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Three Things The Tech Industry Has Right And The Medical Industry Has Wrong

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It seems like there’s no shortage of online apps and services to make life and business easier. You can stream movies in your own home, pay parking tickets with the tap of a finger and plan a world adventure from the comfort of your couch. But when it comes to healthcare, you’re living in the past.

While medicine is better than it has ever been before, and companies are making remarkable strides in life-saving — or life-improving — medical devices, there’s a long way to go.

In the same, tried-and-true path, devices keep chugging along in R&D, clinical trials and applying for approvals in the U.S. and abroad. There are many things healthcare companies do well when it comes to medical technology, such as testing for safety in humans, documentation and design. And there are a lot of things they fail at — and could learn from some of the leading consumer tech juggernauts today.

Be open with data

Working in gastric science, tackling obesity and weight loss, I’m sure my company has done studies and experiments to solve problems and investigate questions that others have already solved — perhaps many times, because obesity and weight loss are fairly well-studied.

This is because almost all data generated by pharmaceutical and medical companies are kept under lock and key. It’s only the beginning in data sharing for healthcare, and there’s no widespread open-source movement or Elon Musk figure releasing patents into the wild yet. This means incredible startup costs for a new company or device, but it’s also pretty terrible from a consumer perspective; we put our users through the ringer over and over again to study the same things.

Medical users are, like everyone else, online these days.

Of course, some data and information should be kept private. But imagine a world where medtech innovators could avoid reinventing the wheel and focus on bigger ambitions — what leaps could we make in technology? Google, Facebook and others have open sourced code to help build the greater online ecosystem, and they are still able to create proprietary products or make money off their platforms. We need to create a similar ecosystem where healthcare brands can compete, but where we eliminate busy work.

Experience > product alone

Stewart Butterfield from Slack wrote a terrific article on Medium with some on-point observations about consumer experience versus product. When you’re creating something new, you can’t just focus on the product — you need to think about how your audience is experiencing it. Meeting users where they are and building a beautiful experience — not just beautiful things — is something at which the best technology companies (like Slack) excel.

Because medtech companies rely on reimbursement models to sell products, they don’t have the same pressures to create an excellent consumer experience. In fact, beyond the safety and efficacy of a device or therapy, how an individual experiences that product just isn’t a huge consideration. Granted, healthcare is a complicated industry, and there’s much more at stake than a company-wide messaging system. But safety and efficacy don’t preclude an amazing customer experience.

Treat users as participants, not purchasers

In general, tech companies rely on user feedback and preferences not just to fix problems, but also to adapt their product and create new features. Wherever their users are, the most successful companies want to be there too, understanding both new and old customers and bringing them closer to the brand. They ask, “Why don’t we see you?” and then work to fix things.

Meanwhile, medtech companies still operate at an arm’s length and on outdated assumptions. They rely on the myth that we all visit our primary care physicians, who then recommend which therapy to get. While a strong relationship and level of trust with a doctor might have been the case a decade or more ago, most people aren’t doing that today. Medical users are, like everyone else, online these days. Yet these companies are still focused on physician marketing to reach new potential.

Instead of asking why they don’t understand where their users are, medtech companies are wondering “Why don’t you see us?” But social media, Yelp and online communities are not intuitive parts of many healthcare companies’ customer relationships. Said another way, medtech companies treat customers as purchasers, while tech companies treat them as participants.

Bringing medtech into 2016

As much as we laud technology companies such as Facebook, Slack and Uber for their successes and impact, healthcare isn’t an easy industry to tackle. A person’s health is a serious thing, and implementing safe, effective medical technology isn’t the same as pushing an update to someone’s iPhone.

Yet medtech should still look to the rocket ship success of the tech industry for inspiration and lessons. People today are not “patients” first — they’re individuals with more access to information than ever before. This also means that medtech companies now have unprecedented access to these audiences of users (and potential users!) in more places for valuable insights. We have new tools and a new consumer paradigm to create world-changing healthcare — we just need to build it.