Ten Commandments of Digital Health

When a healthcare venture capitalist and a leading digital health company exec get together to put “Digital Health in the Hot Seat,” you’re sure to get an earful.  In a session at last week’s Digital Health Summer Summit, Lisa Suennen, Managing Member of Psilos Group, and Don Jones, Vice President of Wireless Health, Global Strategy and Market Development, at Qualcomm Life gave participants a list of marching orders for making digital health work.

Here’s a list of Ten Commandments that emerged from their lively exchange:

1.     Thou shalt empower consumers.

In many respects, digital health is about shifting the power of healthcare – from providers to consumers.  By helping people manage their health through their own devices and with data they collect and can analyze themselves, you are giving them more control.   The key is to make it simple.  You should empower them to do what was previously hard to do.

2.     Thou shalt make healthcare more timely and convenient.

A corollary to Commandment #2 is to emphasize speed and ease.  After all, these are some of the biggest pain points with the current healthcare system.

3.     Thou shalt solve big problems.

Don talked about the issue he sees with many digital health products today – they’re focused only on one element of a consumer’s life, when “the problem is really bigger than that.”  An app that helps people remember to take their medications and to track usage may solve a specific need, but it would be far more valuable if it addressed all of the needs people have around prescriptions – from ordering and refills to managing modifications and drug interactions.

4.     Thou shalt emphasize engagement, not measurement.

Many digital health and fitness products are great measurement devices, but measurement isn’t enough.  In fact, giving people measurement data only replaces one problem (lack of knowledge) with another (lack of understanding.)  You need to engage people with the information and with others — the way Nike+ does, for example – so that people derive more value and fulfillment from your product.

5.     Thou shalt not talk about improving quality.

When Lisa asked Don to name the jargon he’s sick of hearing, “improving quality” was his quick answer.  He explained that the healthcare industry doesn’t really know how to measure quality, so improving quality is less compelling than improving lives and lifestyles.  Focus on solving problems for people.

6.     Thou shalt not leave sales and marketing out of the story.

As a VC, Lisa hears pitches all the time and she’s found that people need to explain the sales, marketing, and distribution strategy for their product, but this often gets “left behind in the technology story.”  “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t work in this space.  You must demonstrate that your distribution and brand strategy can scale.

7.     Thou shalt be at the right place at the right time.

Fulfilling Commandment #6 requires having the right distribution strategy to begin with.  And doing so requires being at the precise point in time when consumers realize the need for the solution you provide.  In comments after the panel Don pointed to Walgreens as a company that’s figured this out.  Walgreens’ pharmacists promote the company’s prescription refill program, app, and website at the optimal time – when people are picking up their first prescription.

8.     Thou shalt not sell only in app stores.

See Commandment #7.

9.     Thou shalt be delightful and essential.

Your product needs to be a need-to-have and a want-to-have.  With the growing number of digital health products out there (50MM apps alone, Lisa reported), it’s not enough to be simply functional. At the same time, only putting a “delightful interface on an undelightful system” doesn’t really address people’s needs.  Don said it best:  “You need to be delightful in order to be successful.

10.  Thou shalt build trust.

This commandment pretty much ties all of the previous ones together:  Winning at digital health is about establishing trust with consumers.  This is a new world and new way of living, and people need help navigating it.  Forego the pursuit of technology and accuracy and instead focus on delivering helpful coaching, creating engagement, and solving problems.  By seamlessly integrating your solution into people’s lives, you gain their trust – and their dollars.




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