Radical consumer-first ideas are necessary to revolutionize healthcare

Alejandro Foung, Co-founder and CEO, Lantern

With 14.1 Americans gaining coverage under Obamacare, more individuals than ever are getting access to healthcare. This is great. What’s not great is that healthcare still costs a fortune. Growing deductibles and out of pocket costs make great healthcare too expensive and inaccessible for many Americans. A few Americans can afford high-end services like concierge medicine and face to face therapy—premium services that are tailored to your needs.  Everyone else—from self-insured employers to individuals who need to find cheaper, better options—is driving demand for digital health products that are meaningful and easy to use.

This past weekend marked the end of SXSW 2015 — an event that pulls creatives and innovators from healthcare, film, tech and more, to learn, exchange ideas and provide a platform for creative thinking with a heavy dash of corporate marketing. As a digital health founder, I found myself mostly cruising by the JW Marriott where most of the digital health companies were showcasing. There were eye-catching things like a Robot Petting Zoo, but also some serious showcases like this year’s accelerator health tech winner Tinnitracks which demoed a web app which allows you to filter your music in order to use it for a new tinnitus therapy.

On our Radical Healthcare panel, Jennifer Chung at Kinsights, Jason Oberfest at Mango Health, and Vinnie Ramesh at Wellframe and I discussed our vision for fundamental and radical change within healthcare that will utilize products designed for and sold directly to consumers. So, what do consumers want?

Consumer-first ideas and real user feedback are essential when building a product.

To engage with the newest and growing healthcare users, the most successful products will excite consumers, which can be seen by the interest around wearables and gamification—and will make it just as easy for people to monitor or improve their health as it is for them to buy clothes or stream music. By driving interest, engagement, and adoption, digital health companies can make a bigger impact on positive outcomes. Jason Oberfest of Mango Health advises entrepreneurs to ask themselves,”How does your product make people’s lives better every day?”

It’s challenging for health tech companies to not just build a technically savvy product, but to embody real empathy and compassion for their users. Vinnie Ramesh of Wellframe said that companies should bring patient advisors into the process, since an integral part of product development is understanding real patient experiences and getting honest feedback from the very consumers who will use your product.

Should entrepreneurs aim for highly-adopted healthcare products or positive outcomes?

Entrepreneurs in the digital health space face a very real problem: should they build a product that without a doubt makes people healthier and has a measurable outcome—risking slower growth or build a product that is used by millions of people, but doesn’t have a true measurable health benefit?

Starting a digital health company comes with an obligation to positively impact the healthcare industry. Clinically and medically it is far more important in our field to make sure your product is delivering a targeted, personalized solution and making people healthier than it is to attract millions of users with unknown results.

Starting a digital health company comes with an obligation to positively impact the healthcare industry.

Like all other great consumer technology companies, data, iteration, and more data drive great consumer experiences. So perhaps focusing on the outcome first isn’t the only way to ultimately reach the goal of improving health. Is it possible that digital health companies and consumers might be better served figuring out what types of products drive excitement, adoption, and engagement (and massive usage)—and then later devise ways that the products can be used to drive a measurable, positive outcome? Personalized behavior change is tough. We’re still early in the digital healthcare revolution, so we’re still experimenting with the pathways that will take healthcare mainstream. My core belief is that there really isn’t a choice between outcomes and usage, you have to build a product that is good enough consumers will pay for it AND have the clinical evidence that your product actually makes people healthier. This is a commitment I’ve made to myself, my team, and our customers. The greater balance we  find between measurable outcomes and creating appealing and intuitive consumer driven healthcare apps, software and products, the larger influence we’ll have and the closer we’ll get to finally changing the healthcare industry and motivating people to be healthier.