American Healthcare is in Danger of a Self-Inflicted Digital Drought

Fragmented, haphazard regulatory structures, data chaos, and payer power threaten healthcare's digital future in America.

It’s not an unrealistic concern to say that soon innovative digital startups will tire of the hoops. Negotiating the American healthcare sector is like walking blindfolded into a minefield. The list above is not a complete list either, by any stretch. Patient records, data security, state-by-state idiosyncrasies, and a host of other issues, both regulatory and not, hamper the sector. Why would any startup attempt to crack this market? Particularly, given the fact that America’s healthcare market isn’t the most profitable when compared to foreign markets.

If you’re the patriotic type, and I suspect many of the American-based innovation hubs are, then that may motivate your company to try and negotiate the minefield. Expect most of your development capital to be spent on agencies and consultants. Experts who know how to negotiate the hurdles your business will face. Go it alone, and I can almost guarantee failure. In fact, even success is sometimes failure, as a colleague points out in this telling article on the stifling influence of payer power.

While I appreciate that particular applications, software platforms, and patient solutions are developed specifically to address homegrown problems, many aren’t. Medical devices and wearables are an excellent example in point. We share the same physiology globally and experience disease in exactly the same way, allowing new medical devices to cherry-pick their markets.

Wearables are moving us closer to global industry standards for health care, driven by devices from companies like Apple and Samsung, worn around the globe and utilizing the same core software, no matter the market. Developers addressing and interfacing with these devices benefit from this uniformity.

Healthcare truly is one of the few “transplantable industries” and we live in a world where geographic borders no longer pose obstacles to development and deployment. Perhaps the first question innovators should be asking themselves is not “what” but “where”.

The lure of foreign markets

We’ve recently written up an article on a technology-based healthcare development hub in Asia, in Singapore to be specific. Here is the list of benefits their market offers to digital health and tech innovators in the healthcare sector. Humor me, and cast an eye over them.

Strong regulatory guidelines for health tech
Singapore’s National Telemedicine Guidelines and other similar frameworks have set clear principles around areas such as AI and data governance, medical devices, and telemedicine. This fosters high levels of consumer and practitioner trust and enables the smooth test-bedding and commercialization of new products and services.

Seamless access to health information
Singapore’s health information infrastructure is digitized and centralized. From as early as 2011, the National Electronic Health Record (NEHR) system has consolidated patient records on a shared database to enable holistic assessments and interventions across service providers.

Assurance of data security
Patient data security is taken seriously, with the Personal Data Protection Act introduced in 2012 and advisory guidelines for healthcare were issued to address the sector’s unique circumstances.

Public-private collaboration on patient-centered digital innovation
Public health agencies are partnering with the private sector on solutions that place the patient at its heart.

As a simple example, Singapore’s Health Promotion Board and Apple’s first-of-its-kind LumiHealth program employs behavioral insights from the Apple Watch to encourage user adoption of healthier lifestyles over a longer period of time. With such a conducive environment, 

Singapore has been unofficially dubbed “ASEAN’s sandbox for digital innovation,” producing a growing range of solutions.

Why the disparity?

Asian economies long ago realized the benefit of an effective and functional healthcare system, regulated by one central agency, the government. Witness Covid-19 and the differences in response. Strict controls, sensible regulation, effective funded services, and personnel and exceptional management of cohesive data streams. For America’s part, they could only observe in envy from afar, as the country fell to pieces in the face of the pandemic. Only the caliber of their provers saved them. The government and healthcare systems failed and failed spectacularly.

It will be no different under Biden’s watch as he contemplates a political appointment for the top post in the country. Only healthcare can effectively manage healthcare and Asia gets it. It’s what makes their systems so functional and patient-centered. It is also what positions them as a real threat to America’s tech talent in the coming years.

I’m not about to develop the next big thing in catheters, but if I was, I have a pretty good idea where I’d be headed. If American healthcare does not start cleaning house, it will pay the price, and inevitably, the patient will, as always, be the real victim.


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This article lives here: Healthcare Policy and OpinionAmerican Healthcare is in Danger of a Self-Inflicted Digital Drought
Robert Turner, Founding Editor
Robert Turner, Founding Editor
Robert is a Founder of Medika Life. He is a published author and owner of MedKoin Healthcare Solutions. He lives between the Philippines and the UK. and is an outspoken advocate for human rights. Access to basic healthcare and eradicating racial and gender bias in medicine are key motivators behind the Medika website and reflect Robert's passion for accessible medical care globally.

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