Entrepreneurs, investors and health-care providers discuss the opportunities and pitfalls in digital health
When a patient registers at an emergency room or a physician’s office, creating a digital record is fairly straightforward. Sharing that information is not. A doctor’s diagnosis for cancer involves phone calls and faxes as the patient—and their records—move from primary care to an oncology unit; often two caregivers in the process can’t view the same record.
A panel hosted by Vancouver Enterprise Forum, a non-for-profit focused on entrepreneurship in B.C., posed this question on Tuesday night at the Vancity Theatre: In a system where healthcare consumes around half of the province’s budget, how do you open up health to innovation and entrepreneurs seeking to lower costs?
And while the “race is on to be the Amazon.com of healthcare,” said moderator Ian Heine, questions remain about how you ensure patient security and privacy, as well as the proper role of of government
The panel included VP of Telus Physician Solutions Dr. Brendan Byrne; Richard Osborn, founder of RecapHealth Ventures, entrepreneurs Dr. Paul Terry and Nadeem Kassam; and John Waldron, an IT professional who spoke to the concerns of the biggest technology buyer in the room: the provincial government.
Top of mind for the panel was B.C.’s often multi-year procurement process, which can cut out startups with innovative solutions to care provider problems, according to John Waldron Those problems are multifold: from reducing emergency room wait times to cutting down on the $100,000 per diem cost to bed patients in hospitals, according to one panelist.
“Healthcare is eating budgets,” said RecapHealth’s Osborn, whose firm funds Canadian healthcare startups. “Two decades ago, 32 cents of every government dollar was spent on healthcare. Today that is 36 cents. At this pace, in 15 years, it will be 75 cents.”
Moreover, patients increasingly view themselves as consumers, and they’re dissatisfied with their consumer experience, said Osborn.
Despite the size of the opportunity—and the willingness by everyone from telcos like Telus to automakers like Ford—to move into the healthcare market, in Canada at least, the system is by its nature conservative.
“It can be years before a health venture comes to fruition,” said Dr. Paul Terry, making a clear distinction between healthcare, a $2.6 trillion market in the U.S., and fitness and wellness, a $267 billion market with a lower barrier to entry.
Changing government’s procurement process, which determines which technologies can be used by into the healthcare system, is a daunting task.
“Healthcare is a politician killer. The risk-averse nature of the politicians running the system, flows through the system,” said Telus’ Dr. Byrne. When it comes to changing the procurement process, there is always the concern: will something bad happen?” said Byrne.
Startups that want to change the system should focus on small, pragmatic solutions, said Waldron. He added that testimonials from patients and physicians are effective at bringing about change.