Jonathan O'Donnell | 04.28.17 | Insights

Digital Health Innovation through Integration

  • digital health
  • healthcare
  • mHealth

Drew Schiller kicked off the 2017 mHealth@Duke conference with a zinger:
“We don’t need more innovation in healthcare. We need more integration.”

He went on to propose that enormous gains in cost, quality, access, and experience could still be realized if we were to freeze all healthcare innovation in its current state today and focus only on improving product and service integration. Drew made a cogent case out of the iPhone launch in 2007 which, while viewed as the ultimate innovation of the past 15 years, actually had relatively little innovative technology upon release. Rather, its adoption and success can be attributed to the novel integration of available design, products, manufacturing, and distribution.

Drew is spot on that we need more integration in healthcare, and not necessarily innovation. But it’s hard stuff! Unfortunately, improving integration likely presents a greater challenge than pursuing pure innovation for one primary reason: integration requires two parties to be in close contact, whereas innovation can often be performed at a greater distance.

Granted, any innovative solution ultimately needs to be integrated into a customer’s operations (thereby ultimately requiring two parties). However, the innovation’s pursuit and development can be (and – in healthcare – often is) performed with minimal formal partnership or agreement, through inexpensive and generally accessible means like shadowing, observation, interviews, prototyping, etc. Voila, you have your solution while avoiding the headaches of competing priorities, budgets, timetables, etc. Now, let’s throw lots of money at it.

Eventually, however, innovative companies need to sell into healthcare – and here is where much of digital health innovation has stalled. Great products and services – all developed for the benefit of patients, providers, and payers – never see the light of day because now comes the hard part: integration. Integration into provider workflows. Integration into reimbursement processes. Integration into care delivery. Integration into a culture of (rightful) extreme safety. Integration into legacy software systems. And on and on.


So how do we overcome this slog, to successfully integrate (and thereby innovate) software in healthcare?

For aspiring integrants, it starts with collaborating with existing partners or vendors of healthcare delivery systems. To offer several examples of how Smashing Boxes has been successful:

  • Leverage existing relationships with individual investigators (PhD or clinicians) to prove one’s value in their individual projects and research, thus earning the respect of their Divisions and Departments for the backlog of work they wish to pursue, steadily moving your way up the value chain.
  • Augment off-the-shelf technology, serving as partners or companions to take standard solutions and custom integrate them into their IT systems and infrastructure as well as into the specific workflows of the users. Each delivery system has a unique culture that responds best to tailored technologies, not one-size-fits-all.
  • Partner with system stakeholders to support their internal and community talent development through programming, workshops, and conferences. Facilitating their growth will naturally lead to more opportunities to take advantage of the services you are providing.

In the end, the greatest disruption will likely result from novel integrations of existing technologies, not additional technologies (with the exception of the looming genomics wave). This conclusion complements the welcome and inexorable trend toward value-based care and away from volume-based care.

Need some extra muscle for your next digital health solution? Drop us a line.

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