What does 'digital transformation' mean for healthcare startups in 2019? - Technical.ly Philly

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Dec. 12, 2018 7:06 am

What does ‘digital transformation’ mean for healthcare startups in 2019?

"Telemedicine is here to stay" and other lessons from a recent Digital Business Transformation and Innovation Summit for healthcare, life science, chemical and other execs.
The summit’s digital health panel.

The summit's digital health panel.

(Photo by Kevin Donahue)

Update: The names of every executive involved in organizing the Digital Business Transformation and Innovation Summit have been added. (12/12, 11:53 a.m.)
Mark Hassenplug had some seemingly ironic advice for the roomful of executives gathered at Thursday’s Digital Business Transformation and Innovation Summit in King of Prussia.

“One of the biggest problems with digital transformation,” said Hassenplug, a former principal at KPMG and now a board member at ZH Healthcare, “is the word ‘transformation.’ We’ve used it so much. It implies a radical change.”

Instead, he said to the gathered healthcare, life science, chemical and other execs, “you’d be wiser to avoid the term and talk about a ‘digital initiative’ — how it aligns with digital and business strategy and delivers results in the near-term.”

The summit, the second in the Philadelphia region over the past three months coordinated by a group of executives working in the industries discussed at the event — including Hassenplug, Sandeep Katarnavre, David Demers, Tony D’Alessandro, Dawn Mahan, Meghan Beierschmidt and Christian Hoyvald — was full of such practical advice for CIOs, CTOs and others hip-deep in innovation, digital and otherwise.

For instance, keynote speaker LaVerne Council didn’t point to code, infrastructure or regulatory frameworks as the biggest challenges to driving technological innovation forward.

“The hardest piece is the people and their ability to embrace change,” she said. “It has nothing to do with technology.”

Here are a few more lessons on digital transformation beyond 2018.

Your job is likely safe from an AI takeover — if you can adapt.

Council, national managing principal for Grant Thornton LLP and CIO for the Veterans Administration under President Barack Obama, is sold on artificial intelligence. She cited numerous examples of its usefulness today and promise going forward: its ability to improve cancer care, to identify and address problems as diverse as missing children and dangerous food products, and to reduce automobile accident fatalities.

And she’s ready for her self-driving car.

“As soon as they are available, I’ll be sitting in the back seat of my car,” she said. “As soon as the winged one is available, I’ll be in that one, too.”

Council pointed out that despite people’s fears that AI would cost people jobs (she shared that “Will robots take my job?” is Googled 75 million times a month), a recent study suggested AI would result in a net 500,000 new jobs by 2020.

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To those who despair about what will be left for the humans to do, Council said that 74 percent of U.S. consumers are willing to learn new skills. She sees the displacement of existing work as an opportunity to tackle more innovative tasks: It’s about “empowering” workers proactively, she said.

One thing Council would like to see humans do more of is think creatively about business solutions. She said that the pressures of quarter-to-quarter financial performance took a toll on companies’ ability to identify and respond to issues in today’s rapidly changing, disconcerting business environment.

“I think that’s why you see a lot of the most innovative thinking coming from young people and from people without daily corporate supervision,” she said.

Virtual healthcare is the new frontier — but other types of innovation are lacking.

In a digital health panel, Christopher Knerr, CEO of Mareana, shared that 2018 has been arguably the greatest year ever for digital health startups, with as much as $10 billion spent on acquisitions of 800 to 1,000 startups, with per-deal prices rising. The ensuing discussion touched on everything from wearables to care models that incentivize keeping people healthy to the ways millennials are changing how healthcare is delivered.

Take telemedicine, for instance.

“Telemedicine is here to stay,” said Dr. Nita Thingalaya, a digital ambassador for Main Line Health. “Very soon, each of us will have a teledoc. … Forget a primary care physician. Millennials will not even go to urgent care [centers]. They will go to their phone.”

Some things are not yet changing, said Denise Hatzidakis, CTO of ChenMed, which provides care for moderate- to low-income senior citizens.

“Focusing on cost is not going to fix healthcare,” she said. “The startups that are disruptive and going to make a difference are the ones that are focused on how do you provide integrated health that keeps people healthy, and the challenge is that they are hamstrung by regulations and funding.

“Follow the money,” Hatzidakis continued. “Unfortunately in healthcare, we still make money when people are sick. That’s a fact. Until that changes, I think you’re not going to see a lot of startup activity around that.”

Hatzidakis expressed concern that the dizzying pace of change may have the ability to obscure the most fundamental business questions.

“Healthcare is quite behind, technologically. I get concerned that we lose sight of the basics: What are we trying to accomplish?” she said. “I think we still don’t know the problem we’re trying to solve with all this data.”

David Spengler, the VP for digital technology and innovation at GE Digital currently working on GE’s $70 billion healthcare spin-off, agreed.

“The amount of data is amazing, but drawing intelligence from it remains the challenge,” he said.

The Digital Business Transformation and Innovation Summit organizers expect the event to become annual, with plans for Fall 2019 underway.

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