the Uptake and Impact of eHealth Technologies – a report published in The Journal of Medical Internet Research;
- e-Health Data Snapshots from Manhattan Research, LLC;
- Business Models for eHealth by Capgemini.
At least some of reports are published on a periodic basis so their successive editions can help you stay updated in the future. All in all, it is good to know what is already there, and thus be able to verify if your business idea and/or product concept are unique and viable. A word of caution: geographical markets differ substantially if only because of their technological maturity and specific healthcare regulations; make sure you have relevant information for the market you are to operate in.
Existing e-health services, competitors, successful ventures and failures to learn from.
One of the easiest and most efficient learning strategies an entrepreneur can use is to carefully study the examples of other similar ventures. Analyse relevant case studies and lessons learnt to avoid re-invent the wheel or making the mistakes others have already made, to reach your target user base more effectively, and to ensure your solution is truly unique / strengthened with an “unfair advantage” and therefore, hopefully, monetizable.
You can find listings of e-health ventures in the following web resources:
- Digital Health Startup List – one of the most extensive e-health startup lists that can be found on the Internet – RockHealth did a great job aggregating the information;
- The 45 Most Innovative Health and Fitness Startups – an overview of 45 health and fitness startups;
- 17 Game-Changing Health Start-ups.
With the listings like these at hand, all you need to do is go over a list, identify the projects in your space, do further research on them and draw valuable conclusions to strengthen your product/business or else abandon the idea which is unlikely to be competitive.
For example, if you are into solutions which help manage healthcare costs, you might want to scrutinize the following ventures:
- Eligible – an iPhone app that provides a fast, simple, and intuitive way to check health insurance eligibility for specific coverage such as: visits allowed, co-pays, and deductibles;
- Castlight enables their users to reduce their out-of-pocket cost of healthcare with a set of easy-to-use, personalized tools that provide unbiased information about the price and quality of the medical services available to the user;
- Cake Health – an online application that helps keep track of the user’s healthcare expenses.
If your venture is to be focused on enhancing the productivity of medical professionals, you might as well start with the review of the following solutions:
- DocMeIn – a free online service for independent physician practices to manage their patient appointments online;
- Scriptpad – a mobile application that transforms iPhone / iPad devices into digital prescription pads;
- goBalto a solution which offers a smarter, faster way to start a clinical study on the web;
- eHealthMe – a free service that offers personalized studies of drug interactions and side effects;
- drawMD enhances doctor-patient communication by offering a new paradigm for explaining complex medical issues;
- extendMD offers an easy way for patients with chronic conditions to communicate their ‘home’ readings directly to their healthcare team.
If you are particularly interested in online services for finding, booking and rating doctors, you might review the following:
- DocMatcher – a web-platform that connects people to doctors who match the patients’ specific needs and then provides the tools with which to develop and maintain a relationship with the service provider;
- ZocDoc – a free service that allows patients to book doctor appointments online;
- Appointment City – a web application for finding a doctor and making an appointment online in real-time;
- DocSpot – a service which allows you to search for healthcare professionals across multiple sources based on certification, education and more;
- AdvisorMed – a web application that allows users to speedily obtain trusted and free information about hospitals, nursing homes and home healthcare service providers;
- My Best Treat – a web service where users can find and recommend the best paramedical and medical treatments and practitioners.
If you are to develop a mobile application whose goal is to help individuals manage such aspects of their life as testing stress and heart rate, controlling weight or tracking baby-related activities, you might check:
- Massive Health – an app which analyzes the user’s diet to provide them with a big picture of their eating habits, including the positive and negative aspects of their diet, and the best places to start making a change;
- Azumio – a company that specializes in making applications dedicated to the improvement of people’s wellness by measuring their sleep cycles and heartbeat;
- Baby 2.0 – an iPhone application that allows you to track activities related to your newborn child.
Learn from failures, preferably from the failures of others
Success stories may be motivating to read; still studying failures or – less dramatic – pivots may turn out to be much more insightful. Sadly, we have not found any neatly curated web resources that would provide failure accounts in the e-health domain, the ones similar to this general listing. If you happen to come across an e-health-focused listing, let us know. In the meantime, you may fall back on brief and well-written case studies published in the web services such as TechCrunch, TNW, FastCompany and the like.
To cite an example of how you can benefit from failure case studies, let’s assume you intend to charge consumers (patients) for the service or else act on the assumption that they will feed a lot of data into the system you are working on. You might actually re-consider your assumptions after reading the following article: HealthTech FAIL: Lessons For Entrepreneurs From Health Startups Gone Awry. Yet another story worth consideration: at the start of 2012, Google shut down one of its services called Google Health. The service was meant to serve as a central repository for health information and an overall wellness platform where the user could store their medical history, prescriptions and medical records. The project failed. You may find out more about it in the TechCrunch article. It may contain insightful lessons learnt for e-health innovators on similar projects.
