TeleHealth has been slow on the uptake, mostly due to the encumbering regulatory process that comes along with it – but mobile is beginning to change all that, says John Sculley
Healthcare has been a hot sector for investors for a few years now – but with mixed results. Big data and health records are largely populated by existing tech firms, yet biotech is a hotbed of new businesses. Wearables have spluttered and hiccuped into action since 2013, but plenty of devices and services have failed to navigate the pain of development and regulation effectively. In the words of Tim O’Reilly, publisher and serial health investor, “There is going to be loads of new innovation in digital health – the amount of information we can already monitor is huge. However, the market is hard because so much is driven by regulated industries, so a lot of it is coming in from the consumer side first. We will see adoption later, but it’s not explosive because it’s regulated”.
A healthy outlook for mobile healthcare
We met with former Apple CEO John Sculley at the Web Summit 2014, who has a portfolio of healthtech investments and agrees with O’Reilly: “You don’t find a lot of Silicon Valley VCs in healthcare because of the regulatory and legacy systems. But ever since mobile devices have developed, doctors who were previously the last to adopt tech have suddenly been using mobile more and more.”
One of the most high profile mobile-driven services is MD Live, ( Sculley serves as Vice-Chairman) a telehealth proposition which connects clinical professionals with patients over mobile platforms, for example, digitizing the process of scheduling virtual doctors’ appointments.
This is not a new concept; but where the traditional benefits of remote consultations have been convenience for the patient and simplicity and reduced costs for healthcare providers, Sculley ‘s vision is different and holistic. For MD Live, the objective is a scale which will mop up inefficiencies across the healthcare delivery lifecycle. He says “We’re the only ones [in the US] building out a nationwide network of hospital systems. We’re the only ones with doctors in fifty states and we’re just moving into e-therapy for mental health with programs for anxiety, smoking cessation, drug and alcohol abuse” (indeed MD Live recently announced its acquisition of mental wellbeing platform, Breakthrough Behavioral).
The plan is to apply telehealth technologies to several challenges in the delivery of care. “The readmission of chronic care patients after discharge is a huge problem”, says Sculley. It’s also one which often attracts financial penalties for the hospital. Telehealth can make monitoring and care easier. “And we can take the offload from ERs”, he adds, “which makes it far more efficient and lowers costs for the patient and the hospital. Then there’s the challenge, as people are discovering with Obamacare, of scheduling face-to-face time with a medical professional. So we do Zocdoc-like patient scheduling or we can immediately connect people online.”
Competing for patients
In the UK, MD Live has a competitor in Babylon Health, the mobile health platform headed up by ex-CEO of Circle Health, Ali Parsa. Parsa also takes an end-to-end view: “Medicine is an integrated, complex thing. That’s the issue. The vast majority of people I see getting into healthcare don’t understand the complexity”, he says. “You can’t just say patients need to make an appointment, or take a blood test, or see a doctor; you know they need to do all of that. And that’s what we’re trying to do with Babylon.”
As with MD Live, under the basic remote consultation service are subtle but impactful opportunities to streamline the delivery of care. Babylon will shortly launch a reinvented symptom checker which, in a few short questions, will either reassure a patient or recommend a consultation. If a consultation occurs, the doctor on call will have all the patient’s answers on hand. That means shorter discovery processes and more time for the patient. It’s a tiny change, but again in aggregate, it will remove hours of waste and complexity from the process of delivering effective care.
Building out a consolidated experience is certainly a trend to watch. O’Reilly has a salutary warning for the wearables community: “In the future, I don’t think that there will be separate devices for things like heart-rate and steps taken. These things are going to be incorporated into single devices” – no doubt with a mobile phone at the center. Sculley might not completely agree (he’s a co-founder of super cool Valley outfit, Misfit Wearables); but he’s taking the typical long view: “Telehealth is a huge opportunity”, he says. “We’re at the stage with telehealth where online banking was twenty years ago – where people were asking ‘will this really work?’ and of course everybody uses it today.”
Just now, another psychological therapy telemedicine startup from Europe has launched in the UK and the US markets. Tonpsy provide patients with browser-based webcam psychology telemedicine consultations. Launched two years ago in France, today the startup delivers around 80 consultations per month, with 130 therapists currently on the platform.
The HTML5 based, peer to peer telecommunication platform is secure and encrypted. Founder Yoann Hervouet says that the French market is hard to crack because people aren’t used to new services. The US, Hervouet hopes, is a more promising growth territory: “We would like to flood the American market. We think that psychology today is unaffordable, especially in America. Our mission is to democratize psychology.”
Photo Credit: Shutterstock/ Unrecognizable doctor is touching on mobile phone, close-up