In the healthcare industry, innovation is happening at unprecedented rates. Every day, there are new discoveries, devices or developments that can dramatically change the way we live for the better and revolutionize how healthcare is practiced and distributed. So what’s holding us back?
This past weekend I attended the first annual HealthTechVenture Network Conference, a new event that brings business leaders, physicians, innovators and investors together. Though a brand new conference, given the topics discussed, it has a bright future ahead of it (next event is January 2015). Speakers included conference founder, Dr. Kingsley R. Chin, CEO of The LESS Institute and Michael Drues, president of vascular sciences, among others. The goals of the nascent conference are:
- To connect leaders in the healthcare technology industry
- To enable members to collaborate in the development of disruptive technologies within the healthcare technology industry
- To foster an ecosystem of established healthcare companies and newcomers to generate unique, creative ideas
As someone that is an observer and periphery participant of the healthcare tech industry, I walked out of the conference excited about the future of healthcare tech and the innovations that are happening right now all around us… and with a realization that but for a national healthcare system that was designed for a different era, and a regulatory bureaucracy steeped in arcane definitions, we’d all be receiving the benefits of those innovations at a quicker pace.
Dr. Chin discussed two trends that led to the birth of the conference: First, the goal of improving the understanding and role of technology within healthcare systems; and the second, how innovation can empower patients and lead to improvements in the level of care, while limiting disparities. Chin discussed the growth in patient-facing technologies that give consumers a choice, such as HealthGrades, WebMD, ZocDoc. He also talked about the data that is being generated and captured by technology like wearables—and how this data can shape future innovation and process improvements in the healthcare system.
Dr. Chin also discussed how healthcare providers themselves need to be more marketing minded and “get online” to help drive and market innovation. He cited the example of the Laser Spine Institute as a successful model of innovation that is getting patients out of the hospitals and into outpatient care systems, thus keeping costs lower for patients with back issues. The bottom line: empowered patients and healthcare providers can make a huge difference in our lives and drive more technology innovation and process improvements.
The impact of technology on healthcare will continue to boggle the mind. Mobile technology, analytics, wearables, telemedicine and 3D printing are all impacting medical technologies and processes in exciting ways, both evolutionarily and disruptively. Another speaker, Michael Drues, spoke on the impact of disruptive technologies on the healthcare system. On-demand 3D printing by itself accounts for some of the most disruptive and exciting innovations in healthcare. Imagine 3D-printed medical devices printed on demand in a third-world country where such devices are typically unavailable. Or 3D printed body parts such as livers, arms, skulls and ears. Or printable drugs. Seem far-fetched? Not so, as Drues pointed out in his discussion. All these things are already happening. Drues asks us to imagine a future “personalized medicine.” “The future of medicine is not mass medicine,” he says.
We can all acknowledge that the present state of the healthcare system in the United States is not sustainable. As our national demographics change and the Baby Boomer generation ages, our healthcare infrastructure will be tested even further and will consequently have negative impact on the economy.
So if the future is now, why does the healthcare system seem so unfathomable?
Regulatory definitions and an approach to regulation is one reason. Ability to scale innovation is another. We live in an exciting time in the healthcare tech industry. As it turns out, the positive impact of technology is not limited by our ability to imagine it, but rather an outdated approach to defining, regulating and approving new technologies. Conferences like HealthTech Ventures can go a long way to changing that, but healthcare tech companies and healthcare providers need to be the advocates for the future of healthcare.