HIT entrepreneurs need more than money to build successful digital health apps

“First do no harm” is a sacred reminder to doctors that their first priority is to keep their patients in good health. But part of keeping patients in good health is giving them tools that can help them improve their own care. As the Affordable Care Act increases the number of insured patients, new health […]

“First do no harm” is a sacred reminder to doctors that their first priority is to keep their patients in good health. But part of keeping patients in good health is giving them tools that can help them improve their own care.

As the Affordable Care Act increases the number of insured patients, new health IT ideas are becoming increasingly popular and catching the attention of investors who want to turn the best ones into healthcare reality. $3 billion in investment funding has poured into health IT startups already this year. But while most Americans have heard of stylish apps and products like GoogleFit and Apple Watch, game-changing solutions to some of the most intractable challenges that the healthcare industry and hard-to-reach patients are experiencing today — like providing effective, continued care to chronically-ill Medicare and Medicaid patients, for example — still remain unknown.

This is one of health IT’s biggest problems: although our startups have more financial resources at their fingertips now, we just don’t have enough ways to test-drive our tools with prospective customers like doctors and patients. A new health IT tool is like an organ transplant: it can be in great shape, but if it’s not the perfect donor match for the patient’s or provider’s specific needs, it’s going to get rejected. In the absence of meaningful feedback, health IT startups are building tools that might fail once they hit the healthcare market.

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That’s where the New York Digital Health Accelerator comes in. Developed by the New York e-Health Collaborative and the Partnership Fund for New York City to support New York’s health IT sector, the Accelerator is giving startups what we need, but can’t get anywhere else: direct access to major customers and product feedback from New York’s top 23 healthcare industry leaders.

By participating in the accelerator, my company Quality Reviews is getting strategic guidance from hospital mentors on refining our app RateMyHospital®, which allows patients to give real-time feedback about their hospitals’ experiences on their smartphones. The app enables hospitals to quickly improve patient care and win incentive payments in this new world of a pay-for-performance reimbursement model.

Advice from our mentors about the app’s technology and business model is helping us make it smarter and easier to use. For instance, we’re learning how to integrate our app to improve existing hospital workflows— similar to what must be done to ensure the perfect organ donor match.

We are already seeing increased user engagement from patients, hospitals, administrators and clinicians within the RateMyHospital platform after implementing their feedback. The best part is that some of our hospital mentors could potentially pilot our tool.

Although the Accelerator is relatively new, it’s already showing strong results — last year’s class raised $21 million in additional capital, created 120 new jobs, and two of the startups were acquired soon after graduating.

I believe more health IT investors and healthcare providers should follow the Accelerator’s steps by giving entrepreneurs deep industry exposure — not just financial support. It’s not the lack of technology that’s holding healthcare innovation back; it’s the lack of system integration that’s necessary to derive meaningful returns on investment from these technologies.

If we solve this problem, health IT entrepreneurs will build more successful tools that can improve healthcare for all.

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