Technology can boost efficiency, but that’s not always enough

By Angela, December 06, 2017

We’ve been spending significant time on emerging tech lately. From the frenzy surrounding blockchain applications to the surge in medical research projects that are coming out of academia, it’s clear that disruption potential is high on the barometer right now. I’ve never felt more excited about our work as VCs than I do today.

I imagine the future, with all the possibilities of a decentralized Internet and personalized medicine, and I’m committed to championing the technology behind these themes even harder.

However, amidst all the excitement, it’s critical to take a step back and think about the go-to-market strategy. Startups need to really understand the workflows that they’re looking to disrupt. It’s not always about efficiency – sometimes there are other parts of the workflow that need to be optimized and changed.

This became clear to me when I had my fourth (and hopefully last) knee surgery two months ago. You may recall this story when I wrote about the need for personalized medicine. As I was about to be put under by the anesthesiologist, I asked him where he believes the opportunities are to improve his workflow (which, in theory, would improve healthcare delivery in general).

His answer: “Please don’t pitch me on another app that requires me to enter data on my own. I much rather write things down on pen and paper.” The drugs had already started entering me intravenously, so I pushed him to elaborate quickly. And he made a great point.

“Ever go on a date where someone is looking at their device the entire time? Doesn’t that suck?….If I’m spending time on a tablet, then I’m not spending time with my patient.”

I passed out soon after, but I have been thinking about his words and my experience ever since.

In healthcare, it might just be that moving from pen and paper to digital is not enough. Digital data capture is certainly more efficient than manual processes (when data is captured digitally at the point of care, providers don’t need to enter handwritten notes into the system after). But, in this case, tablets and computers at the patient bedside may detract from the personal connection that’s critical to the delivery of care.

What might make more sense is skipping the intermediate phase of manual digital collection altogether, and focusing on how to automate the collection of data. For years, IIoT has promised to collect and aggregate data from fragmented sources. When tools are invisible and working in the background, doctors have more time to focus on the patient. And, the next step is to not just automate data collection, but to also automate the generation of actionable insights (with AI/ML).

Any founder or investor involved in healthcare needs to ask: if doctors adopt this technology, will it make him/her the best doctor in the world? It’s a cheeky question, but it drills down to the competitive advantage that a technology will give a physician. That’s what s/he cares about.

As an engineer, I’m guilty of digging deep into IP to make sure I’m not being sold snake oil. But ultimately, what is equally if not more important, is how entrepreneurs sell this new technology and gain adoption. In the case of healthcare, the narrative shouldn’t just focus on boosting efficiency, but how to improve service delivery and the patient experience on an emotional level. The challenge here is selling an ROI that is difficult to measure.

I’ve focused on healthcare here due to my personal experience, but there are similar examples in other markets and emerging technologies. My experience was an important reminder that as excited as we get about innovation, we can’t lose sight of what’s most important – people. Often times, good solutions are rooted more in UX than technology.   

  • reggiedog

    Hope your surgery went well and you are well on your way to a full and speedy recovery.

    I usually don’t comment negatively on these things, because it’s a waste of time, but it’s too easy to…

    I believe this post encapsulates everything that’s wrong with VC because it completely misses how the world works and any sense, simple research or understanding of history.

    Not only do these type of posts waste money, they educate entrepreneurs into perusing paths that are dead ends.

    #1 – This post assumes that doctors want to be better at serving patients, rather being better business people and making more money. I hate to tell you, but the kindly doctor who makes house calls has gone the way of home milk delivery in glass bottles. I’ll guess that a VC goes to one of those high end “special surgery” practices with very sophisticated marketing, targeted campaigns and yield management, run as a business and not a humanist charity. Yes, you can pay lip service to ideals, but they’re vastly more motivated by money.

    #2 – Even a casual familiarity with the graveyard of failed med tech knows that human nature, such as laziness and unwillingness to do much work before there’s reward, no matter the long-term pay-off, would recognize that ease of use is the biggest hurdle to success in a busy environment with a huge range of users and dependencies. The CRM space, which is what you seem to ultimately be talking about, has been completely mis-represented in terms of adoption. Do you know anyone in history who loves their CRM system? They’ve even the most painful necessary-evil for decades: all input, crappy data and pain.

    Yes, as you conclude, it’s key to not lose sight of the fact that “it’s all about people”, but understanding people and history are key to doing that. Superficial tropes on “service delivery” ideals instead of human needs and basic history perpetuate the false narratives that create the dismal succeed rate (from the founders perspective) of the startup world.

  • atkingyens

    Always good for us to hear a different perspective – so thanks for sharing. Obviously, I disagree:

    On #1: There is no assumption here that doctors are not interested in making more money but it can implicitly be understood that “bedside manner” is very important to patients which ultimately drives business for physicians. If you go on Yelp as an example (or any doctor rating sites) and look at physician reviews, you’ll see that “customer satisfaction” is often correlated to a patient’s feeling of care from his/her provider. Also, being a VC and having a “special surgery” is irrelevant to whatever argument is being made here.

    On #2: I think this actually supports my argument here that users want more value than efficiency because they can’t outweigh the switching costs today with productivity gains in the future.

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