Dr Helmut Schuehsler, CEO, TVM Capital Healthcare
Medicine is an inherently optimistic discipline. It is about making people better – and it is about finding better ways to make people better. Healthcare’s evolution from spirit dances to synthetic organs has been driven by a persistent belief in the possibility of improving the body and mind.
Innovation is the engine of progress, and in many ways, today’s healthcare innovators are highly privileged. Advances in fields from computing to materials science are making new methods and models of patient care possible. Moreover, having observed its benefits elsewhere, investors, regulators and patients are broadly friendly to attempted innovation. The tools exist to support the next leaps forward.
But there is still a gap between possibility and reality. On paper, futuristic digital technologies should already have revolutionized the delivery of healthcare to everyone, everywhere. Their effects in other fields (such as communications and banking) have been profound. In reality, however, the adoption of disruptive medical innovations has sometimes been ponderous and incremental. Why is this?
First, medicine has a cautious instinct. For a business concerned with lives and limbs, this is a necessary check on risk. But it does mean that while innovations in other industries can be freely tried and discarded, new medicines and medical equipment, devices, and techniques must be vetted carefully before adoption at scale. This slows the pace of change. Conservativism reigns supreme, and for good reason.
The second highly impactful factor is that physicians often balk at the apparent opacity of Artificial Intelligence. AI is among the richest sources of potential innovation across the care value chain, from early triage and diagnosis to treatment and monitoring. Yet AI can also seem like a “black box”, yielding unexplainable results derived by unknown people through the application of unknown data. To scientifically minded physicians who like to know exactly how things work, AI’s inaccessibility can obscure its practical virtues.
Third, “data fragmentation” hurts innovations which thrive on big data-sets. Many tools and technologies perform better (i.e. more precisely, accurately, and reliably) with access to more data. Yet in the current system, companies and institutions are sometimes discouraged from sharing mutually-relevant data. This tendency towards fission muzzles powerful but data-hungry innovations. On the other hand, sharing of data runs up against concerns of data privacy – again something that is of high societal relevance and which requires a broad societal consensus for true progress.
So how can we get better at converting invention into innovation? Articulating the medical benefits of new products, methods and technologies – and making a clear business case for patients, payors and systems – will soothe potentially sceptical patients, doctors and managers. Entering a broader discussion in society about the upsides and downsides of data collection, sharing and interpretation is probably the biggest need.
Fashioning a system – through clear and transparent rules and regulation – which incentivises the secure and properly-governed use of data within and between institutions will unleash the clinical power of big-data technologies. This is as much as public policy and regulation issue as it is a commercial opportunity. Data in medicine cannot be viewed and judged only from the viewpoint of applicability and usefulness.
Our mission is to help foster this change. We are a specialist investor and work with some of the most innovative companies in the world’s fastest-growing markets. Our basic goal and focus is to support the application of cutting-edge innovations in the real world and thereby to make healthcare better, faster, less costly. For us, innovation breeds opportunity.
We all stand to gain from this approach – whether as practitioners, investors or prospective patients. There are many incipient medical innovations which, if fully realised, would transform delivery models and care pathways for the better. Healthcare today would seem wondrous to the shamans and druids of earlier generations. Who knows how brilliant tomorrow’s innovations could seem to us?