When the healthcare industry buckled under the strain of a pandemic, technologists sought to find solutions to make life easier for healthcare professionals.
But with unequal access to digital tools and exhausted hospital staff, the flaws in this plan have revealed themselves. Despite the challenges, what do we now know about how technology can contribute to healthcare innovation?
This is a question we posed to several technical experts during a recent stakeholder discussion supported by Verizon 5G. Technical.ly brought together members of the health tech and medtech communities in Baltimore, DC and Philadelphia to discuss this evolution, including the benefits and challenges of building in their respective cities, and the challenges posed by the pandemic. We also wanted to know how technology is making healthcare more efficient in 2022.
Anthony Wehbe of Sena Healtha technology solution to bring healthcare to people at home, said he encountered many silos while working as a hospital manager at Jefferson Health. He aimed to eliminate them by bringing home care with his startup founded in 2020.
Although Wehbe works in Philadelphia, one of the nation’s largest healthcare markets, he said it’s difficult to partner with large medical organizations. Hospitals often look inward to solve problems, creating teams or tools themselves instead of partnering with startups that create specific technology solutions.
Now I have smaller health systems that are customers…who see the value in it,” Wehbe said. “I think there is a change happening. This is the reason why I left.
It’s a challenge Smitha Gopala Baltimore-based founder behind the healthcare software platform Rendia, also faces. Each city has its pros and cons, she said, but established health care hubs like Baltimore and Philly could face more competition.
While the pandemic has put much of the world on hold, the scientific and health communities have not had that experience. michelle otteythe general manager of Cambridge Innovation Center in Philadelphia, said that while their coworking spaces went quiet in the spring of 2020, the labs never stopped working. (Life sciences is a “physical industry,” we’ve heard.) And the pandemic has enabled the use of events and hybrid work: while remote options began as a necessity, the possibility of Organizing events in IRL or virtually has become an advantage for accessibility and collaboration.
Elizabeth Tikoyan is the Fairfax-based founder of the technology-enabled network Assistance – think “Bumble BFF connecting people with the same health issues,” she said. Before the pandemic, she constantly had to explain what she was creating or why there was a need for online chronic disease communities. Now her platform needs a lot less introduction, she said.
“A lot of people don’t know that a lot of these chronic conditions are incurable,” Tikoyan said. “So a lot of these people are looking for the next best thing – what supplements or dietary changes are people trying? People really understood what we were creating and they started taking us seriously when we walked into theaters” after the pandemic started.
Marion LearyChief Innovation Officer at University of Pennsylvania School of Nursingsaid she believes technology can make healthcare more efficient if created by those who will use it on the front lines.
“In healthcare, nurses touch every device used on a patient,” she said. “We need to have healthcare workers creating technology early on. And we also drop the ball when we don’t involve patients.
Emily Durfeea DMV-based seed investor through Healthworxsummed up much of the conversation from the event by reiterating his company’s position on the place of technology in healthcare: if it’s not designed for everyone, the technology or product is probably useless.
“There’s a misunderstanding that technology is the solution, as opposed to a tool to a solution,” Durfee said. “I think that difference is really important, and that’s how we think about it, which is that technology can improve equity and access to care. … It can also increase disparities, because if people don’t have access to the things that allow them to take advantage of technology, it can make it even more problematic.