7/01/2019 | BlogPost

From Frontiers Health to JPM: Reflection on 2019 Priorities

Roberto Ascione | CEO Healthware Group - President Healthware Ventures


Digital transformation is radically changing healthcare. The conversation is no longer about ‘if’ it is going to happen, it is about ‘how’ we are making it happen. Of course, there will be some bumps along the way, but I think that the road we have is the right one and will lead us to a great future for healthcare in general and, ultimately, a great future for patients and users of this new era of medicine. These reflections are coming from my keynote at Frontiers Health about a month ago in Berlin with the upcoming JPM week ahead in San Francisco where I hope to see many of you. We all at Healthware hope that these ideas will prove insightful as we all plan our collective work in 2019.

1. The continuous rise in digital health investments and more M&A activity

Investments continue to grow strongly according to DigitalHealth.Network, the consultancy led by Frontiers Steering Committee member Marc Sluijs. On the early stage there is plenty of seed funding available, yet I’m little bit concerned about what happens after that, as I often meet entrepreneurs with valid MVPs who are still struggling to raise money to ensure full clinical validation (which often is asked as a condition to further investments).


The last year edition of Frontiers Health saw mySugr and Roche, on stage, to talk about the strategic importance of the execution to be part of the Roche Diabetes business. This year we have the significant acquisition by VARIAN of Noona and of PillPack by Amazon, which is seen as a very bold move by the retailing giant. We will see more and larger M&A activity, and of course, we will record smaller acquisitions alongside them. The strategy behind these M&As will lead to an acceleration of the transformation process taking place in large scale companies and will provide an alternative way for start-ups to scale faster.


2. Digital Therapeutics continue to develop strongly

Digital therapeutic solutions continue to develop in a very strong way and the market is expected to grow at a CAGR around 30% through 2023. The FDA has been looking at this sector and starting to create avenues to apply and to file digital therapeutics solutions in a much more structured way. Clinical validation certainly stays very important and should be also further analysed: should we validate these solutions only in the same way we validate drugs or develop different ways of testing for clinical validity? During the year we have seen some more examples of sharper business model definition and go to market (also through partnerships) but clearly these will be key topics for the upcoming year and beyond. These and more questions alongside with the much needed education at all levels are being tackled by the Digital Therapeutic Alliance, that since its launch last year has added more members from big companies and start-ups and punished a very insightful industry report available here.

3. Lifestyle as a medicine

Another area of great interest is what I am starting to call "lifestyle as a medicine", which is made of solutions intimately user-centric that leverage concepts employed since the very beginning of applied knowledge in humanity. For example, we are seeing solutions and platforms leveraging mindfulness, described greatly by Kristin Milburn, Head of Healthcare at Headspace Inc. and other solutions addressing nutrition in fun and engaging ways as we heard from Donal O' Neill, CEO at The Pioppi Protocol. We are also exploring the medical applications of music thanks to the works of Walter Werzowa and Klaus Laczika, who presented (and performed) “Tunes that heal: Why MusicMedicine is a valid and scalable digital therapy”.

4. Using Artificial Intelligence to empower healthcare

Certainly we will keep hearing about AI disrupting healthcare but beyond the hype there are a few areas we should be focusing on to enable tangible impact even on the short/medium term. FDA has cleared already 13 AI-backed solutions which can truly empower the physicians work by augmenting diagnostic processes, the more we can apply AI in this direction the more we will positively impact healthcare systems all together. Providing patients with self-assessment solutions to help them to navigate through the complexity of the healthcare systems is another area with huge potential impact as Matteo Berlucchi, CEO at Your.MD, articulated in his keynote around “Pre-primary Care".

5. Interfaces are bound to disappear

Working on interfaces is still very important to reduce human-technology barriers in healthcare. We believe there’s a great future in removing the friction in the interaction with digital health solutions by leveraging natural language and voice-driven interfaces ideally augmented by context and emotions aware logic like we are starting to test with humanoid robots.

6. Emerging jobs

It will be very interesting to keep monitoring and studying the emergence of new jobs in healthcare or the transformation of several existing ones. An interesting example is the increasing importance of 'empowered' Health Coaches. While health coaching platforms can provide the first line of defence through automatic reasoning, to be truly effective, many are complemented by human coaches as key part of the process. On the physicians side how will the work of physicians performing most of their activity remotely in telemedicine settings look like? We think we will see more jobs modifying because of tech and other entire new roles potentially emerge because of new tech-drive interventions.

7. Boost Digital Health literacy

Digital health literacy is also a growing aspect of the transformation of healthcare. All stakeholders need to become more literate in this area, from consumers, patients, patients’ associations, and most importantly physicians. Healthware and Intouch are focusing on the need for expanded digital health literacy through many different initiatives lately, not just showing what’s possible, but about in how to develop solutions and tools to support the daily practice of physicians.

8. When innovation really matters

Against the backdrop of the work we are doing at Healthware, we can also say that innovation only really matters if it takes a true needs-driven approach. We can’t invent something in a vacuum and push it down the pipe and hope people will adopt it – it’s exactly the other way around. That’s why most of our breakout and co-design work sessions deal with coming up with solutions from the bottom-up. Whether aimed at patients, physicians, nurses or other healthcare stakeholders.

At Healthware we firmly believe that key to innovation is to find important problems to solve that matter to people or to professionals and then design with them and around those issues.

Aligning innovative solutions to the actual patient journey is also extremely important. We need to understand that certain constraints exist, certain flows exist, and we have to ask ourselves how we can improve at every stage. Since every disease is different, every patient has to deal with the contextual issues surrounding their medical situation, starting from the way healthcare is delivered in their country, the healthcare support mechanisms available to them, access to medicines and care teams, and more. Only a careful alignment of the patient journey to digital solutions being designed can guarantee that the solution finds a true reason for being adopted by that patient, and others like them.

9. The importance of the ecosystem

I think that many of our friends and colleagues at the large life sciences companies are now beginning to realise that “no-one can’t do this alone”, and we should truly partner within the ecosystem of innovators. Their presence over the years at events like the Frontiers Health conference has been growing immensely. Companies have been trying to achieve different objectives: focusing on finding solutions to improve access, as Sandoz has done; or forming partnerships locally in a decentralised way, as Pfizer is in the process of doing. Bayer’s G4A has historically been doing great work and is continuing to create business partnerships and Roche, which is in the process of launching Health Builders, a brand new programme piloted in Italy aiming at selecting future business partners among start-ups in its core business areas.

10. Places to Innovate

Places that can foster innovation are important too. There are a lot of companies that are starting to think and figure out that it’s important not only to invest but to also partner with startups, also providing physical facilities for the innovation players to work closely together and exchange. The importance of inspiring innovation destinations is one of the reasons why we recently invested in the transformation of a 10th century former monastery in southern Italy to turn it into the "Healthware Life Hub", steps from where the world's first historically documented medical school was born over ten centuries ago. The Life Hub is an open innovation centre that has already seen over 2000 people from all over the world stopping by since April 2018 and that every one of you is welcome to visit! Consider this an open invitation anytime to join us in this beautiful part of the world, and work on some great innovation together.

The article has been originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

  • Digital health
  • Digital health revolution
  • Digital Therapies
  • Frontiers Health
  • Health
  • Innovation
Roberto Ascione

Roberto is a serial entrepreneur and global thought leader in digital health. With 20 years of experience he has been focusing on marketing and communications, business transformation and innovation in health and wellness.

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