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Chris Meier

Software Developer and Co-founder of FoodChain

The Personal Healthcare Startup Paradox

I attended a panel discussion back in October at Science 2015 that was held at the University of Pittsburgh called What’s App with Mobile Health Care?. The focus was on personal healthcare startups. They had a range of speakers that spanned multiple topics. There was a talk about how to make your app successful and what to expect from user turnover. Founders of healthcare startups were also present to talk about their experiences. It was an amazing discussion that covered everything from regulations to making the biggest difference in your users’ lives. However, the was one thing that stuck out to me. The panelists called it the “Personal Healthcare Startup Paradox.” This paradox states that the people who will benefit the most from your product won’t be the ones using it.

It hit me that this was one of the biggest problems faced in society today and solving it could really change the world. It strikes me as interesting that we have so many products that could improve the health of at-risk people, but the only people buying them are ones who are already health conscious. They are most likely healthy already and these products may not necessarily impact their life in a big way. So how do we change the lifestyle of an obese person so they can spend more time with their family and play with their kids? How do we get a patient with a chronic condition to take their medication everyday? There were a few ideas kicked around, but ultimately it can’t be done unless we put telescreens in everyone’s house. I will highlight a few solutions that are a step in the right direction.

Gamification

This was the first, and simplest approach suggested. Gamification has been know to engage users and and keep them using your product. This is particularly sensible for patients who need to take medicine for chronic conditions. They can earn points or in-app currency every time they take their medication and exchange them for rewards. A patient’s progress can be tracked and presented to their healthcare provider. No longer will a patient have to remember how much of their medication they took or even worse, lie about taking their medication. The app can also send reminders to users that they need to take their medicine. When a user doesn’t take their daily dosage, the app can ask them questions. What changed? How are you feeling? This information can be used to make decisions such as getting a patient to a hospital for treatment.

Social Media Integration

Gamification alone is great for tasks such as getting a user to take their medicine. However, this is a very private aspect of a user’s life. But what about lifestyle changes, such as exercising? Gamification is still a fantastic approach, and pairing it with social media sharing creates a powerful combination. It is known that people love to share positive things from their lives with their friends, who in turn will give them positive feedback and reinforcement. Receiving likes from all of your friends for the two miles you ran today can keep users motivated and accountable. A user can also track their personal success by setting goals and being rewarded for accomplishing them. Both of these can lead to positive lifestyle changes and improve personal health.

Reactive Approach

The above solutions follow more of a proactive approach. They are designed to create change so adverse health events don’t happen. But if that doesn’t work, a reactive approach must be taken. An audience member ask about this problem at a recent tech talk by TeleTracking. If the patient doesn’t care, how do you help them? Their solution was really the only option available. It was to get the patient the cheapest, quickest care possible to at least give them a chance. This may include something like integrating with a patient’s calendar and calling them an Uber or Lyft ride to take them to their doctor’s appointment. Or if an adverse event occurs, a rideshare service can be called to take them to the nearest clinic to receive treatment. While not ideal, this approach can still save someone’s life.

The “Healthcare Startup Paradox” is definitely an interesting problem. Success in this space can mean different things, and right now they are polar opposites. Do I earn money or change the lives of people who actually need it? It’s a problem that can hopefully be solved. The above are just minimal solutions that have limited effects. A solution to this paradox, not consensus protocols, will truly change the world.