Getting and Staying Healthy

Last week, I wrote about fitness apps , and the opportunities that two increasingly popular health activities- running and crossfit- present innovators and developers. That’s the sexy part of the world of health, but it’s not necessarily the most promising or the most potentially lucrative. Indeed, in the wake of the 2010 passage of the ACA (The Affordable Care Act), tech companies have rushed to address the much larger issues of health care cost and quality. While the market for a fitness tracker is largely niche and individual, the market for tech solutions that improve health outcomes is universal and often corporate. In the US health spending accounts for a whopping 17% of all spending, which makes the US health care market vastly larger than the markets in other developed nations. So, innovators are firing at a target that’s not only big, but practically standing still.

One model that’s developing is Digital Health startups. These are generally marketed as cost-cutting supplements and they’re geared towards insurance companies and other businesses. One such example is Omada Health. Omada is changing health behavior and sparking interest from major companies such as Humana, Providence Health & Services, and Costco. Companies that work with it point to offerings such as its Prevent program, which seeks to promote healthy behaviors and eating patterns over a 16 week course. In a clinical study Omada found that the program caused an average of 4.7% weight loss after one year, 4.2% of which was maintained after two. Omada achieves such results, in part, by tying much of its own compensation to results. To date 20,000 people and 30 companies use its programs.

Sherpaa is another Digital Health startup that aims to add value to health plans in an attempt to reduce the enormous expense. Its pitch relies on the raw facts of health care. It notes that the average business pays between 10,000 and 15,000 per year on health insurance plans, and daily usage of health care is wildly inefficient. 70% of emergency room visits don’t occur in true emergencies and 70% of doctor visits don’t require a doctor. Companies like Sherpaa are dedicated to reducing these costs and inefficiencies. In addition to recommending high-deductible plans paired with pre-paid debit cards to cover some early costs, Sherpaa interacts with individual patients to reduce costs. If you’re sick, you can call a Sherpaa doctor, describe your symptoms, and find out the best next course of action. In this way customers are being spared costly trips to the ER, or a Critical Care unit, for issues that are easily dealt with over the counter medicines or simple bed rest. This defrays overall costs.

Besides Digital Health Startups, the health care space is being disrupted by all sorts of different health apps. Two of the more popular offerings are iTriage Health and Apple Health. iTriage gives patients access to a huge medical database, which provides information on symptoms and treatments, and it also helps connect you to doctors. Apple Health assumes that the iPhone user is connected to a larger network of devices. It syncs and integrates with platforms like Jawbone or Withings Health Mate to track and sort vital stats (blood pressure, pulse, etc), record activity level and eating habits, and provide its users with a broad overview of wellness.

While Apple Health and iTriage are aimed pretty squarely at do it yourselfers, there are plenty of other apps geared towards improving both the patient and provider side of more structured health care services. General telehealth apps like AmWell and AskMd aim to improve health outcomes by more efficiently connecting providers and patients, managing specialist referrals, and saving both providers and patients time through things like e-waiting rooms and e-prescribing. 22otters allows for patient by patient customization, which helps streamline logistics. Health care providers can see when patients have completed certain tasks, taken medicines, etc, through a post-discharge follow-up system. Apps like Everseat give both physicians and patients an easier way to schedule appointments, and help connect providers and customers when cancellations occur.

As a recent techcrunch article notes, we are nowhere near the Uberization of the health care industry. Regulations limit the extent, and form, of innovation. All the same, the modest successes of initiatices like Omada Health, and apps like Apple Health, are encouraging, and developers and innovators looking to tackle new projects would do well to target America’s largest industry.