Digital Health Is Hard

I love talking to entrepreneurs. I like to describe entrepreneurship as my hobby. However, the more I talk with entrepreneurs, the more I realize how hard it is to build a company. We should know this since 90% of startup companies fail. I’ve started saying that the more I learn about starting a company, the more I wonder how any companies are successful. There are so many things that can cause a startup company to fail.

I think it’s fair to say that starting a company is hard.

Now you add on the complexities of healthcare and I’d suggest that digital health is even harder. Sure there might be some other industries that compete with healthcare on how hard it is to start a company, but it would be a very competitive competition to see which industry is more competitive. The reality is that it doesn’t matter if healthcare is harder or easier than other industries. That doesn’t change the fact that creating a digital health company is hard.

There are a wide variety of digital health companies out there. However, most of them I’ve seen are focused on one of these 4 areas: Payers, Hospitals/Health Systems (Enterprises), Doctors, or Patients. There are a few other variations, but that encapsulates the majority of digital health companies out there.

Selling something to any one of these 4 groups is a real challenge. The rigor that’s required by Payers, health systems, and doctors is incredible. Plus, even if you have a product that will benefit their organization it’s such a complex sales cycle for payers and health systems that you better be in it for the long haul. There’s very rarely one gatekeeper you need to convince that your product will benefit the organization. There are multiple gatekeepers and any one of them could derail the implementation of your product and solution.

Yes, it’s a bit easier to sell directly to doctors and patients, but there are so many of them and they are getting so many messages that it provides its own unique set of challenges. Doctors do have a lot of decision making power. This is particularly true in smaller practices and solo doc practices. However, they’ve got the constant barrage of messaging from every which way that it’s hard to make your message stand out. Remember that as a digital health company you’re competing with pharma companies who literally have boots on the ground visiting every doctor. That’s tough.

In the patient space there are so many fly by night apps out there that it’s a highly competitive market. Sure, you could have a viral hit with patients and it starts spreading like wildfire, but remember that a product that spreads virally also declines at a similar rate. Plus, viral spreading of an app is rare. In fact, there’s almost always a deep amount of work, sweat and tears behind the story of “viral” success.

Of course, in this post I’ve mostly talked about the challenges of marketing your healthcare IT product. I’m probably in that state of mind as I’m planning the healthcare IT marketing and PR conference. However, it’s just as hard to build a product that actually provides provable benefit to the users across the widely diverse healthcare system.

Digital health is hard. Startups are hard. That’s why we need more entrepreneurs with the special DNA to take on hard challenges. However, don’t underestimate how hard it is to built a digital health company. Of course, all the entrepreneurs reading this will take that as a challenge or disagree with me. That’s what makes them special.