The United States does a lot of things well. Our economy is growing, we have an incredible space program, our clean energy sector is turning out amazing new technologies, and so much more. But there is a list of other things that we do not do well and our healthcare system is one of them.
Unlike other developed countries, the US lags behind with a complicated, inefficient, and ultimately ineffective healthcare system. The mess is created by the illogical assortment of doctors, insurance companies, federal programs, laws, and drug companies. Out of the mayhem come predictable results: patients that receive substandard care and outrageous bills.
The healthcare and medical industries have been slow to innovate, in part due to the high cost of entry and the regulatory red tape that must be untangled. But today that is changing and entrepreneurs and investors are excited; very excited. Commenting on the opportunity, Bob Kocher, a doctor and partner at Venrock, said in an interview, "The healthcare industry continues to be one of the biggest opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors. Over-employment and declining productivity has plagued our health care system for decades, but today market forces are driving new incentives and paving the way for disruption."
Always-hustling entrepreneurs are about to have their moment. This massive industry is ripe for disruption and in the recent years we have begun to see more and more startups launch to solve problems the industry has been too cumbersome to solve on its own.
Here are three ways that entrepreneurs are working to modernize and improve healthcare:
In the past, going to the doctor was a reactive measure. You started to have something wrong and decided to go in to figure out what it was. Consumers are shifting away from that pattern of health care and adopting new technologies that put them ahead of the curve.
To learn about this shift, I spoke with Marcus Foster, CEO and co-founder of Klarismo, a body imaging company that uses big data analytics to learn about patient health from regular MRI scans.
"Right now, there is a fundamental cultural shift taking place," says Foster. "Consumers want direct access to their health data, and they don't want to have to rely on doctors to tell them what's going on inside their bodies. This proactive approach to health marks an important shift that could have significant impacts on overall health in the upcoming years."
In many ways, proactive, consumer-driven care of this nature is the next phase of preventative medicine.
Biohacking is a buzzword that does not seem to be going anywhere. The concept behind biohacking is simple: if you can track health with data points, you can tinker with different inputs to optimize it. Biohackers seek out solutions that give them immediate access to their health data and remove the middleman (doctors, hospitals, etc.).
Startups like 23andMe, which has raised over $240 million in funding, is the first company to provide direct-to-consumer genetics services. They mail you a kit, you put in your saliva and within a few weeks, you receive your genetic data. Consumer access to data of this nature is unlike anything seen before.
The idea here is simple: it is all about data, and growing numbers of consumers are demanding access to it.
Many successful startup founders have had their 'aha' moment after experiencing a problem personally. Foster is a good example of this pattern. You would expect the CEO of a healthtech company to come from the medical industry or to be a doctor, but Foster actually comes from Google.
The idea for Klarismo came from a problem he personally experienced: he had an accident which lead to a concussion and he was disappointed with the MRI data that was available. Millions of Americans have frustrations with how health care works and the limitations of the technology that is available. Entrepreneurs are able to take those experiences and turn them into valuable solutions.
Major problems in the medical industry used to be tackled by big medical companies with very little urgency. The recent influx of entrepreneurs into the space has increased competition and resulted in better products and services.
A Rocky Road While the hype around entrepreneurs taking over the healthcare industry is growing, so are the concerns. Entrepreneurs are taught to "break the rules", which may work in some industries, but in an industry as heavily regulated as healthcare, that can be damaging.
23andMe has faced their fair share of regulatory issues, which could be due to a misunderstanding of the regulatory process or just outright defiance.
If entrepreneurs want to find success disrupting the healthcare industry, they are going to need to learn to play by the rules and find a balance between the startup "move fast and break things" mindset and the regulatory frameworks that are in place.