The digital health market isn’t an easy one to break into, but physicians turned angel investors and doctorpreneurs are leading the way with their expertise and wallets.
Everywhere you turn, companies are investing more and more in digital health. Just look at the MobiHealthNews roundup of funding for 46 digital health companies from Q2 of 2016. It’s an impressive list—hundreds of millions of dollars are going towards making people healthier.
Mobile health has gone mainstream, and it’s not just venture capitalists that are getting in on the action. Doctor-led medical practices such as One Medical Group and the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) are also acquiring health startups and making their mark in the digital health world.
This is a positive trend with the potential to have a huge impact on health. Here are some examples of how medical experts are harnessing the power of digital technology, and what this means for the future.
The Rise of the “Doctorpreneur”
Physicians have been behind some of history’s most important medical innovations, from the smallpox vaccine to the discovery of anesthesia. Doctors have always tackled medical problems like entrepreneurs: with determination, a desire to learn, and a willingness to take risks in order to improve their patients’ health.
Today, doctors are applying that entrepreneurial spirit to the modern-day incubator of innovation: the startup. Medical professionals are involved in healthcare startups and healthcare apps in numerous ways.
First, doctors are launching their own startups.
- Primary care physician Dr. Jay Joshi started Output Medical, a medical products company that manufactures a device to automate the monitoring and recording of a patient’s urine.
- Emergency room physician Dr. Erik Kulstad founded Advanced Cooling Therapy, a medical device startup that develops products to cool and warm patients.
- Ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeon Dr. Matt Bromwich started Clearwater Clinical that creates mobile devices, including an HIPAA-compliant app for healthcare professionals to use their smartphones to take pictures of patients.
There’s even Doctorpreneurs, a global community for medical professionals and others interested in healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship. It has more than 1,500 members worldwide.
Even medical professionals who don’t consider themselves “doctorpreneurs” can find ways to get involved. In more than 40 cities around the world, Hacking Health connects medical professionals with developers, innovators, and entrepreneurs to find tech solutions to healthcare problems.
At their hackathons, medical professionals and others interested in improving healthcare work together to develop practical apps to solve real problems.
Hacking Health has been a launchpad for everything from eye-gaze tracking technology that helps amputees to an award-winning maternity app that increases the delivery rate of healthy full-term babies.
Then there’s another significant way medical professionals are supporting the digital health revolution: with their money.
Healthcare entrepreneurs often have a hard time finding investors who are willing to offer funding. Venture capitalists are often unfamiliar with the health sector, and as a result can be reluctant to invest in digital health.
This absence of seed funding for health apps and technology is one reason health startups have lagged behind startups in other industries. Of course, medical devices and products have a whole raft of government regulations to comply with, and getting the appropriate approvals takes time and money, too.
Physicians, on the other hand, know the health sector better than anyone and generally have capital. Now, they’re pooling that capital to form angel investor groups that provide seed funding to medical startups.
Joshi started MD Angels, one of a few seed funders for physician-led startups. Doctorpreneurs also funds medical startups, as does angelMD in Seattle. A network of physicians funded Vituro Health, an Alabama-based startup looking to elevate the treatment of prostate cancer.
“There’s a camaraderie,” Joshi told Crain’s Chicago Business. “Physicians want to invest in other physician-led startups. It takes out a lot of risk. They are living and breathing the market innovation they’re trying to create.”
Filling the Gaps
Doctors are inspired to either fund or launch a medical startup because they see an unmet need. As more doctors become drivers of the digital health revolution, it’s likely more and more gaps in healthcare and in digital health will be addressed.
Health and technology journalist Christina Farr noted that primary care provider One Medical has gaps in its service, namely in telemedicine, mental health, and nutrition. Its recent acquisition of trendy nutrition-coaching app Rise shows it’s looking to address its gap in nutrition services.
Rise is a weight-loss app that allows users to take photos of their food and share it with registered dietitians. The dietitians give them feedback on their diet and help them make healthier food choices.
Rise is a bright light in the nutrition app space. It received more than $3 million in funding and has an all-star panel, including CNN’s chief medical correspondent, the founder of P90X, and the founder of OKCupid.
Rise allows One Medical to offer nutrition services while also providing a deeper level of continuous service to its members. One Medical is trying to improve its patient experience and provide better services to at-risk populations. The acquisition of Rise helps One Medical meet both of these goals.
This is the future of digital health. The medical experts harnessing the power of digital technology will be driven to use that technology to meet health needs, just as woman-led digital health startups are revolutionizing women’s health with options like menstruation tracker and fertility titan Clue.
This is great news for anyone with a stake in healthcare—which, in reality, is all of us. We all stand to benefit from medical experts becoming doctorpreneurs.
Mobile devices will become medical devices, making healthcare less expensive and easier to use. Under-resourced disciplines, such as mental health and nutrition, will receive more attention.
As telemedicine improves, fewer medical issues will require in-person doctor visits. Today’s tech has huge implications for the medical space—venture capitalists, startups, and app developers see it, and thankfully doctors do, too.