The sun is setting on another exhilarating yet tumultuous decade for the American health care industry. There was, of course, the signing into law, implementation and evolution of the Affordable Care Act. We also saw the beginning stages of artificial intelligence and machine learning, major advocacy for the removal of data silos, the wearable craze and, more recently, a major challenge in addressing the opioid and behavioral health crises.
As an investor, the past 10 years have been invigorating. Digital health is here to stay. Technology has opened so many doors and created an enormous opportunity for innovation across the health care industry. This positive momentum has encouraged new investors, some supporting health care for the very first time, to enter the market, while existing investors like myself remain quite active.
But the excitement isn’t just spreading from promises and visions. Many digital health startups have established tangible outcomes and validation in return on investment to their customers. This is a positive sign — an indication that there is real value being created in our sector.
I don’t see this momentum slowing anytime soon. As we move into the ’20s, here are some of the catalysts and evolutions that I’ll be paying the most attention to and collaborating on with our current and future portfolio companies to help improve our health care system:
Consumer Expectations Strengthen
First, consumers will expect health providers and payors to offer holistic, personalized health services as the new standard of care. More than ever before, consumers are becoming empowered by access to information and a plethora of digital health platforms. They will want (and then expect) solutions that factor in biology and genomics, lifestyle and socioeconomic characteristics, and environmental influences to produce better health outcomes. By providing health consumers with the right tools and insights, we can effectively empower them to manage their health outside of the traditional health care system, a relatively new and powerful phenomenon driven by technology. (More on that later.)
Seamless Integrations Improve Care
Concurrent with this, consumers are increasingly demanding a seamless, integrated “digital front door,” or a conduit that provides convenient access to appointment scheduling, care records and insurance information. Those on the services side will use this to directly engage with consumers, drive better adherence rates, behavior change and service utilization, particularly when it comes to chronic condition management.
Personal Data Further Empowers Consumers
One key positive result of rising consumer awareness is that people will become the hub for their own health information and, even more importantly, become active participants in managing their health. We are going to see more and more individuals be better informed of their health profile and predispositions for certain conditions, as well as see their willingness to harness preventative medicine. To encourage consumers to be active participants in their health, by putting them in control of their data and determining how it’s used, we can build trust, increase utilization and protect privacy.
Technology Serves As Backbone
While I mentioned this current decade produced the early momentum we are seeing behind AI in health care, this technology will eventually become the foundation of first-line digital interactions between consumers and health institutions. AI is a core piece of the backbone behind the “digital front door” assisting with triaging, guidance, scheduling and administration, care coordination and even delivering low acuity therapeutics. I’m confident that AI will better enable many more doctors, specialists and providers to practice at the top of their license.
As part of the maturing AI landscape, I believe voice technologies and natural language processing will become more advanced and make pivotal contributions to health care, such as overhauling caregiver workflows, lessening the growing administrative burden that’s leading to burnout and facilitating more quality time between providers and patients.
Although technology is a great tool, it is important to use technology in a way that is useful to health consumers. Simply using the latest and greatest innovation does not make the solution effective and, in fact, if implemented poorly, it can detract from the overall experience. Technology must fit into the lives of consumers and their workflow. For example, our portfolio company uses connected devices and voice through a HIPAA-compliant Amazon Alexa skills program to allow its members to access health care information using their existing Alexa devices; it’s technology we know many of our members use today.
What The Next Decade Will Look Like
It’s impossible to look ahead and not wonder what role major tech companies are going to play in the evolving health care ecosystem. Yes, some large companies have dabbled in health care services before, but the past 12 months are unlike anything I have seen with highly-publicized activity from organizations such as Apple, Amazon and Google.
I believe the pace at which big tech and retailers wade into health care is going to accelerate. Why? Based on my observations of the space, it’s due to promising results that have been evidenced and forward-thinking health systems and payor executives who are now willing to opportunistically partner with strategic innovators to meet the new health care consumer where they are. What lays ahead in terms of innovative consumer health devices, more user-friendly platforms to access information and other technological advances will be one to watch.
Finally, what will this new climate look like for self-insured employers (who cover tens of millions of lives)? These employers will remain focused on reducing their health cost trend and improving the health and productivity of their teams by leveraging innovation.
Forward-thinking employers should continue to build a suite of digitally-powered health benefits in order to better compete for talent. Areas including behavioral health and addressing musculoskeletal injuries/pain are poised for growth and, hopefully, more widespread availability.
I am energized by the promise of the coming decade, the opportunities to improve the lives of those who are faced with health challenges and the democratization of these advances to the wider global community.