Health IT, Startups

Stop using healthcare startups as medical bogeymen

Newsflash: Flawed healthcare startups are good startups.

Healthcare is going through a dramatic change. This can be scary or, just as often, a threat to those who have had control for so long.

I regularly hear random healthcare establishment types who, grasping for an anecdote to maintain the status quo, trot out a story about a clueless startup with a half-baked business model. It’s their way to urge caution or warn of the dangers of moving too quickly with new approaches.

Stop this now. You’re being disingenuous at best and you sound completely out-of-touch.

The latest version of this happened at the American Telemedicine Association’s annual meeting in Los Angeles. Dr. Jack Resnick, a dermatologist and board member of the American Medical Association, channeled the AMA’s keep-control approach.

He recalled a venture-backed company focused on treating acne that doesn’t have its ducks in a row. The company wants to help provide oral antibiotics to patients. But it wasn’t going to provide records back to dermatologists and it had no real support system for patients (bad). The startup’s plan their customer did have a problem? Send them to the emergency room (double bad).

“So, to me this is the kind of thing that actually risks damaging the reputation of telemedicine and setting back our efforts to expand coverage for high-quality, ethical telemedicine and really can hurt field and that’s not what we want to see happen,” he said.

No, it does none of those things. Not to anyone in healthcare who understands anything about startups and innovation.

Two points:

  • The idea a startup begins with is almost always flawed – sometimes deeply. Most startups fail because of this. A startup is a theory that’s being tested. The ones that succeed will change their original ideas several times
  • Many startups are lead by people from outside of healthcare who have found a problem that needs to be solved (we want to encourage this trend). Going to medical experts is part of the validation process and will make the company better.

So early-stage innovation is iterative and clueless comes with the territory. On the tech side, it’s often going to move faster and looser than traditional medical research.

Startups with bad ideas will do one of two things: change or fail. This process is an ally of good telemedicine, dermatology and healthcare overall.

Patients are more under threat from conflicts of interest, bad medical education standards, the rising cost for specialty treatments and the refusal of traditional healthcare to jump into the innovation pond.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons