Fundamentally Defining Digital Health…

This week I’d planned to write an article discussing the boom in healthcare accelerators and their impact on the digital health scene but then I was distracted rather unceremoniously by a series of debates, both on Twitter and LinkedIn, discussing the meaning of digital health and the entire movement. Considering, I’m neither shy nor retiring I quickly involved myself in this hotbed of intellectual and philosophical debate and quickly came to the conclusion that none of us have come anywhere near to defining what digital health actually is! So today I’m going to put forward the three key considerations I think we need to have when talking about this evolving area of medicine. Good luck to me!

Step 1. It’s not All About You

Take a second to think about who you are and where you fit in the grand scheme of things. This ever evolving ecosystem of technology in healthcare is everyday conjuring up new inventions and ideas. Now depending whether you’re a doctor, patient, investor, entrepreneur, regulator or any other of a myriad of individuals then this whole field will mean something different to each and every one of you. But you know what?

It doesn’t matter what you think.

Why not? I hear you cry.

Well, digital health is part of the evolution of healthcare but with any development a shared understanding is required between all of us to make sure it develops in the most effective way possible. If you’re an investor do you know what this all means for doctors? If you’re an entrepreneur do you know what this all means for patients? If you’re a patient do you know what this all means for government and regulators? We need to all start talking to each other seriously if this is going to go anywhere.

Step 2. It’s not All About the Money 

There is one phrase that I hear on a consistent basis that drives me insane. Quite frankly it makes me question the entire purpose of both the Quantified Self and Digital Health movements. This coming from a die-hard supporter of technology and social media in healthcare!

Whats this nefarious phrase I hear you ask?

Consumer Empowerment.

When did we lose sight of what healthcare is all about? Have we forgotten that what we’re trying to do every day is prevent, detect and manage  disease all the while promoting healthy living? These are our patients and we should be acting in their best interests and not allowing our judgement to be too severely clouded by the prospects of mergers and acquisitions surely?

My career is now devoted to start-up development and working with venture capitalists so I’m not naive to how the process works but it’s at least my central tenet that I work to develop health startups that will provide a service that is either demanded by doctors and patients or that I believe will empower them to improve their health and wellness. If it does so then immense financial success will come as a by-product. Or perhaps I have misjudged the ways of the world?

Step 3. What do We Want it To Do?

So we’ve all sat together with our different backgrounds and we all now understand that our over-arching strategy is to empower patients to improve their health and to facilitate doctors ability to use technology to prevent, detect and manage disease. That’s great but the devils’ in the details. What does this actually mean we need to do?

I think it’s only at this point where it really starts getting tricky. It’s all well and good making a whole range of apps and widgets that collect data in our sleep and continuously so but what’s the use of it? Does a patient or doctor even now what to do with all this new data and will it even improve clinical practice? The value chain of healthcare is littered with inefficient costly steps that we could target with technology but unless we identify them and really define why they’re ineffective then we’re really just wandering aimlessly developing inventions but not innovations. 

Medicine and healthcare are still about humans and their interactions between them so are we really creating and propelling digital technology to improve these relationships or are we purely creating technology to see how smart we are at collecting data because we can?

Maybe the conclusions we’ll reach will be even more far reaching and we’ll find medicine as a whole isn’t prepared for Digital Health and the Quantified Self then we need to address a whole range of fundamentals ranging from our clinical practice models, the way we interact with our patients and even wholesale re-structuring of our medical education systems!

More Questions Than Answers

In all likelihood I haven’t made it any easier to define digital health given it’s a field that’s much bigger than one man (or woman) but I think it’s our duty to consider our fundamental beliefs and where we stand together before we can even dream of an ideal state when digital technology has a profound and sustained clinical impact. Before we get there we have to be pragmatic about where we are now and only then can we truly move forward, I hope united we’ll  be able to improve global health with technology.

Later this week normal service will resume when I’ll be discussing accelerators, apps and much more!

Got a Question or Comment? Tweet me @Saif_Abed

Dr Saif Abed
Founding Partner
AbedGraham Healthcare Strategies Ltd
www.abedgraham.com
Advertisements

5 Tips About Venture Capital for Health Entrepreneurs

Cracking the code of the venture capitalists’ vault of money is one of the enduring enigmas for about every entrepreneur at some stage of their existence. For many, the stress involved in securing funding can be completely overwhelming and many falter when they finally get some time in front of a VC. An evolving part of my work is helping to prepare start-ups for VCs as well as helping VCs to assess healthcare start-ups so today I’m going to share my top five tidbits of knowledge  for health entrepreneurs to better understand venture capitalists. So let’s get going!

1.They’re Human Too!

