Through the Healthcare Looking Glass

A glance at the future of treatment

By: Adele Li (M&T ‘20)

A traumatizing visit to the emergency room at Penn Med made me think about healthcare and digital health, fields I had been incredibly interested in, in new light. The haze of multiple doctors running in and out, asking me different and conflicting questions, made the lack of synchronization of education relating to patient history and foreign drugs clear.

I knew that areas such as education and healthcare were historically impenetrable and that these industries had always been ripe for tech, machine learning, and AI. However, these hyper inflated markets have never been fully remade with tech. As more and more VCs start having bio funds, what is different this time?

Source: CB Insights

When you combine the decreasing time and costs of computation and storage, you get the bio version of Moore’s Law — the cost of sensors and genome sequencing are approaching zero. Software is bringing this all together. When we look at machine learning, for example, doctors are trained to expertly apply their medical expertise recognize patterns and properly diagnose a patient. They take a wide variety of inputs, from vision to touch to smell to patient feedback, to make clear decisions, similar to how computer computers can. This will hopefully become the new modus operandi and subsequently, the gold standard for diagnosis that is integrated into a world where doctors are not disintermediated, but rather included in the ultimate decision making process.

One of the more incredible things about the Internet is that it is now being used to help put a face to a need. Companies — HealthTap, Doctor on Demand, Remedy — are making it easier to connect doctors to those in need, and others,like Watsi. are helping people around the world by funding their medical care. One thing that strikes me about Watsi in particular is its ongoing work to track which hospital perform the best procedures and engage in ongoing due diligence on each individual which they choose to help.

Source: Watsi

In the area of crowdsourcing medical care, the more people or startups the better. There are organizations out there such as Kangu, a platform where pregnant women can crowdfund deliveries, or even GiveDirectly, which allows donors to connect straight with the person who their money would be helping. In a world where more than one billion people can’t afford or even access medical services, these platforms have enormous global implications. I would be so incredibly excited to see a startup here on Penn’s campus navigate the healthcare scene, balancing social impact while being a startup destined for rapid growth.

On Penn’s campus, we now see a trend in creating networks, specifically networks in the healthcare system, geared towards educating and empowering patients and users. Healthie, an IF funded company, focuses on practice management and telehealth for nutritional care. They use software systems to better connect and synchronize dieticians and users so both parties can keep track of the progress and the results of the patient. Furthermore, we just saw Advans Health, a startup focusing on simplifying student health insurance by acting as an insurance brokerage. They seek to educate students so they can make value-based health care decisions.

But it’s still early for deep sustaining impact of digital health and bio-focused software. For now, these companies, in and out of Penn’s campus, are counting on tech to help fill in the gaps to keep patient costs low and quality high. In this new era of the tech-savvy medical student, I’m even more excited to see how software-conscious doctors will change the realm of healthcare.

Adele is an Innovation Fund Project Manager and our team’s Director of Outreach. She studying Computer Science, Finance, and Statistics, and is passionate about digital health and EdTech. Adele previously worked in venture capital at Mayfield Fund and Paxion Capital, and she enjoys playing jazz piano, and traveling.

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