For those of us with children, you can appreciate this truism: kids understand the world differently than their parents. This is certainly the case when it comes to technology. Our kids are digital natives – they have grown up with the Internet being a huge part of their lives. They can fact check us at the dinner table; they live in a media-filled world. But when I tell them that I am a digital health investor, they reply: “What does that mean? Everything important is already done digitally.”
So what is digital health anyway? The Food & Drug Administration (“FDA”) has defined digital health as including “categories such as mobile health (mHealth), health information technology (IT), wearable devices, telehealth and telemedicine, and personalized medicine” made available by “mobile medical apps and software that support the clinical decisions doctors make.” Digital health is enabled by “computing platforms, connectivity, software, and sensors for health care and related uses.”
As a regulator, the FDA is directed to consider the individual elements of offerings that impact health to comply with its mandate of protecting the public’s health. But for consumers, the underlying components and science behind a digital health solution are not top-of-mind. The way consumers experience digital health is shaped by the end goal: their desire to be healthy. If offerings accessed through wearable devices or by interacting with a phone or computer screen can help achieve that goal, all the better. Ask anyone if they would like to spend the night at their local hospital and the answer is predictable: no one wants to be a patient, but we all want to be healthy.
According to Rock Health, between 2010 and 2020, approximately $49B was invested in digital health. That amount was almost achieved in the last two years– 2021 (~$15B) and 2022 (~$30B). While one could attribute this to macro-economic factors such as the unprecedented availability of capital, there is more to this story.
Consumers expect–in fact, demand–that the technologies made available to them to manage many aspects of their lives, like banking, shopping, entertainment, will be made available to them in all aspects of their lives. When was the last time you interacted face to face with a bank teller? Today we deposit checks with our phones, pay our bills online, and send money to our friends using services like Venmo. But I haven’t heard anyone refer to this as digital banking. When we want to watch a movie, we have screen choices – 3D IMAX screens, traditional movie screens, cable TV, and more frequently, streaming services, like Netflix. We access the content we want when we want.
Likewise, we can find answers to almost any question we have in under a second from Google. The selection at Amazon, the “Everything Store”, is larger than any department store (imagine…Sears in the 1970s used the tagline “Sears has Everything.”) We can book our own travel in a matter of clicks – a far cry from waiting at ticket counters or engaging with travel agencies.
The beauty of these digital experiences is that they are curated for us. We don’t notice the magic that is happening behind the screen, which leverages machine learning to personalize our experiences. What I see on my Spotify home screen is different from you – and the same is true for your Youtube.TV home page compared to mine. We don’t know or even need to know the “sausage-making” behind the scenes. But the seamless and fluid way in which we can transact business is what we desire.
This is what consumers want for their health. Before the term “digital health” made it into the vocabulary of many in the healthcare industry, our consistent view at 7wireVentures has been that we all desire to be better Informed and Connected Health Consumers. The seamless, transparent experience consumers deserve and demand will be powered through technology solutions and digitization. This thesis has guided our investments over the past decade. It is what led to the novel offerings of companies like Livongo Health, which helps individuals with chronic conditions to live better and healthier lives.
Livongo creates a seamless experience for individuals with diabetes by providing a guardian angel that is available 24×7 to help answer any question and is only intrusive in the event of an emergency. By monitoring blood sugar levels, Livongo is able to help its Members avoid dangerous events (e.g., ones blood sugar is too high or too low) that could place them in the emergency room. The solution also anticipates when its Members need supplies (e.g., test strips) so they never run out. This is a marked improvement from the status quo which required individuals with diabetes to fend for themselves. [Livongo, a former portfolio company of 7wireVentures was merged with Teladoc in October 2020.]
In a similar manner, Zerigo, another 7wireVentures company, helps individuals with chronic skin conditions (starting with psoriasis) to treat their condition at home with support. Likewise, Jasper Health is supporting individuals with cancer to manage their condition and have access to support at all hours of the day and night. NOCD provides therapy at all hours of the day and night to help those with obsessive-compulsive disorder to get and stay healthy.
Of course, not all healthcare can be received virtually and there will always be a need for the “laying of hands.” But where possible, consumers will want to gain access to care on their terms – to have care meet them where they are. Consumers don’t think of digital health any more than they think of digital shopping –they just expect access, affordability, transparency, and a great experience. And its happening today.
In October2020, Rock Health said: “Ten years from now there will be no such thing as digital health, because all healthcare will be digitally enabled.”Today, I am writing the obituary of digital health – eight and one-half years sooner than expected. Long live health!