Insights from people like you – e-Health communities, events and blogs.
Social networks and notable personalities
Finding and connecting with other individuals and communities active in your area of interest may also increase the odds of success. Reach out for them to build your social capital, connect with people for insights and experience sharing. Where can you meet other e-health innovators to exchange ideas and insights? What are other e-health innovators saying in the industry-focused web communities, at relevant events, or, simply, in their blog posts?
A place to start your search might be, for instance, healthspottr.com. Healthspottr is a private network of creative health professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, business and thought–leaders who are committed to healthcare transformation. It is a great place to find creative individuals and a lot of inspiring ideas. Another option to consider is the participation in the domain-focused groups available on professional social networks such as LinkedIn, Xing, etc. Some examples of such thematically-oriented groups might be:
- Health 2.0
- Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society
- Health Informatics Technology (HIT)
- Telemedicine & E-Health
- EMEA e-Health and Health Informatics professionals
- eHealth Initiative
- eHealth Professionals
- E-Health International
- Health Care: Service & Management
- Health 2.0
Lastly, while reading news and blog articles on e-health you will most probably come across some inspiring personalities who attempt to break new grounds in the domain, such as for example: Mohammad Al-Ubaydli, Jay Parkinson, Dave Chase. Check where they publish / hang around and follow them to benefit from their insights.
Expanding your social network on the Internet creates benefits, yet nothing beats meeting new people face to face. Visit the sites which gather information about the incoming e-health events and identify the events which fit your profile thematically. Some such event lists can be found at:
If you are based in Europe, you might consider going to the Health 2.0 Conference in Berlin; while if you operate in the US, you might find the Boston or San Francisco equivalents more convenient to attend. At least, in 2012.
The healthcare-focused investors’ perspective.
New businesses very often crave for capital. Running out of cash is one of the major reasons why a lot of promising ventures fail within a year from the moment they are set up. Depending on your capital needs and the stage of your business, you may consider angel investors, seed funds or Venture Capital groups; they all come with different expectations and requirements. It is a good idea to keep an eye on investors for at least two reasons. First, you will know where to look for investors when you need funding. Second, it is an easy guess that investors do not pour money into ventures which do not seem promising. They actively seek e-health businesses and solutions that are likely to provide them with a solid return on investments. Learning about investors and their preferences is just another way to find out more about the emerging trends.
To find out more about investors, start by taking a closer look at the amazing aggregation curated by RockHealth: Digital Health Venture Funding Database. You can as well review the Rock Report: State of Digital Health presentation, which focuses on VC funding, or go over the investors lists that are published in Techcrunch or Forbes articles like, for example, the notes on One Medical or Castlight. There are also initiatives such as Healthbox, which is a global mentor network supporting healthcare startups with their members’ know-how and connections. Healthbox promises that an e-health entrepreneur will be able to generate ideas, test assumptions and focus your business in a dynamic workspace alongside other promising startups, with some seed capital to boot.
Angel.co is a good example of a community site focused on startups. You can explore start-up and investor lists, filtering them by market and location. Such sites may also help you find information about investors operating in the e-health domain.
Staying in the loop with relevant news. It is equally important to stay in touch with what is going on, i.e. to remain updated on the main events and happenings in the domain by regular visits to / newsletters from the sites that offer business and technology news related to e-healthcare. Some of them are focused on e-health, others less so – in the latter case you may need to sift through the news to find the relevant items. Here are a few sites we would like to recommend:
E-HEALTH FOCUSED SITES: MobiHealth News – a daily online news portal that also provides a free weekly newsletter; eHealth Initiative, who claim to be on a mission to drive improvement in the quality, safety, and efficiency of healthcare through information and technology; e-Health News – dubbed the “The First European eHealth News Portal”; e-Health Insider – a service catering to business, professional and consumer audiences in the UK; eHEALTH Magazine – focused on providing information on healthcare technology changes to physicians, patients and the industry; Health-e News Service – an award-winning South African health news service; * [Medcrunch](https://www.medcrunch.net/] – an online magazine covering health, medicine, entrepreneurship and technology.
A note for developers
I wrote the post with an e-health entrepreneur in mind. However, understanding the business and technology landscape of healthcare innovation is equally important for software developers who implement products for health-focused innovators. Without the domain knowledge, without a thorough understanding of the very specific points of pain your software needs to address or the environment your client competes in, you will not be able to build an exceptional product. At best, you will be much less effective and much less efficient in the delivery of your service.
If you share the same background knowledge and language with the entrepreneurs you support, you are in a position to make valuable product and business contributions rather than limit your service to technical product implementation. After all it is both the market-oriented customer developers and the technology-oriented product developers who – jointly – build the product and the business behind it. The more they share, the more likely are they to succeed in their quest.