mHealthcon Market Readiness Discussion Yields Tips for Entrepreneurs

{This is the second article on the mHealthcon conference held last week at Rutgers University.}

At the mHealthcon conference last week, several New Jersey companies, representing different aspects of the mobile healthcare stakeholder ecosystem, were represented at a panel discussion called “Are We Market Ready?” Joseph Carr, of the New Jersey Hospital Association (Princeton); Al Shar, of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio (Princeton)and Jayant Parthasarathy, director of innovation at UnitedHealth Group (Minneapolis, Minn.), spoke candidly, sharing their differing points of view. The discussion was moderated by Paulo Machado of Princeton-based Health Innovation Partners LLC.

Carr, whose organization represents N.J. hospitals, said most Americans don’t realize the healthcare system could bring down the economy in the next 10 years, and technology is the only way for the country to “steer away” from veering off the cliff. He emphasized to the entrepreneurs in the audience the importance of getting their tech right.Al_Shar_Robert_Wood_Johnson

Mobile tech has to deliver value, stated Shar, representing Pioneer Portfolio, whose mission is to support innovators at the cutting edge of health and healthcare. “The problem in this space is value is not well defined.” Most people start off with a bipolar point of view, either delivering something to a consumer or something that needs to be advanced by a regulator, he said.

Many other constituencies exist for entrepreneurs to think about, including the patient’s relatives and employer, and the payer. “You have to wind up looking at who the ultimate client will be,” Shar said. “The economics of healthcare are really fundamentally perverse,” he added, echoing the thoughts of earlier presenters. In almost every other field, data flow has an intrinsic value, he noted. “There is very little value seen today in the transmission of medical information … We are very focused on procedures.” Also, “In most fields the stakeholders have common values. In this field you don’t necessarily have those.”

Jayant_Parthasarathy_United_Healthcare_GroupRepresenting insurance companies’ point of view, Parthasarathy said one big issue in mobile health is how those companies get comfortable with taking risks. UnitedHealth Group is comfortable with that idea and has implemented a formal structure for partnering with entrepreneurs, he stated. Speaking to the entrepreneurs in the audience, he said they should ask themselves if the healthcare apps they are developing fall into one of two buckets: “How can I help individuals manage their health?” and “How do I help individuals navigate the healthcare space?” Health management and health transparency are the two value propositions for healthcare, he concluded.

Assuming the hospital association’s point of view, Carr asked entrepreneurs to think about solutions involving the “liquidity of data.” He pointed out $17 billion is earmarked for doctors and hospitals to adopt electronic health records, the first step. The next one is to connect all the electronic health record silos to one another, to empower patients. That way, patients with a chronic condition seeing a doctor in another town can take records, MRI results, X-rays, and so on with them on a mobile device, or at least access those records from the new doctor’s office. Ten or 15 years from now, he predicted, we’ll wonder how people practiced medicine when it was all on paper.

Parthasarathy added that app developers should cultivate their products based on deep research, including data collection and analysis. He pointed out a study his company undertook to determine what motivates people to exercise. A crowdsourced application in which some consumers challenged others to “clean house” after the holidays worked, but an app that encouraged people to walk 30 minutes a day didn’t. At the end of the day, consumers expect solutions that “just work,” he noted.

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