/We’re in a New Frontier of Health Tech – The Startup – Medium

We’re in a New Frontier of Health Tech – The Startup – Medium

Healthcare needs top tech talent as the coronavirus pandemic accelerates a sea change in the industry.

Nate Fox
Photo credit: Halacious

We all know startups can’t survive without engineers. They’re the bloodline, the brains, and the builders behind industry disruptors. Tech companies crafted brands that tout their ability to create industry-leading change, develop unique solutions, and transform society. These values aligned well with engineers who were attracted to the field for similar reasons — like solving tough problems, building things, and having an impact.

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” — Jeff Hammerbacher

But what do big technology companies offer to engineers in the context of a global pandemic, financial crisis, and social justice reckoning?

Perhaps there used to be a tradeoff between impact, cool projects, and financial wellbeing. I’m excited to tell you that doesn’t have to be the case.

As a patient, things that are so easy to do in other industries feel impossible when taking care of our health. Booking travel, consolidating information on different bank accounts in a single app, chatting instantaneously with friends across the globe — these are all amazing things that we can do because engineers unlocked them for us.

It’s clear the healthcare industry has lagged in meeting the needs of the digital age. The industry is inherently a physical one, and personal health information is highly sensitive. The combination of risk-avoidance and preference for highly tailored and personal treatment likely held back otherwise innovative digital advances.

And while innovators and regulators alike have been nudging the industry along, I’m sure you can guess a force behind a sudden sea-change: the coronavirus pandemic.

As telehealth visits surged, so did the industry in its support of digital care delivery. We are now facing a unique time to build a whole new digital environment in healthcare. Healthcare companies are bridging security, privacy, and high-touch care with quality, cost-effectiveness, and convenience. And they are looking for engineering talent to usher in these changes.

Health tech companies looking to drive meaningful change in the industry are likely trying to fulfill at least one of healthcare’s triple aim goals: improve the experience of care, improve the quality of care, and lower the overall costs.

In order to build a solution for the above, I see two primary and thorny buckets of challenges for engineers in healthcare technology: data and distribution.

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

Health data is vast, unique, and unstructured by its very nature. The average patient in the United States sees over 18 different doctors in their lives and generates nearly $12k on healthcare — in one year.

Providers were slow to transition to digital health records, and there remains a lack of standardization and portability of that information. For nearly every healthcare interaction trails unique and complex (often quite noisy) data. Patients, providers, and health payers have different terminology for procedures, health plans, provider types, and care delivered — making normalizing all this data a serious challenge.

Health tech engineers are building new ways to ingest, aggregate, normalize, search, and make sense of the noise across literally thousands of data sources. And since this data is dynamic, these data sources need to be refreshed frequently without breaking the system.

These dependencies, intricacies, and nuances are ripe for the latest tools in data engineering. Problems are getting unlocked with these innovations: Natural Language Processing helps make sense of unstructured data, machine learning and artificial intelligence gives us the tools we need to recognize patterns and sift out the truth from large datasets.

There are many stakeholders in healthcare: the patients themselves, the medical teams that care for them, the health plans that both bill and pay for this care, the many non-clinical caregivers and support people, and the digital components of these pieces.

Distributing this data to reach these stakeholders is another big challenge for health tech engineers.

Those contributing to the solution here are going deep in understanding how each person may need to receive or provide critical health information.

Is it via fax like so much of the industry still operates? Do patients prefer to find this information in an app? Or are they more interested in a letter handed to them by their doctor?

Engineers tackling the distribution channel are building applications, modules to plug into electronic health records, platforms, API layers, or even compressing and sharing via SFTP. The flexibility and nuance in distribution is a thorny and exciting problem to solve as we bridge “old school” into the new digital age.

Engineers who switch to health tech may find a refreshing sense of purpose and a positive impact on society. I’ve gotten to know many innovative engineers solving these difficult problems, and here are just a handful of under-the-radar uses of health tech making a significant impact:

By quickly scaling up a COVID-19 assessment, Ro delivers calm and clear care to patients in the comfort of their own home.

Health and financial well-being are inextricably linked. Lively offers clarity around health savings account products so consumers can take charge of both.

Abridge helps patients and providers by providing a “smart” after-visit summary, which allows both parties to see clear notes and understand the next steps — without the medical jargon.

RubiconMD connects primary care with specialists’ expertise, such as behavioral health, bringing equity and access to patients and providers who may not otherwise be able to access this care.

And at my company, Ribbon Health, we power infrastructure across dozens of platforms like the above. Through our API layer, healthcare organizations can build new applications or improve the functionality of existing applications with real-time data on providers. By getting accurate provider information in the hands of those making healthcare decisions, we help those decisions to be high-quality, cost-effective, and convenient.

If you have an itch to work on something that is not about selling ad clicks or shipping toothpaste to someone’s doorstep, the health tech industry is ripe with opportunities for engineers.

The time to build the future of healthcare is now.