Intersection of Digital Health and Diagnostics: Opportunities for a Better Future in Healthcare

The digital health and diagnostics sub-sectors of the healthcare industry are the spaces to watch this year. Both areas are ripe for rapid growth as multiple technologies mature and intersect to increase the value for providers and patients.

Digital Health: Ready for the Next Level

For digital health to succeed, the tools for wellness need to be brought directly to people. People won’t go to a doctor or hospital for wellness. They’ll go for sickness. Therefore, they need the ability to measure biometrics at home to help them change their lifestyles.

The promise of digital health takes the best of consumer technologies, diagnostic platforms, and intervention options — and marries it with detailed medical information, providing instantly usable information for patients and physicians. In the process, patients are transforming into healthcare consumers. That distinction is important.

Digital health solutions should measure an individual’s health trends rather than just point-in-time data. There should be a way to measure 100+ biometric parameters each morning, integrated transparently into one’s normal, daily routine. A device should take the measurements, perform some calculations and then send a message encouraging you to take specific steps, such as reduce sugar intake by 20 percent.

To that point, Artiman Ventures recently invested in a company — still operating in stealth mode — that is developing a device to monitor biometric parameters from saliva, urine, etc. to measure trends in a wide range of biomarkers. At this point, the challenges are the same as for any startup company — navigating the regulatory environment, developing the technology and obtaining capital. But, with patients as customers, expectations are on the rise. They want immediate results and aren’t content to wait a week for results. They also want actionable information.

Putting this information in patients’ hands makes physicians’ work easier. Today, patients are Google-informed. But, if their knowledge of their health status is more focused, more personalized to their specific health state, and is sent securely to their physician, they not only have more accurate information, but the doctor knows what they know so a consult can become more efficient.

Here’s a few other related points:

Data isn’t useful unless it’s used. We’d like to see more done to build out the backend capabilities to manage the coming data deluge and capably deliver actionable information in near real time.

The applications for digital health tech are everywhere. Overall, there aren’t enough doctors and nurses and, of those, most are based in cities leaving rural and sometimes suburban areas underserved. This is especially true in emerging markets, but also in the U.S.

We’re not too far away from moving beyond collecting fitness band-type information to technology enabling digital examinations and consults. We’re thinking specifically that digital health technologies can connect available capacity with demand, an “Uber-like” model for healthcare in which physicians with a free hour can connect virtually with patients needing care.

Diagnostics: An Opportunity for Invention

Diagnostics comprises only 3 percent of healthcare expenses, but impacts 75 percent of downstream expenses and 100 percent of outcomes. There’s no such impact in any other industry.

The diagnostics companies we’ve invested in — CardioDx, OncoStem Diagnostics, CellMax Life, CORE Diagnostics and Visby Medical — are taking a number of varied approaches, spanning molecular diagnostics, genomic and proteomic expression technologies, liquid biopsies, etc.

The challenges here are immense and there’s no short-cuts to success, but the rewards for invention are real and substantial.

For example, CardioDx has helped nearly 200,000 patients globally since the launch of its Corus CAD test, to non-invasively get the status of their cardiac health — without any exposure to radiation or an interventional procedure. Similarly CORE Diagnostics has helped over 25,000 patients undergo molecular testing to diagnose cancer and select the most appropriate therapies. CellMaxLife is transforming early detection of cancer using liquid biopsies.

Continued Growth Likely

We expect the healthcare sector — including biotech, digital health, and diagnostics — to grow as a percentage of the economy for the next couple of decades. There are two sets of primary drivers: One set is focused on problems to solve and one set is focused on opportunities to chase.

On the problems side: Healthcare is rife with all sorts of market issues and broken systems, healthcare costs are unsustainable, and there are regulatory hurdles and limited access to talent and capital. On the opportunities side: Chronic illnesses, orphan diseases, and diseases of wealth or lifestyle will have their solutions in the biotech industry.

But companies need enough money to ride out (and prosper in) poor economic conditions. The IPO window is essentially closed currently so companies need capital in reserves. There’s never enough money in the startup world, but having the reserves to execute and to adapt is vital for long-term survival.

And, make no mistake, this is a long-term play. Quick successes will likely be quick to fade, too. We’re excited anytime we find markets that have many really big opportunities and many really big challenges but we recognize the need for patience and perseverance, especially when it comes to establishing a new frontier of digital health and diagnostics.

Dr. Ajit Singh is a Silicon Valley-based managing director at Artiman Ventures, an early-stage venture fund investing in white space companies creating or disrupting multi-billion dollar markets. He is also a Consulting Professor in the School of Medicine at Stanford University and holds a doctorate in Computer Science from Columbia University.