While digital health investment continues to gather pace, many health tech startups are failing to materialise into long lasting impact, here Roeland Pater of Nori Health talks more.
The reason behind many of these failures is that startups are adopting an approach ill-suited to healthcare – a complex and regulated industry with its own set of rules, specific workflows and complicated landscape of stakeholders – patients, doctors, regulators and insurers – all of whom have a say in whether the technology is adopted. Roeland Pater, founder of early stage health tech, Nori Health, is confident that his ‘need driven approach’ to building and developing his AI-powered digital coach aimed at supporting millions with Inflammatory Bowel Disease and IBS will ensure his business will flourish – could this same approach pull startups out of the AI tech bubble?
Health startups and the AI tech bubble
It’s set to be a record-breaking year for health tech investments, surpassing the $8.1bn (~€7.3bn) invested in 2018. Babylon Health closed a $550M funding round this August, valuing the company at $2bn+! With such sums pouring into this space, waves of digital health startups are making claims that are big, brash and bold. But can they be substantiated?
As the founder of a Dutch health tech startup, Nori Health – poised for a UK launch in September, it can be hard not to get swept up in the excitement of this space. But you need not look far to find some sobering examples of health start-ups gone sour. Take the case of Zeo, an AI-empowered sleep tracking start-up which raised over $30m only to crash and burn within a few years. Similarly, those who follow health tech headlines will be alert to the ‘AI tech bubble’ with rafts of health startups aligning with the buzzword of ‘Artificial Intelligence’. Consider that 40% of ‘AI startups’ don’t actually use AI and the excitement feels like it needs tempering.
Unfortunately, it’s the case that many health tech start-ups are failing to deliver long lasting impact, unable to deliver innovations that genuinely transform healthcare.
The reason? These startups are adopting an approach ill-suited to healthcare – a complex and regulated industry with its own set of rules, specific workflows and complicated landscape of stakeholders – patients, doctors, regulators and insurers – all of whom have a say in whether the technology is adopted. This is often at odds with the ‘lean’ model other tech startups in industries such as entertainment or retail can adopt without fear of potentially dangerous life-changing fallout.
‘Failing fast’ and other agile tactics aren’t appropriate when treating real people with real, life-altering conditions. As such when launching a health tech startup it’s vital to step back and consider the very basics of need and impact – and be prepared for the long haul.
The gaps in traditional healthcare systems
I’ve suffered from Crohn’s disease for over 15 years. The debilitating effect this condition had on my life was the impetus for founding Nori Health, an AI-powered digital coach aimed at supporting those with Inflammatory Bowel Disease and IBS. It was only my personal experience that revealed to me the gaps that exist in traditional healthcare systems, namely the lack of ongoing, particularly psychological support for sufferers.
This echoes concerns raised recently by Crohn’s & Colitis UK and IBD UK, recognising the increasing shift to self-management for bowel disease sufferers.
Health is one area where you cannot compromise on evidence of positive impact by way of empirical evidence based on transparent research. Such research takes time and investment and a real understanding not only of the technology but of the myriad issues that can affect patient care.
At Nori we’re open about the smaller-scale but promising successes we have had in delivering improvements to sufferers of IBD and IBS, but equally transparent about the need for our solution to be scrutinised with further scientific research. It’s with this foundation of transparent research that we are preparing to launch now – so that we can engage the scientific community further while opening up our solution to sufferers so they can benefit while also contributing to Nori’s development For that reason we’re also open to talking with stakeholders in the UK to become partners to improve patient outcomes together.
The whirlwind we are seeing in the health tech and AI space (with UK PM Boris Johnson’s pledge to pump £250m into an NHS AI lab) is undoubtedly a positive and welcome trend, for suffering patients and enthusiastic technologists alike. However, to deliver real impact health technologists must be prepared for the long-haul. That means constant collaboration with the vast web of stakeholders involved in healthcare and an uncompromising focus on evidence and impact – not on shareable headlines and quick-win bottom lines.