Venture investors see opportunities to fix patient experience, but do seniors want it?

Where will investors allocate funding for aging technology? A panel revealed the healthcare pain points investors and health IT startups see may not jibe with consumer priorities.

Awful patient experience, poor communication, increasing out-of-pocket costs. Investors assembled for a panel discussion of the future of investing in aging technology at the AARP Innovation@50+ focused more on pain points that could apply to healthcare generally not specifically to senior care.

Jody Holtzman, senior vice president of thought leadership at the AARP, moderated the panel.

Mohanjit Jolly, a partner at DFJ, wryly observed, “The good news for entrepreneurs is most everything in healthcare is broken or needs to be fixed.”

But the question that should immediately follow is, do seniors really want your solution? Lisa Suennen, a consultant and blogger under the Venture Valkyrie handle, made a great point in the midst of the panel. She noted that startups are frequently competing against a consumer who is not interested in doing anything different to manage their health.

That’s why a direct to consumer approach may not be the best idea for entrepreneurs in the senior care space, unless the target customer is a caregiver.

In one face palm moment, one panelist said, “We’re all waiting for the killer app. We have not yet seen the Facebook or Google of healthcare yet.”

Really? That’s not something I tend to hear from seniors — if only there were an elusive killer app, aside from maybe the young bucks of the AARP membership and caregivers.

The startups that resonated the most with the audience focused on specific pain points such as hearing loss and post stroke rehabilitation. In fairness, the investor panelists gave the top prize of the day to a company that had the widest patient population — a device that automatically conveys car accident data to EMS.

Casper deClercq, a partner with Norwest Venture Partners, flagged up population health as a pain point. “Chronic disease is totally mismanaged in the U.S. because  we’re no good at population health.”

But he also highlighted a growing area relevant to seniors — house calls on demand. The service proved useful when a child got sick and helped him avoid a late visit to the emergency room. It’s the kind of service that would be especially useful to caregivers, especially if mobility for seniors is an issue.

But if I came away with any major need that has yet to be sufficiently addressed in healthcare, particularly for seniors, it’s definitely comes under communication and practice management tools. Jolly recounted the communication gap that emerged in a pained hour-long call with a billing clerk from a hospital in the Silicon Valley over a bill that had already been paid.

Photo: Flickr