Digital Health Stands Before the Chasm Between “Cool” and Customer Value

June 5th, 2013
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There’s no doubt that many components of digital health are revolutionary technologies. They are making healthcare more personalized, more easily available and more accessible to a newly empowered patient/consumer. But how well is digital health really catching on?
At Popper and Company and elsewhere, the evolution of digital health has been discussed in depth. Smart phones (particularly Apple’s iPhone) have an enormous amount of portable power, a smart interface, and a platform that anybody can use. At the same time, “wearable” devices and sensors ranging from accelerometers to blood pressure monitors are more convenient and less expensive for use by a broad audience. Finally, cloud computing takes advantage of improvements in cellular and broadband infrastructure with increased bandwidth and network speed to provide more horsepower to applications, so that today, any mobile device can tap into this power with ease and become a health monitor. (Of course, those apps in the wellness realm go out of their way to ensure they are not considered medical devices, thus avoiding scrutiny by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, but that is a topic for another day.)
So, why isn’t every doctor, patient and investor in the world excited about this? Why are we still seeing pockets of resistance, among both physicians and consumers?
One reason may lie in where digital health fits in the technology adoption life cycle. More than 20 years ago, marketing consultant Geoffrey Moore mapped the behavior of consumers in terms of their willingness to try a new product. He found the first two groups most like to try a new product—innovators and early adopters—thought about such products very differently from the next, much larger group—the “early majority.” The gap in the adoption rates between these groups, or “chasm” as Moore called it, is created because the earliest users try a product because it is new, cutting edge, and “cool.” Mainstream customers, however, want to see tangible value. They want to know how this new product solves their existing problems.
Right now, digital health is producing and/or managing a ton of data without providing means of interpretation of these data. Mainstream customers (who comprise at least 70% of the people who will buy a product) aren’t motivated by the availability of data alone. Bridging the chasm to this group will require a better demonstration of value.
Dave Dickinson, the former CEO of the sleep monitoring company Zeo, points to several areas where data have to evolve. The data need to: 

  • “Shock and awe” customers, creating something that motivates people to act.
  • Show the customer what’s happening to them now, not something that could happen in 30 years.
  • Be well presented and easily digestible.
  • Be personalized and offer a “prescriptive” course of action.

It is this “prescriptiveness,” I believe, that is the next key phase of digital health’s evolution. As information has moved from descriptions telling us what happened to diagnostics indicating why something happened, the next steps for digital health will be the application of predictive analytics (drawing on the progress made by marketers in retail firms over the last decade) to the development of  “prescriptive analytics.” In this scenario, your portable device or smartphone app won’t just give you a readout. It will predict what will happen to your health, when it will happen, and provide steps to intervene before a crisis develops. And if the interface provides an optimal user experience, with a key part being the replacement of raw data with actionable knowledge, then digital health will cross the chasm into broader acceptance. Eventually, the ideal app or device will passively collect data and step in only when action is required.  If only there were predictions for the date of that crossing!
At Popper and Company, we are looking at ways to help our clients cross this chasm and also to identify the right customers on the “other side.” If you are a digital health company with an interesting technology, we’d love to talk with you about how to get there. To learn more, please subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, or send me an email.

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About the Author:

My broad career spans across medicine, engineering and business development. At Popper and Company, I develop business strategies and provide guidance to accelerate new product development for medical device companies. Send me an email.