Medicine is a field slow to adopt an innovation; after all, you are dealing with people’s lives and there is a very high bar for discarding old ways. That said, a huge percentage of the medical community will agree that tradition has often hampered the adoption of new technologies that can significantly improve communication, collaboration, and community.
In the U.S., this is a field where pagers and faxes still rule the day, where you can’t email from your personal account to the doctor, and where till recently you would be hard pressed to access your own data on a computer.
How do you change that? Entrepreneurs should consider three core dimensions when trying to disrupt these “Cs” in health.
How do you ensure people are who they claim to be? An even larger question, how do you ensure the community you are building includes the right people and promotes the right interactions? The good news is we have plenty of models now that can show the way. Back in the day when Facebook was restricted to colleges, they required students to register with their university email address, which created a powerful foundation of trust. AirBnB famously built its initial membership extremely carefully, to make sure early adopters would actually engage around the optimal experience they wanted.
Companies trying to promote similar communities for medical professionals, whether it be the “LinkedIn for Doctors” (Sermo, Doximity), the “Instagram for Doctors” (Figure1, Medscape Consult, Curofy, Daily Rounds) or the “Facebook for Patients” (Patients Like Me), have tackled the challenge of verification in different ways. But the successful models all employ a similar set of tools — combine automatic with human validation, review content proactively as much as possible, let the community moderate itself, respond quickly when there are fake or inappropriate profiles and content. Creating a barrier for entry is actually a good thing, as is ramping users steadily through a validation funnel, because it will ensure higher quality for a more targeted audience.
Medical lawsuits have actually fallen in the US in both number and amount paid. But talk to any medical professional and they will tell you how paranoid they are about protecting their and patient’s information.
Complying with HIPAA is the bare minimum for a platform, some would argue it’s no more than a marketing byline these days. The real proof around privacy is for any platform promoting the three Cs to encrypt information exchange when necessary, to establish clear boundaries around liability and to have a medical review board to set an ethics policy.
WhatsApp or WeChat can get away with implicit consent but for a health-related company explicit consent is a must even if sacrifices growth. In the long run establishing trust will be far more important than maximizing network effects, and there is no sure way of losing trust than to compromise on privacy around sensitive information.
Whether it be a telehealth platform like American Well or a device tracking your steps like Fitbit or AI-powered chat like Pager, any company intermediating between and among providers, payers and patients will garner a huge amount of data. If you are looking to differentiate your platform try to garner user intent, make targeted recommendations or even publish anonymized aggregated insights.
There is such a thing as the half-life of knowledge, many medical schools actually tell their students that about half of what they learn will be outdated by the time they graduate. Wikipedia with its wisdom of the crowds has overwhelmingly supplanted Encyclopedia Britannica composed by experts. While we are far from that in a specialized domain like medicine, there is definitely a lot to be learned from the data sitting in a health platform — if we know how to productize it.
Author’s note: These are purposely short articles focused on practical insights (I call it gl;dr — good length; did read). I would be stoked if they get people interested enough in a topic to explore in further depth. I work for Samsung’s innovation unit called NEXT, focused on early stage venture investments in software and services in deep tech. All opinions expressed here are my own.
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