How Can Healthcare Remove Barriers To Collaboration? Look To Silicon Valley One of the significant drivers of success in Silicon Valley has been fostering a culture whereby the ecosystem(s) within which a disruptor operates is nurtured

By Arun Kumar Buduri

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Over the last year, the healthcare industry—known for being slow in technology adoption—has been forced to embrace digitization. Whether it's doctors delivering diagnoses via telemedicine platforms, or patients being remotely monitored with IoT solutions, healthcare is exploring newfound benefits of integrating technology into its practices. With expanded technological capabilities, however, comes more data. And that means that the disparate players in the industry must collaborate to get the maximum value out of the available data. Though not widespread, there have already been several examples of this type of collaboration in the context of the pandemic too.

The COVID-19 Health Coalition, for instance, was established in late-March 2020 with the expressed intention of driving the US healthcare system forward in the face of the rampant virus. Since then, it has distributed almost 700,000 sanitary masks, developed a decontamination strategy for the safe reuse of face masks, and established a personal protective equipment (PPE) demand model to help end shortages in crucial gear among healthcare professionals. For managing an initiative of this size, there was a need for real-time collaboration at each instance, and the Coalition had to think beyond conventional strategies. Bringing together a disparate collection of disruptors from tech, healthcare, and education, including the likes of Epic Systems, Amazon, the Mayo Clinic, and Michigan State University, the Coalition serves as a prime example of the efficacy of collaboration in the healthcare sector. Typically this is a sector where all players - providers, payers, and others typically are in fierce competition.

This stands in contrast to Silicon Valley, where the value of collaboration has been well understood and proven itself for a long time, and competitors commonly work in harmony. Given that, like in tech, the state of the art in health is driven by new knowledge and equipment, a great deal more could be achieved by deepening collaboration in the healthcare sector.

Let us consider four areas in which the healthcare industry can take lessons from Silicon Valley. We'll talk about the consumer experience, information sharing, and types of outputs. Let's begin with "nurturing the ecosystem' upon which other three factors depend.

Nurture the ecosystem

One of the significant drivers of success in Silicon Valley has been fostering a culture whereby the ecosystem(s) within which a disruptor operates is nurtured. This means not only providing support to partners and associates but also the competition.

The term "ecosystem" came into common parlance in the 1990s to depict the interactive nature of business environments, whereby the wellbeing of one organization is associated with that of others, including direct competitors. By recognizing this interdependence and working together, we can improve the outcomes for everyone involved.

Part of that is the more prominent firms recognizing the value that smaller members of their ecosystem bring to the table. In fact, while Silicon Valley ecosystems are generally seen to be made up almost exclusively of startups, the reality is that they involve continuous interactions and collaborations between smaller players and larger firms, which can offer the funding and infrastructure needed to scale up startup innovations.

This is an approach that the healthcare sector could undoubtedly benefit from, with major players drawing value from nurturing and adopting new ideas developed by health technology startups – the combination of innovation with funding and infrastructure representing a win-win for all involved.

A mutually beneficial collaboration is already being seen between prominent healthcare providers and artificial intelligence startups, offering a model for deepening the union between startups and larger firms. But there are countless more opportunities for smaller providers to make critical contributions.

An excellent example of the same is the development of a device named DxtER, which can accurately diagnose more than 30 health conditions without patients needing to leave their homes. Originally designed to compete in the 2017 Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize, which it won, the device was developed by a health tech startup using anonymized patient data.

That shows how, when given access to the sort of insight and information held in troves by major healthcare providers, startups can develop technologies and methods that have the potential to seriously shakeup the status quo and potentially transform elements of the industry.

Prioritize experience

The tech and healthcare industries often cater to quite different customers, throwing up a host of alternative metrics in terms of measuring customer experience. However, there are also a plethora of similarities and lessons to be learned regarding improving the user experience.
In each case, they seek to provide a service that makes people's lives easier or better – with healthcare providers dealing with patient problems and the majority of tech companies developing products for customers.

The benchmark of customer experience in the tech and startup world is Jeff Bezos' "customer obsession" mantra. Placing the customer at the heart of everything they do is partly why Amazon has become the heaving success it is today.

