At this fall’s most recent Health 2.0 Silicon Valley conference, the overall theme is that there is more excitement — and dollars — than ever in the realm of consumer healthcare informatics & technology.
According to Matthew Holt (@boltyboy), co-founder of Health 2.0 (@health2con), venture capital flowing into digital health technology companies has nearly doubled in comparison to last year, from US$1.94B in all of 2013 to US$3.65B as of October 2014.
The biggest increase in funding, in terms of absolute numbers, has flowed to wearable technologies and technologies that encourage users to manage their own health conditions. Also seeing increases are patient-provider communication and business-to-business administrative tools. In contrast, the smallest number of products are in search, privacy & identity, and clinical trials & recruitment healthcare technologies.
Most interesting, notes Holt, is the “Uber”-fication of healthcare companies creating apps and online services that allow users to call healthcare providers on demand. Eleven companies call themselves the “Uber of Health Care”: Plushcare, OnCall, Uberdok, Zeel, StudioDental, Uberhealth, ViaHealth, Uber Dx, Curbside Care, Pager and Medicast. These services promise to treat conditions, such as urinary tract infections, sore throat, and sexually-transmitted diseases over the Internet.
A panel of venture capitalists at Health 2.0 noted a shift towards consumer health technologies due to the Affordable Care Act’s “consumerization of healthcare”, according to 7wire Ventures’s Glen Tullman.
“When consumers spend their money, they do it by looking for value, competition, and the like. Things have changed. Consumers are going to be in charge. Technology is going to make a difference.”
“The macro trend is that the healthcare system is unsustainable the way it is right now.” said former cardiologist Milena Adamian, now at Azimuth Partners. “There are ways to improve access and delivery, and that’s where money is flowing right now.”
Cardiologist Eric Topol also noted this trend in his Health 2.0 keynote, labeling on-demand medical care as “IWWIWWIWI”, or “I Want What I Want When I Want It.” These preceded Google’s recent October 2014 telemedicine search tests. When particular users searched for healthcare terms, they were presented with not only search results, but also a direct link to its Google Helpouts videoconferencing payment service to telemedicine providers.
Topol further declared that more of healthcare will shift towards portable smartphone and wearable devices. For instance, companies like Theranos, Colorimetrix, Qloudlab for testosterone labs, and Holomic for radioimmunoassay labs are driving this trend to increase the availability of common tests, such as liver function tests and thyroid function tests.
“Virtually any test will be available on a smartphone,” said Topol at his Health 2.0 speech.
Topol also stated that more and more mobile technologies will replace traditional medical equipment. Oregon State Health University, for instance, recently published results in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Cardiovascular Imaging that a portable ultrasound device was much more sensitive than a physical exam. And, companies such as OScan, Stanford University’s Eye-Phone slit lamp device, and Cellscope are extending this trend further in visual smartphone diagnostics.
“A consumer could do their own physical exam and send it over the cloud!” said Topol, citing companies such as Tyto and MedWand that could replicate traditional physical exams. Both companies’ portable handheld devices, for instance, can enable doctors to remotely measure heart rate, listen to heart and lungs, look into eyes and ears, and take a user’s temperature.
In Topol’s eyes, the future of medicine is a “Digitized, Democratized, Data Science”. More and more patients will be able to read their notes and contribute towards their own medical records. Topol predicts more of healthcare will shift towards a “doctorless” treatment model in which users can manage more of their own conditions.