Why I Am Investing in Health, Not Healthcare – Part II

Esther DysonPart I of this article can be found here.

Still suffering from jetlag, Dyson kept her talk short and threw the floor open to questions.

There were plenty about health and healthcare, even though Dyson dropped a couple of hints about wanting to talk more about space and top-level domain names. She was a former board member of ICANN.

Asked if there was a risk people could become “obsessively introspective” about their health, Dyson said, “I rather have them overdo this than drinking beer or taking drugs.” It is a “less dangerous danger than a lot of things they could be doing instead,” she added.

Even without measurements, Dyson noted, “You can look at people and know they are not eating broccoli, it’s not even a numbers thing.”

On the other side of the spectrum are people who do not mind measuring and sharing information, but are scared of viewing the information itself, Dyson said.

Asked if the internet would disrupt health to the same extent it did to banking and travel, Dyson said the other two industries were purely commercial. Health involves behavioural changes, she said.  However, “the win is much larger” in health, she added.

Once personal health monitoring becomes commonplace, Dyson predicted social norms changing much the same way society fell out of love with tobacco.

Technology currently available allows people to use their phones with attachments as pedometers, stress tests and sleep monitors, while other devices will run an analysis from spit, Dyson said. “The phone is simply a computer that needs sensors attached to it.”

She said geography will be less important than mindsets. The market is huge and can include anything from the sick to fitness freaks to women with children.

Meanwhile, data aggregators will be looking to predict outcomes. “It’s going to be a big business with APIs,” Dyson said.

In the long run, an individual’s genotype will be recorded and probably captured at birth, Dyson said. Other data will include environmental circumstances such as exposure to pollution at home or at work.

What can currently be recorded are behaviours on eating, sleeping and drinking. What is also available are outcomes of treatments. When this data is collected, models can be built and predictions made, Dyson said.

Asked about privacy concerns, Dyson said governments will collect data anyway. “The challenge is to control what the government can do not what the government knows,” she said.

Asked where innovation was coming from, Dyson replied emphatically that it would be start-ups. The major corporations are interested and investing, she noted, but they will probably acquire promising companies.

“It’s going to be start-ups, innovators, not necessarily in the U.S. and not necessarily white guys,” Dyson said.

Asked if current providers are not a huge barrier to entry, Dyson advised ignoring them. Entrepreneurs should market directly to consumers or employers. However, consumers can be fickle. They “mean well and it is their body, but the donut is here today,” she said.

Employers, on the other hand, would be in the long haul.

Asked about the role of social media and customer engagement, Dyson suggested reading up on game dynamics. Airlines offer frequent flier miles and “people work really hard to get those points.” The benefits may seem small but they may offer some small upgrade or comfort for passengers.

Healthcare networks will need to think hard about what benefits they offer and how they will be meaningful to participants, Dyson said, telling a story “about how weird people are.” A daily swimmer since age 18, Dyson said she swims 364 days a year for one hour. Yet she could not get in the habit of flossing her teeth.

But, one day, “an embarrassingly short number of years ago,” Dyson made a bargain with herself that each flossing would give her five minutes off her daily swim. The trade off worked. “Each person needs to find their own little weird trick or set of tricks,” she said. The business’ challenge will be to find the ones that work best for as many of its customers as possible.

Image courtesy of Eirik Solheim on Flickr.

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