They might not be entrepreneurs necessarily like you but they are businesses like you. They want to minimise their risk and enhance their opportunity to make a profit. It might sound like common sense but many start-ups treat VCs as judge, jury and executioner. Always remember that they guys sitting opposite you work for a business that has bills to pay, debts to fulfill and investors to satisfy. Does what you do make their lives easier? 

2. Whose Money is it Anyway?

If you’re talking to a venture capitalist from a large firm often unless they’re senior execs then that person probably isn’t going to be investing their own cash into your company. The way VC funds work is that they’re made up of two sets of players: A. General Partners & B. Limited Partners.

It’s the limited partners who are investing the vast majority of the money and they tend to be on behalf of very sophisticated institutions in their own rights such as investment banks, funds of funds, pension plan managers and the odd ‘super-rich’ or technically speaking high net worth individual. Why’s that important? Well, because these guys are involved in dictating the terms of how and where VCs invest the fund money. There can be limitations which simply mean that VCs can’t meet your desires and that it takes considerable growth and profitability on behalf of the startup to make sure that the VCs get a healthy return since most of capital gains and profits will go to the limited partners. 

3. You Can Choose Too…

When a venture capital fund invests in you it’s in their interests to make sure you have every opportunity to grow and become extremely profitable since they now have a stake in you. They’re incentivised and will often take a position on your board.

If you’re pitching remember that these people are going to become your partners for perhaps 5-10 years and beyond and that’s a major new partner to be dealing with. You need to make sure this partnership work’s in your interests too so do your research and ask them about the resources they can commit to you whether its a network of experts, investors or office space. Make sure you know all the possible opportunities and benefits. Have they invested in healthcare before?Why now? Who have they invested in before and what happened to them? How did they help them? Do they have any links to the healthcare community? Make sure you prepare your questions.

4. Prove It.

When it comes to healthcare and by that I mean any product or service that effects the way doctors practise medicine or the way patients interact with them and their interventions then you better have some supportive data. And no I don’t mean forecasts or extrapolations or crystal ball predictions. You need some facts to support your claims but it doesn’t have to be a large scale double-blind, randomised controlled trial. Talk to some local community or hospital doctors ask them to pilot and give their honest opinions. Talk to patients and get them to do the same thing. If you get as few as ten of each to try your product or service for a sustained period of time then that’s a good place to start from and will show your commitment to reducing uncertainty for VCs.

5. Back Yourself

You’ve prepared your financials, spoken to the doctors, the patients, the payors and the providers. You’re a technical expert and you know your product inside out. You’ve got a business plan and a business model mapped out and you know you have an answer to a real problem. Well then, now it’s about finding the right guys who can work with you to make sure it becomes reality! 

Remember what happens in a given meeting isn’t necessarily a damning verdict of what you’re doing since there are so many unseen issues to deal with in the back-rooms of VC firms. Sometimes, their hands are tied because of their limited partners and they can’t help you even if they want to! There are always options maybe an accelerator’s in your destiny but more about them next week as well as part 2 of my guide to becoming a health entrepreneur…

Got a question or comment? Tweet me @Saif_Abed

Dr Saif Abed
Founding Partner
AbedGraham Healthcare Strategies Ltd
www.abedgraham.com

Healthcare Entrepreneur? Lessons you need to know.(Part I)

It starts with an idea…

Becoming an entrepreneur is one of the single most difficult and liberating decisions you will ever make. For me leaving a stable career as a doctor to setup my own firm was either an act of arrogance, bravery or stupidity, I can’t quite decide yet. What I do know is that the journey has already taught me so many lessons and I have met so many people who’ve shared an immense out of common sense and wisdom that I want to share some of it. Most of this isn’t rocket science but it’s worth saying and sharing!

“Well done is better than well said…”

Ben Franklins’ words are even truer today than when they were first said. There’s a huge chasm between ideas and reality and no matter how much you believe in yourself or your idea it doesn’t matter unless you do something about it.

LESSON1 – Google is your friend.

There are countless business websites out there that you can use to get you started. Startups.co.uk, NewBusiness.co.uk ,Inc.com/startup, Forbes.com/startups and Entrepreneur.com are just some of a litany of websites with great advice for the novice business mogul.

But even before you get there you should put pen to paper and write down what exactly your business or product wants to achieve. What’s the question you’re trying to answer? Who’s asking the questions? How badly do they need the answers and who else has tried? Importantly, is there anyone who can help you?

Talking’s Still Useful!

Once you’ve distilled down your ideas into a few key statements start talking. Start with friends and family who you can trust to hear you out but also to call you out. Use this initial period to constantly go back to the drawing board to define and refine your concept.

Lesson2 Define your Value Proposition & Unique Selling Points. 

