Medical innovation keeps us alive, healthy, and stronger than those who came before us.
Medicine is dynamic, and our very lives depend on the ability to identify unmet needs and use new technology to create solutions. Creativity and transformation in medicine are the tools with which we build longer, healthier lives.
The relationship between medicine and innovation is not without tension.
To achieve the best possible care outcomes for all patients everywhere, we operate at the intersection of advances in science and technology that have the potential to improve patient care or outcomes. Making changes to systems and devices that directly affect patients’ lives, however, often comes with risk.
“Innovation is iteration – a spark or idea that you feed with curiosity and a determination for growth. The inherent risk in that process is failure and healthcare is an industry where failure comes at a high cost; loss of scarce and valuable resources, breaches in sensitive patient information, and even loss of life. That’s why it is so incredibly important for leaders to deliberately create a safe space for innovation and you see that created in all of the most successful healthcare innovation institutions.” – Meagan Howard, TMC Innovation Program Manager
There are a couple of different ways in which we see this paradox between medicine’s natural risk aversion and its inherent need for innovation play out.
First, historically we have seen new technologies and ideas diffuse through health systems before their value is proven.
At best, the adoption of unhelpful technologies can prove to be a massive waste of time and resources. At worst, it may have unforeseen negative effects that are detrimental to patient care and outcomes. The cost of adopting new technologies whose values are not yet proven can be great. Great enough, in fact, to cause the pendulum to swing and create undue reluctance to adopting and implementing future innovations that are proven to enhance patient experience and treatment outcomes.
Second, the appropriate collaborative balance between companies and health systems when it comes to medical innovation can be difficult to navigate. Startups and companies that design medical devices and provide software for healthcare are often dynamic and agile. These companies work with large, complex health systems that move much more slowly. Streamlined, effective innovation implementation strategy depends on a balanced degree of inclusion for each of these two stakeholders. A medical device startup may be able to identify a need, design a tool to meet that need, and build an efficient implementation plan to get that tool adopted across health systems. But if they don’t develop the device with the end user in mind, the new device’s potential will be lost.
The flip side of the same coin is that if innovators waited for health system input and collaboration at every step of the process, innovation would happen at a snail’s pace and improvements to patient outcomes may not be realized.
The balance here is both difficult and necessary to strike.
Keeping up with the pace of innovation can be challenging when capacities are stretched to meet the demands of the present. In an environment where quality assurance and safety are of the utmost importance, constant change and evolution can be challenging or completely untenable for systems and stakeholders.
However, despite barriers to change, in the world of medicine and patient care innovation does move us forward every day.
“There is incredible energy and enthusiasm around solving problems in healthcare, but those delivering care are justifiably wary of new technologies that have yet to prove improvement to patient outcomes. Innovators have the responsibility to demonstrate safety and ease of use as well as improved outcomes in order to successfully bring the concept to reality and to have the desired effect on patient livelihood.” – Emily Reiser, TMC Innovation Sr. Manager, Community Engagement
The entire year of 2020, in fact, was a stark example of medicine’s understated proclivity for movement and ability to move steadily and resiliently in the direction of better patient care even–perhaps especially– in times of crisis.
“Although the pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital health technology, the need for better patient communications already existed in healthcare. The pandemic just exposed the need and made it life or death, in many cases. WELL Health’s technology enables digital conversations between patients and their healthcare providers through secure messaging, mainly SMS/texting. We help providers automate disjointed communications across their entire organization and eliminate the communication barriers that often keep patients from good clinical outcomes and better relationships with their providers. Even as the pandemic slows, the patient’s expectation for real-time, personalized digital communication is here to stay.” Guillaume de Zwirek, CEO and founder, WELL Health
COVID has put us through a pressure test, revealing areas of opportunity to innovators who stood ready to develop and implement fortifying solutions. The pandemic sparked the movement in several areas which are expected to continue to transform throughout 2021 and beyond. One of these areas is virtual care. The need to reduce in person interactions created space for virtual care platforms to gain adoption, diffuse, and prove their value to patients, clinicians, and health systems.
Another area that has seen significant growth as a result of the pandemic is the standardization and digitization of medical records. The fast pace of care during this time of crises highlighted the need for streamlined access to records across all of a patient’s providers. And finally, COVID has served as an accelerant for improving quality and access in preventative care. The pandemic emphasized pre-existing health disparities across the country and the globe, spurring a reinvigorated focus on improving preventative care standards and equitable access to health resources for all populations.
As medicine continues to adapt to our current environment, we are seeing more creative and transformative ways to address unmet needs.
The near future of medical innovation is about supporting the growing intersection of medicine and digital technology, which can lead not only to new treatments and systems (as we saw with COVID) but also to entire new industries.
Take the FemTech industry, for example. The term FemTech, coined by Danish innovator Ida Tin, refers to the over 50 billion dollar industry of tech solutions designed to address unmet needs in women’s healthcare. Although the FemTech industry started with an idea to use smartphone technology to help women track their reproductive health, the industry has expanded in the last decade to encompass a wide range of women’s health topics including fertility, cancer, aging and menopause, sexual health, and maternity care.
“For gender equity, I think this year has been a monumental year for femtech. Before COVID, women’s health was usually ignored or passed over as a vertical. This past year we are seeing more investors interested in the space and more organizations prioritizing women (finally).” – Juan Pablo Segura, President and co-founder of Babyscripts
At TMC Innovation, we know that innovation in the healthcare space, despite its necessity, can be viewed as a risk. But we believe the rewards far outweigh any risk that may arise. Supporting innovation in medicine means supporting a healthier, happier, more equitable world for all of us. That’s why it is our mission to close the gaps between health systems and innovators to create communicative, cooperative, streamlined processes for integrating innovation into well-oiled health system machines. We seek to de-risk innovation for health systems as a means of removing barriers to building a better system of care for all patients.
We would love to hear from you.
Whether you’re a clinician, an innovator, or a patient, what are the pros and cons of healthcare innovation in your eyes? How can we make it work for stakeholders across the board?
Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.