Student launched healthcare startup web application, BeloDoc, is reshaping the way patients and doctors deal with the treatment of skin care conditions. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but with web applications at play…are doctors kept completely at bay? As technology progresses, a common fear amongst professionals in every realm is whether or not they’ll move forward with the technology, or get left behind in the p i x e l a t e d d u s t of our rapidly evolving digital world. Perhaps the most crucial of players in this rather rapid evolvement are the startup applications, the individuals bold enough, crazy enough, excited enough to risk it all in order to make a large impact and make it fast. They’re ferocious, they’re fearless, they are, as Forbes fittingly states, “the people that join together and make a company and are still making the explicit decision to forgo stability in exchange for the promise of tremendous growth and the excitement of making immediate impact.”
Startups are exciting because they’re new, and with the start of anything (especially companies), there’s seemingly so much potential for so much growth. But, when these brand new companies enter a space that individuals have long inhabited, and in the medical industry, a place that many would argue thrives off of stability, they don’t just have the opportunity to scare the bejeezus out of the individuals who have long occupied the space; they have the opportunity to re-shape what some may have initially considered a rather dormant landscape. In my interview with the founders of BeloDoc, an online skincare application, it seems looking forward, the medical landscape is anything but inactive.
Check out the imaging camera, Zack mentioned, that may be able to diagnose and detect psoriasis before doctors can here. Currently, if you visit BeloDoc’s website, many of the pages explain that they’re out of town. Josh Gottesman and Zack Neff are hoping to move forward with a different dermatologist in the future, and with this transition currently in the works, they have had to just recently put the brakes on providing any further current care.
Womp. Womp. You can view the Terms and Conditions of the application here, but during the transition the BeloDoc is unusable. This transition and the idea of change within BeloDoc, itself, brings up a much larger, much more important question about the role many startups play in shaping the future of medical care. Are these eager startups entering and attempting to alter the medical space too fast? Is their eagerness compromising reliable care? Well, from just one Yelp! review it’s hard to tell if these downfalls apply to the work BeloDoc does.
But, with Josh and Zack’s hopes of continuing to expand and to change, it’s interesting and important to note that their eagerness and “learn-as-they-go” mentality might have more support behind them than you’d think. They’re definitely not the only two rooting for the success of health care technologies run by eager entrepreneurs, and this wider support is evident in the establishment and flourishing of large organizations such as Blueprint Health, “a community of healthcare entrepreneurs helping build the next generation of healthcare IT companies.”
They invest $20,000 in 20 healthcare IT companies each year, and the Blueprint Health staff and mentors work intensively with the companies for three months, helping them to meet and to achieve their business goals. Essentially, there’s been an entire organization dedicated to fostering the success of entrepreneurs looking to revolutionize the world of healthcare with technology, and by the looks of the clients they support- revolutionize is exactly what these companies have done.
From smarter pill bottles to avatar psychologists, the companies Blueprint Health has helped come to fruition are beyond what one would even consider possible (let alone common) within the healthcare sphere. And while the term “revolutionize” often connotes drastic change for the better- not all professional healthcare providers would agree that the seemingly looming, digitized future of their industry is revolutionary in a good way. And, while Zack and Josh stress the future of healthcare being supplemented by applications and devices created by entrepreneurs to enhance patient care- it isn’t all entirely supplemental. I sat down with professional healthcare provider, psychiatrist, Mark Soverinsky (MD), to talk about why he feels the startup companies powering these huge technological shifts in healthcare may not be entirely for the better.
Rebecca Soverinsky: How do you feel about startup companies, in general?
Mark Soverinsky: I think startups, themselves, are cool. They’re new and they have a lot of potential. They make something from basically nothing in a relatively short period of time, and I think the ones that have become most successful have just been realistic about their goals and achievements, maintaining a steady growth and not getting swept up in the initial take off.
Rebecca: Why do you think startup companies are problematic when entering the healthcare space?