The healthcare industry needs to take a similar approach as we advance, adopting a more patient-centered mindset, which will improve user outcomes, efficiency, and satisfaction, especially as patient expectations have grown with the pandemic. But that will demand greater collaboration.

Currently, a majority of collaborations among healthcare providers are being fostered by tech companies. One example is Maven Clinic, a digital community that allows women users to get the specialized care they need at a fair price by linking them up with trusted professionals.

The network links users up to over 1,000 well-vetted professionals. It is built on bringing a range of competing providers together, based on the cognizance that everyone involved is better off when patients within the women's health ecosystem get suitable care.

Users benefit from the ability to select well-regarded providers of care based on the feedback of other users and the reputation the provider has built up. While a startup has powered this, it is the sort of innovation that the industry as a whole is capable of driving.

Greater Information Sharing

There is a great deal of room for improvement in how healthcare providers handle and share data in order to drive innovation. This is best expressed in the problem of data silos within the industry – essentially vast caches of data held by individual systems and only accessible to a limited number of professionals.

In Silicon Valley, and more broadly among tech companies, data silos are being increasingly combated by new approaches to data management, such as data mesh. Data mesh compartmentalizes data management, dividing ownership of data and responsibility for providing it as products among different domains or elements of an organization. An overarching infrastructure offers the solutions needed to process that data to each field, but managing it falls upon the individual facet.

Essentially a federated data management system, data mesh can hasten the transition to becoming a truly data-driven organization.

Such a shift could prove hugely beneficial to the healthcare sector. Large organizations made up of many different elements could better harness the data relevant to them by gathering it in a more purposeful and segregated way. Instead, silos continue to grow with ever more unmanageable amounts of data within the healthcare space.

Data silos represent a trove of locked-up knowledge that could be used to improve the industry. They should be dealt with collaboratively to foster that improvement.

Such data can be the basis for technological development and innovation. However, until the industry can understand the true value of collaboration, such silos will continue to be an administrative burden rather than a source of solutions.

Some indication of how this locked-up data can lead to monumental change is seen in the number of innovations that have been developed since the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) increased the availability of anonymized patient data.

The act gave rise to something of a healthtech gold rush, as startups and tech companies leapt on the newly available data to begin developing solutions and approaches to common problems. Similar progress could be achieved through open collaboration rather than legislation and would feed into the final point: providers should develop platforms, not just products.

Output: Build platforms, not products

As the likes of Facebook and Uber show, connecting users and providers is a powerful tool for building a consumer base and feeds into both nurturing the ecosystem and improving the user experience.

As the Maven Clinic example above highlights, building platforms can be as crucial to pushing an ecosystem forward as developing a new product or treatment. To do this effectively, healthcare providers need to begin to adopt more standardized technology and processes, including in their data gathering, in order to create a collaborative atmosphere.

Another excellent example of how a platform can drive industry improvement is the K Health app, which collects anonymous information from users regarding their medical ailments and history. The app effectively analyzes a host of chronic conditions, providing advice on symptom management and linking users with appropriate specialists when they wish to seek care.

In both the K Health and Maven Clinic examples, the platform combines data and knowledge to provide a more satisfactory experience to the consumer while also nurturing the ecosystem by directing patients to relevant and trusted professionals.

As such tech-driven innovations seen in the healthcare industry show, there is a great deal of progress to be made from collaboration. Players in the healthcare industry have spent too long failing to recognize their interdependence and the benefits of working together.

Collaboration improves the consumer experience as well as the final product being dispensed to them. Consequently, high-quality providers with a genuine interest in driving their industry forward have little to fear from working together and a great deal to gain.

Silicon Valley demonstrates that collaboration offers perks to both providers and users. In the context of healthcare, benefits to users can mean changing or even saving lives. Therefore, it is time for the industry to take notice and begin collaborating to build a healthy future, not only for their patients but also for their businesses and the ecosystems they are part of.

Arun Kumar Buduri

VP, Engineering, IT & CISO at Innovaccer

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