The time for healthcare tech startups is now

MIT's Frank Moss at GigaOM 2011Don’t listen to the naysayers. The time to jump into healthcare IT is now, said Frank Moss, director of new media medicine at MIT’s Media Lab. Creative technologists working in mobility, social networking and nano devices should actively seek health IT opportunities, and seek them now.
Here’s why:

1: Med students are wired and ready.

Ten years ago, medical students didn’t carry laptops. “Now if you go to Harvard Medical School, it looks like a cafe in Silicon Valley or Austin. Everyone’s got an iPad,” Moss said at the GigaOM RoadMap Conference on  Thursday. As these students become doctors, there will not be the resistance to health IT that older doctors exhibited, he said.

2: There’s a big B-to-B opportunity now.

Any employer of any size knows it can’t afford employee health costs as they stand. They know they need to help employees reduce disease. “This is a huge market for startups,” Moss said.

3:  A big B-to-C opportunity is coming soon.

IT innovators see it coming and they’ll work out a business model. Moss isn’t sure if it’ll be advertising or subscription-based, but it’ll be here, he said.
Moss, who wrote an Op-Ed piece on the topic in The New York Timesacted as a cheerleader for prospective entrepreneurs who might be spooked by uncertainty around payback.
“Don’t listen to the VCs, who say there’s no business model. They’ll change their tune very soon,” he noted in his onstage discussion with GigaOM Pro analyst Jody Ranck.
For those who take the plunge, the satisfaction can be huge, he said, citing Dr. John Moore, a ophthalmologist who gave up his practice after one year despairing of the amount of time he had to spend on insurance paperwork.
Moore moved to the MIT Media lab, where he worked on a smartphone app that lets patients collaborate with their doctors on their own healthcare. “They see what the doctor sees, and can change their behavior,” he said.
One such app enables HIV patients at Boston Medical Center to visualize how HIV develops into AIDs, how the virus attacks their T cells and what happens if they do or do not take their medication.  Using that app, he saw the percentage of patients sticking to their drug regime soar from 25 percent to 95 percent, Moss said.
By democratizing medical care — giving people the ability to understand their disease — things can change, said Moss.
He cited the use of sensors and other tools to help people self-administer care. “Change is driven by the consumer or the individual. As these tools come online, they will change how chronic care, acute care, primary care and drug discovery is accomplished, he said.
Moss sees resistance on the part of healthcare pros and VCs as a good thing. “I’ve been through this before. I attacked people who believed PCs would not be a part of enterprise environments,” he said. Well, that certainly changed. “We’re at that point now where the naysayers, who say the healthcare reimbursement system will not work for this, that the incentives pay on the wrong metrics, or that Americans don’t care about healthcare — all that indicates fear that they’re wrong.”
“Now is the time for entrepreneurs to get on this issue. If you’re into technology and biology and social media and nano technology — it’s all coming together to create tremendous opportunities for people to use this data to change their health. It’s a great time for patient-centric healthcare.”
Photo by Pinar Ozger.