In my new role as Entrepreneur in Residence at BlueRun Ventures, I kicked off 2019 with “JPM week” events and a calendar full of health tech related meetings. I’ve pulled out a few notable themes that dominated my conversations this January:
It’s time to talk about inequality in healthcare and focus on the social determinants of health. I would be surprised to find a care provider who doesn’t understand the importance of income, education, and community on an individual’s given disease state. Social determinants of health took center stage at the Startup Health Festival with Bernard Tyson (Kaiser Permanente’s plans to vastly expand “social care” for their members and communities) and Dr. Sanjay Gupta (recognizing the social aspects that fuel the current opioid epidemic). I think there’s a lot of room for improvement (and creative thinking) to address these aspects when we’re designing products and experiences.
The next wave of care platforms will focus on our brains as much as they focus on our bodies. A surprising number of Startup Health presentations focused on tackling anxiety, depression, addiction, and the broader web of mental health / wellness applications. We’re also seeing concrete movement from existing players with Omada and Livongo both announcing the inclusion of behavioral health modules. At BRV, we’ve talked to an increasing number startups building applications for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, telepsychiatry, and meditation training. We recently invested in a company focused on emotional wellness and see further potential in the space for applications to help treat serious mental health conditions. One of the key pieces some of these applications are still missing is clinical validation, which leads me to my next theme…
Evidence-based validation is no longer a nice-to-have. In its infancy (think not even ten years ago), digital health investing was ripe with “this works like magic” claims. We’ve learned our lesson. After spending time with Megan Coder of the Digital Therapeutics Alliance during JPM week, it’s clear the industry has ushered in a new era of transparency with respect to how software can prevent or treat medical conditions. Maayan Cohen’s dogged focus on clinical validation is one of the core reasons we chose to invest in HelloHeart. Clinical validation is no longer an option, but finally a prerequisite, for true adoption from investors, patients, and ecosystem of partners.
Consumers are increasingly driving their own care journey, but true “consumerization” is still to come. As an industry, we have long talked about the democratizing power of empowering patients. BlueRun Ventures was an early believer when they invested in Human API (disclaimer: I co-founded HAPI), a consumer-mediated health data platform. What I, nor the BRV team, has been able to predict is when the scales will really “tip”. I’m biased, but I would argue we’re on the precipice. Invitae just announced their patient-initiated genetic testing services, retail clinics are on the rise, digital health investment hit an all-time high in 2018, and Tim Cook recently stated that in the future we’ll think of Apple’s “most-important contribution to mankind” as being in health.
Despite some pessimistic outlooks for global market trends in 2019, I don’t think health tech investment will follow suit. My guess is we won’t see any slowdown of startups thinking differently about problems in this space and an increasing number of incumbents spending record resources to stay entrenched. If you’re solving an important problem with health technology, the BlueRun Ventures team would love to learn more.