Mark Soverinsky: I think they start to become problematic when they enter spaces that don’t thrive off of that same sort of rapid change and newness. Healthcare is where people come when they want reliability, stability and sureness that they’re being treated with the best possible care. I think innovation within healthcare is important and inevitable, but the influx of startups powering all of these random, different ideas to change the field is just unnecessary. It creates more uncertainty. People just want good doctors. Why do we need applications to do that?
Rebecca Soverinsky: Being that you’re a psychiatrist, how do you feel about the fact that there is currently a startup web application called, iCouch.me that provides patients with access to a licensed healthcare professional through video chat appointments?
Mark Soverinsky: I think that’s completely ridiculous! I could go on about this for a while, but I won’t get carried away because it’ll just be me getting more frustrated. But, this is the perfect example of some of the ridiculousness that can come out of startups entering a space and trying to innovate to a point that it’s almost too convenient. It crosses the line of convenience and becomes outlandish, rather than practical. I went to medical school, and other doctors with my same education would back me up in the understanding that so much of the benefit of psychotherapy is in the face-to-face communication between the patient and the physician. You can’t really replace that with a video chat- it’s just not the same. That’s like saying if you’re in a different country and you’re immensely homesick, that talking to your mom on FaceTime would be the same and reap the same benefits as being with her in person.
Rebecca Soverinsky: What about more supplemental things like MyFitnessPal, an application that helps you track your dietary needs? Or patient portals for organizing information?
Mark Soverinsky: Look, I’m very old fashioned when it comes to this stuff, and it’s not just because I’m in my mid 50’s- plenty of my peers are using portals, but it’s harder in psychiatry because there are more privacy laws in place. Psychiatry aside, I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with the supplemental, but you were just talking to me about virtual mental health care, that’s really like replacing doctor visits altogether, and that’s where I take issue with the startups entering the medical space, creating things like that. People are full of ideas, especially entrepreneurs, and that’s great, but it’s easy to get carried away. When people are getting carried away with big ideas for technology in an industry that is dedicated to serving people with reliable care, to me, that’s not innovation it’s just problematic.
So just exactly how many healthcare providers are investing in healthcare applications to assist their practice?
As of the March 2015 study, only 16% of doctors are currently using them in their work with patients and an underwhelming 28% plan to implement them within the next 5 years; HOWEVER, 86% of healthcare professionals believe the applications have the potential to increase their knowledge of patients’ conditions.
“Mobile apps for smartphones are changing the way doctors and their patients approach medicine and health issues”
“Patients with heart disease can send information about their heart rate straight to their doctors…Apps are improving healthcare professionals’ knowledge of their patients, while patients feel a lift in their quality of life.”
-Vincent DeRobertis, senior vice president of global healthcare at Research Now.
I’d be more than willing to trade in a slower process, messy paperwork and the logistical annoyances of office visits, if it consistently equated to the receiving of reliable and quality care, but as many of us know that’s not always the case. You can’t guarantee anything. Even if you’re seeing someone with a degree, even if you’re at an office that’s been running for 30 plus years, it doesn’t mean that every single visit and every single diagnosis is going to be perfect or accurate, and change is inevitable, but the change might be a slower process in a world where individuals are somewhat hesitant to adopt. Especially true, if you’re going off of last year’s figures that illustrate currently only 16% of doctors are actually using these applications to enhance their patient care. While it remains in question whether or not every health care provider is in favor of the way startups have began to reshape the field, and while there are pros and cons to the startup health applications’ presences, it’s no doubt that the future of medicine will continue to evolve, and the evolution looks, admittedly, pretty cool…
This question mirrors the many greater inquiries that surface when technology enters any space:
Are laptops in classrooms good or bad?
Are smartphones making us smarter or dumber?
These are the seemingly philosophical questions that arise with any innovation, and they may never have a definite answer. In the medical field’s question of:
Are health care applications revolutionizing the future of the field for the better?
There will be a similarly indefinite debate, and it may or may not come down to the application producers (the entrepreneurs) vs. the application consumers (the doctors). So, whether or not the altering of the health care sphere by health care applications is for the better, one thing’s for sure, it’s definitely changing, and who better to lead a revolution with the potential to directly impact so many people than those crazy enough to dive right in there? The startups.