Ok, so now I’ve used some jargon but effectively your value proposition is what is going to set you apart when solving a problem compared to your competitors. Why should I use your product or service? How will it satisfy my needs? What happens if it doesn’t work out or we get encounter hitches and glitches?Answering those questions is not easy because you can’t think of every customers’ possible demands and issues. You can still talk to a lot of people and that’s through the magic of social media. LinkedIn, Twitter, Digg are all sources that you can use to join discussions about the problem you’re trying to solve. 

Make or Buy?

One of the early questions is how much can you do yourself? I was lucky that I had my best friend from medical school who I formed my business with but even then the question loomed about whether we needed anymore skills? We decided to invest in our education by enrolling on business/management degrees to enhance our knowledge beyond our clinical knowledge but for one of our early tech ventures we decided to outsource the programming.

WARNING – IF YOU PAY PEANUTS DON’T EXPECT QUALITY

We learned that the hard way and that early experiment didn’t quite work out. On the flip side if you research the market well websites like Guru.com can provide cost-effective expertise through countless professionals who use the internet as an effective medium to reach customers. Just make sure to always do the background research. Another problem we encountered with one of our early employees was that his communication/rapport style didn’t fit with the image we were putting forward and after trying to address the issue it was clear that we wouldn’t be able to work things out. Instead of letting the problem fester and personalities to get in the way we made the decision to part ways in a polite and amicable way.

Learn to Say No!

Saying no is hard especially when your passion and a great idea gets people talking to you but when you’re small being nimble and agile is key so you shouldn’t overstretch yourself too soon. Some projects and clients can be too big so you have to think hard about what you can and can’t deliver right now.

LESSON3 REPUTATION IS EVERYTHING

If you promise to do a project and don’t have the resources or skills yet to deliver especially within a time frame then you risk destroying your reputation before you’ve even started. Start small and work-up. You’ll be surprised how quickly people take notice and the bigger projects will come knocking again.

So far I’ve gone over some of the initial pitfalls of becoming an entrepreneur especially when you come from a regimented medical or scientific background. In Part II I’ll discuss more of my experiences and shed some light on more specific issues that face healthcare innovators and entrepreneurs particularly the ever feared ‘Priesthood of Medicine.’!

This is a blog for everyone so please share with any and all entrepreneurs and tweet me @Saif_Abed

Dr Saif F Abed
Founding Partner
AbedGraham Healthcare Strategies Ltd
www.abedgraham.com

“Innovation-Action=The Illusion of Progress.”

If a tree falls…

In a recent blog post I put out a plea and a challenge to the UK healthcare community to come together. Why? Because for all the talk of change, innovation and inspiration relatively little seems to have happened in recent years.

Sure there are ambitious, intelligent entrepreneurs, doctors and managers out there but none of us are reading from the same script. So really my point stands that the greatest ideas of our time may be all around us in our universities, in our science parks and labs, in our hospitals or even with our patients but if we’re not making a point of sharing and listening then how can it happen?

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader & a follower.”

I’m a sucker for a Steve Job’s quote but innovation and change have become such buzzwords that I think some of us have forgotten that they’re words that are meant to lead to action. In the UK, the ‘change’ and ‘innovation’ movements have started to march forward with a vast range of diagrams, logos and new jargon that I can only imagine’s been dreamt up by playing word association games. Look, talking about innovation and the future makes me feel good and it makes you feel good because the future signifies hope but we need a reality check here.

Innovation ain’t cheap. No one likes talking about money but money makes the world go round. Governments are cutting budgets, scientists rely on funding, startups needs investment and big business needs profits. Money makes us think twice and justify our actions but how can we do that if we’re not talking to each other? We need to accept that a profit incentive can be aligned with producing excellent patient care. We need to make sure patients are not being exploited through negligent marketing and the abuse of so called ‘evidence based medicine’ but we can do that through a community.

“The Single Biggest Problem in Communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

We need to face some harsh truths:

1. Innovation can’t happen without aligning incentives

2. We need to recognise that we all have complementary but different skills

3. Our individual objectives are different doctor vs inventor vs govt vs investor vs manager

4. We are greater than the sum of our parts

5. If we don’t listen and address each others’ ideas, concerns and expectations then we can’t move forward

“Everything started as Nothing.”

We need to work together to establish a common language to recognise the issues our patients are facing now and in the future but we also need to prioritise those that we can start dealing with them now. We need to have a formal platform where we can bring together government and big business together with our healthcare managers, doctors and patients. We need to encourage and open up opportunities for doctors and scientists to enter the worlds of management, investment and entrepreneurship.

When we make the environment for innovation more accessible, then and only then will we see the great ideas becoming even greater realities. Everything started as nothing but that’s the point it needs to start and it needs to start NOW. It’s already happening across the pond. Let’s make it happen here too.

Agree/Disagree? You can always tweet me @Saif_Abed

Dr Saif F Abed
Founding Partner
AbedGraham Healthcare Strategies
www.abedgraham.com