Can a product-centric approach be the answer to the biggest health care challenges?
Digital health providers are typically awarded contracts based on the total number of eligible members. As a result, there are no consequences for providers when they build a bad product. They may succeed financially, even if no one is using their product. This narrow view by executives of putting revenue over value is short-sighted because, in the long run, the data collected from health care products will be more valuable than the contract itself. People are willing to pay out-of-pocket for well-designed technology products that help them manage their health. This is the reason why we’ve seen a 2x increase in investments in the direct-to-consumer (DTC) digital wellness space over the past year and a 4x increase in public interest in DTC health over the last five years. Health executives must adopt a product-centric approach to building technology products, or they will eventually be disrupted by more nimble, well-funded startups who are innovating healthcare with both well-designed products and creative business models.
Americans are producing volumes of consumer-generated health data (CGHD) through mobile and wearable devices, patient records, and digital therapeutics that will improve chronic disease management and eventually expand healthcare treatment options. Healthcare providers could use this data to deliver better patient outcomes through personalized and coordinated care that will provide faster and more efficient feedback for the prevention and treatment of illnesses. However, most of these services and data are fragmented, sitting in silos within different systems and companies, with no real-time communication among users. This is where the bigger players could make the most impact. There are plenty of companies that can help you build better products that people love. I work for one now. But more established companies have an advantage that startups don’t -- as an executive, you can help drive the change the system needs by creating a common framework that allows everyone to innovate quickly and share data so that we could tackle some of the biggest healthcare challenges together. Think of what Apple did for the App Store. Not so small of an impact, right?
Another critical challenge that healthcare executives could help solve with better products is the ability to measure data accurately. Health data is complex and more problematic to analyze because of inconsistent or varying definitions. Clinicians sometimes provide a different diagnosis for the same condition, and ongoing research can present a new set of criteria to define a specific illness. In this everchanging and unpredictable environment, data management requires an unconventional approach. In most cases, the patient is primarily responsible for capturing and deciding how to share this data. Cloud computing is making it easier for systems to talk to each other, but with government regulations, privacy laws, and no common framework, many of the health care product advancements are currently being made by DTC brands like Everlywell (at-home lab tests), Levels Health (continuous glucose monitoring) and Whoop and Oura (wearables that track sleep and activity). This is not to say that more established healthcare enterprises cannot adapt to a similar consumer-centric product approach that provides actionable insights to both patients and physicians in real-time.
I wanted to write this article for you because digital health is my passion as it can change lives for the better in ways traditional medicine has failed us. As a competitive athlete competing with people half my age, I used health data to reverse several health conditions that made training difficult for me. I did my research, collected and interpreted my data, and recruited friends who have medical degrees to help me understand the data because my doctors could not support this iterative process. As an early-stage startup enthusiast, I teamed up with Span Health, a data aggregator and wellness coaching service. Within one week of working with a coach, I learned that my circadian rhythm was off because I woke up at 5:30 AM but did not see my first sunlight until 9 AM, when I left the ice rink. By implementing light therapy into my routine, my heart rate variability (HRV) improved from 40 ms to 60 ms. This means my body is recovering better than it was before with this one small adjustment. What if Span Health existed for people monitoring their blood pressure, glucose, or heart conditions? What if clinicians could pair data with sleep, diet, and activity levels daily and offer support in real-time?
I live and breathe good products daily. The company I work for, Dialexa, is a firm based in Dallas that creates smarter technology products that deliver meaningful user experiences. One of our biggest industries is health care and the products we build not only help clinicians provide personalized care but can also improve health literacy and encourage self-advocacy among patients. An example of this is a revolutionary system developed by a leading research institute in North Texas. This product helps experts better understand the brain’s ability to change and adapt while empowering consumers to take control of their own brain health. The multi-interface platform allows participants to boost and maintain brain health through self-paced activities and live coaching. More importantly, clinicians can also engage with participants and use aggregated data to make personalized recommendations to optimize brain fitness. Another product we built that is driving the advancement of precision medicine is an app-based home vision monitor for patients with age-related macular degeneration or diabetic eye disease. It allows users to test their vision from home and share results with their physicians. One breakthrough with this product is that it reduces the burden of care by enabling doctors to track the disease progression accurately and remotely. Our team focused on creating a product that would help doctors detect and treat vision degradation early and educate patients at different points in their user journey.
Data collected from great products can be used to predict consumer behavior, it can also influence the way consumers engage with products or services. Companies that dig deep to truly understand the consumer’s pain points and what they experience daily, or at each touchpoint, can successfully build products that empower both patients and providers. Together, we can build products that solve the biggest healthcare challenges we face today and in the future.
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