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The seventh annual Denver Startup Week may not have raked in much venture capital (it’s free!), but it certainly had a lot of investors: More than 13,300 Coloradans alone registered for the wide-reaching slate of panels, talks, demonstrations, and events geared toward burgeoning entrepreneurs. Although the agenda touched on a number of topics, including cannabis, aerospace, and female participation in a historically male-dominated sphere, one theme stood out as crucial for the future of startups: health.
Health tech certainly isn’t new, especially in Denver; thanks to innovative ventures such as Catalyst HTI and 10.10.10, the Mile High City is emerging as a major player in the space. What Denver Startup Week added to the conversation, besides highlighting some fascinating companies, was a clear summary of the barriers that are keeping health tech startups from disrupting the field—and everyday people’s lives. Essentially, we have the technology, so why isn’t it working?
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There are simply too many apps to choose from.
This came from Keith Hughes, the founder of Longmont-based Inhabitech, a company that uses sensors to monitor the movement and behavior patterns of senior citizens in an effort to catch health problems more quickly. He was talking specifically about the aging and caregiving space, but his statement could make sense for a lot of other health apps as well. It’s a fairly straightforward problem: We have too many options now; few of them have differentiated themselves from the pack; and there’s not a way to access all of them through one device. (Yes, you could download all the apps, but our phones are gunked up enough as is.) There are some companies starting to get into this integration space. Boulder- and Austin-based Yonomi, for instance, offers an app through which you can access all your different smart home programs. But its primary function seems to be providing cloud services and complex engineering to startups themselves—not the consumers that need one simple interface.
A lot of health apps and organizations are geared toward the sick, disabled, or elderly.
That makes sense in certain situations, but there’s a growing recognition that building both design features (think: bathrooms that can accommodate wheelchairs) into every type of home and monitoring into every person’s lifestyle would be helpful regardless of age or health status. That way, people can age in place more effectively. A diagnosis of a chronic illness or disability wouldn’t drastically change your lifestyle. And knowing that you’re showing preliminary signs of, say, breast cancer may help you treat it earlier and more effectively.
It takes a long time to implement systemic change in the health care world.
During a panel titled “Fueling Health Entrepreneurship: Can Innovation and the Digital Revolution Save Health Care,” UCHealth chief innovation officer Richard Zane talked about various companies that are trying to streamline patient care for doctors. If you introduce an algorithm that can tell you which prescription medication might be best for your patient, for example, that can cut down on the number of side effects a patient might experience. One audience member asked the right question, though: Have physicians been willing to incorporate these features into their routines? So far, no, Zane admits, but he also said that if companies can prove their applications make doctors’ lives easier without costing them more money, they’re far more likely to adopt them. That is seriously easier said than done. But, according to Zane, it also might be a matter of a generational gap; many of today’s medical students are already learning how to use virtual reality and other tech to diagnose and care for patients. Soon enough, they’ll be the ones saving our lives—or potentially intervening so our lives need less saving in the first place.