Digital Therapeutics: Our takeaways from HIMSS Europe, EHMA 2.0 and DTxEurope
In the past three weeks we’ve partnered with three renowned health tech conferences – HIMSS Europe, EHMA 2.0 and DTxEurope. All three brought together a significant proportion of the healthcare ecosystem. The participants discussed and looked ahead on topics varying from the role of patients, entrepreneurship and health management to data, innovation, technology and the regulatory environment around healthcare. The comprehensive content held significant messages for startups. Here is what we have learned:
Every year, EHMA 2.0 brings together a small but sworn group of health management professionals and discuss the role that managers of hospitals and other institutions play in the complex health relationship matrix. For a couple of years now a key conversation has been evolving around the new identity of patients. From the question of whether “patient” is actually the right word to whether we should rather say user, partner or simply speak of humans – the chorus of “putting the patient in the centre” has evolved to treating the patient equally to health professionals, managers and the entire care team.
Coming from the startup ecosystem, the term “user” also resonates with us a lot. Simply because startups understand users already as a central part of their doing. Users are recipients but also always co-creators of products and services.
We hosted a session with entrepreneurs and policy makers to discuss how we can bridge the startup-policy gap in the field of health and to speak about our new platform on digital therapeutics called DTx. With the founders of Disior, a medical imaging startup and Well IT, which build interfaces for users to manage their care journey, we discussed the role of government on the national as well as European level.
Startups move and speak differently to traditional providers and this has to be reflected in government’s approach to regulating digital therapeutics. Something that in the Finnish Ministry for Social Affairs and Health is already well underway but further development and closer ties to the startup communities can be expected during the Finnish Presidency of the EU Council.
Other central themes are that startups can do much by themselves and support from government and corporate partners can only work when the right team and product are in place. Once that is the case, close collaboration with global partners from health management, pharma and tech are essential. Points that governments and policy makers can address are a closer collaboration with startup communities, safe spaces for innovation such as regulatory sandboxes, and an increased emphasis on assisting startups when it comes to implementing policies.
From decision-makers, patients, professionals to innovators, entrepreneurs and investors, over 2.000 participants representing the healthcare sector were present at HIMSS Europe Conference. The conference had multiple focus areas, broadly around patients, data and innovation.
The presence of startups in the conference through pitch competitions, presentations and demo events was proof of how digital health startups are showing value and how we are now at the stage of looking at sustainable economic models for digital health to gain scale and revenue. While Poland’s StethoMe and Germany’s Thryve were this year’s winners of the pitch competition, last year’s winner, Poland’s Infermedica, recently landed $3.65m in funding.
On the subject of data, participants had an overall consensus on the idea that the rules for data ownership should be redefined to be more open as well as safe, and trust-based services should be part of the European data project. The projects Isaacus (that played a key role in building an innovation ecosystem and new legislation for the secondary use of well-being data in Finland) and IHAN (aiming to build a framework for a fair and functioning post GDPR data economy first in Finland and then in Europe) of Sitra (the Finnish Innovation Fund) and the European EHDEN project (aiming to create a decentralised real-world data research infrastructure) were prominent examples.
Startups not only empower patients through enabling self-care but also provide personalisation in healthcare, and this is possible through open data. The fact that data ownership and regulation were among the main discussion points of the conference and that there was a common expression of the need for more cooperation across countries and sectors for better data regulation were promising takeaways for startups.
People-centricity of data and user-centricity of new healthcare systems, the necessity of empowering not only patients but also healthcare professionals in order for more digitisation in healthcare systems to be sustainable and co-creation between patients, healthcare professionals and innovators were other overarching themes of the conference. All these points but mainly user-centricity and feedback are key challenges that startups tackle. Hence these debates are relevant for the wider healthcare ecosystem to understand why healthcare is a high impact space for startups to disrupt.
If you’re an entrepreneur looking to take a deep-dive into digital therapeutics, DTxEurope is a good place to start. For a few days, investors, pharma, big tech and incredible startup founders convened in London. All players have great ambitions to solve pressing healthcare problems of the day, and no one has the toolkit to solve it all alone. That makes cooperation, and events bringing together these stakeholders, incredibly valuable.
Similar to why startups have been disrupting other fields, digital therapeutics startups make patient focused development of their products their priority. In other words, they are obsessed with user-centricity. With A/B testing and constant feedback loops, they try to deliver better results for their users. And unlike big established players, if a strong course correction is needed, startups, as the most agile companies in history, are the ones to do it.
Digital therapeutics startups are also reshaping the industry perspective on healthcare. For the first time, the focus is shifting to the patient experience. In contrast, cancer treatment by pharma has been about longevity, i.e. how many extra years someone has lived after receiving the treatment, and not about the patient experience. Digital therapeutics do not stand a chance if they do not incorporate this into their design.
To understand the specifics of healthcare and the paramount role of trust, startup founders need to be sure about their product. Most successful digital therapeutics startups understand that being close to science is an important avenue. Many of them publish and research independently not only to remain a cutting-edge tech company but also to keep validating their methods and products, make inroads in the authorisation process and develop credibility. Startup entrepreneurs are not just trying to commercialise new healthcare, they are also supporting research.
Looking at the various proposals and pitches at DTx Europe, there is potential everywhere. But after much progress was done on cardiovascular, many experts in the field will point to CNS conditions as the next big nut to crack.
Digital Therapeutics Startups: Opportunities and Challenges
Digital therapeutics is a new field altogether, which many players can shape. There is a potential complementarity if tech, pharma and startups work together to explore the healthcare solutions that lie in store. Truly, everyone can be a winner.
Getting a fair shot at making a value proposition, dealing with regulatory fragmentation across Europe and finding talent – these challenges are unfortunately not unique to digital therapeutics. Making sure these startups have a strong unified voice vis-à-vis policy makers will be critical in the next few years. That way they can showcase their potential and support the development of laws that empower them and not ringfence the big established players.
Navigating the policy environment is a complicated beast and understandably not high on the priority list of entrepreneurs. Organisations like Allied for Startups DTx can bundle the ambitions and concerns of entrepreneurs. Then, if everyone gives a little push, this can be a big shove towards a regulatory framework that is flexible enough for startups to inject the innovation that can bring healthcare improvements to millions.