In this article, 2023 Awards Advisory Board member Zac Fleming looks at the state of life sciences products. Fleming is Head of Product at TimelyMD. Here, he offers nine recommendations to the product managers and leaders building the future of healthcare. Keep an eye on the life sciences vertical at the 2023 Product Awards. Send Awards nominations to [email protected].
The future of healthcare needs help. Over the last decade, innovators have brought a wide range of groundbreaking solutions to the healthcare space. But from cost to convenience to transparency, healthcare is still broken. The challenge is no longer to create modern technology. It is to bring together these innovations into experiences for the purpose of creating value. If you look across jobs that exist today, I believe there is no role better equipped to usher in this future of healthcare than a product manager. The following paragraphs are recommendations to keep in mind as you lead the way in the coming year and beyond.
Establishing trust in an AI world
Be intentional about building trust across the product experience
AI is everywhere you look: it is in your car, on your phone camera, and now, thanks to companies like ChatGPT, people are even using it to craft responses on Tinder to find love. What will make 2023 different is not the existence of AI, but its saturation throughout our daily lives. It will propel products to unprecedented levels. But for those of us working in healthcare, it will create a unique challenge.
When it comes to providing care, trust is a foundational requirement. The increasing difficulty to parse out what is real and what is artificial creates an inherent distrust. Some blame AI, but the emerging generation of users is actively asking for bots before people. Health tech companies that provide therapy via a bot (like Woebot with iCBT) are showing that AI is a part of the future. Transparency is the only way to instill trust in a world where consumers will seamlessly receive care from people and AI.
Ensure your product uses AI responsibly
In the past, ‘AI’ was a type of product. Moving into 2023, AI will begin to seamlessly blend across more product features. Documentation tools will have powerful suggestions. It will enhance all medical imaging. Chatbots will natively learn and teach. Platforms will audit themselves. And much more. To ensure we are still building safe products, all product leaders in healthcare need to become savvy on the varying levels of AI. Identifying responsible AI solutions will involve more than accounting for HIPAA requirements. The future is not asking ‘if’ you will use AI but, instead, how.
Integrate AI and Clinical SMEs across the product development life cycle
In 2022 we saw big tech and new tech alike overextend themselves in the digital health space. We saw the ugly side of innovation with the Department of Justice actively investigating companies for prescribing practices of controlled substances. If we do not take care, AI has the power to do significantly more harm. I believe the key to avoiding this future is involving more clinicians. Healthcare is hard and AI is not an “easy button” that will solve all of its problems. As a product leader in healthcare, you have to put care in front of everything else.
Measurements are no longer a ‘nice to have’
Ground your solutions in science before you scale
The largest healthcare software company, Epic, just signed a deal with Google. Amazon just [re]launched a healthcare offering with a focus on data gathering around primary consumer conditions. These are a handful of moves that mark a pivot to productizing data. The livelihoods of healthcare consumers are too important to make decisions on shallow pools of information. They are not extending forward with consumer solutions – they are instead taking the time to invest in additional learning. This should be a cautionary flag for those product managers building on top of shallow data sets or adjacent studies.
Build in assessments from the beginning to understand how you are impacting health outcomes
The age of applying SaaS metrics to healthcare companies has come and gone. Providing unnecessary care to extend memberships, prioritizing growth over churn, and automating people out of all processes are just a few of the recent proof points that highlighted how this GTM approach proved toxic for healthcare companies. Even if it takes more time, shifting to product strategies that prioritize for outcomes is the future. Simply demonstrating adoption is not good enough anymore. If you look across DTC healthcare products you will notice the value propositions are shifting beyond access. This is setting a new bar for emerging products.
Use outcome measurements to differentiate your product
While the funding landscape for digital health products remains relatively healthy, in the current recessionary environment we are seeing decreases in the number of deals, the number of unicorns, and the overall funding. In the public markets, we are seeing companies such as Amwell sell at $3.10 which is down from a peak of $35. VCs and private equity are moving when they invest and how they invest. They are going to earlier-stage companies, asking more questions about revenue, and looking beyond vanity measurements. Solid outcome measurements will make your product (and pitch) stand out.
Go far by going with others
Find the holes that exist across the patient journey
The “front door” in digital health is a constant battle that is being fought by payers, buyers (employers), healthcare systems, and now big tech. There can only be one true front door and it is becoming clearer that, in the future of healthcare, that will be a title held by someone much larger than you. Andreessen Horowitz predicts that the largest company in the future is a consumer health company. So don’t spend your energy on the ‘front door’. If you are seeking to capture a vertical, platform approaches allow you to create sustainable growth. The reality is large players have staked their claim or won most verticals. So in creating products to solve for this part of the healthcare journey you will have major competition. Instead, think about the gaps left by these major players, and other entry points beyond the front door.
Add value to existing platforms
The average iPhone user now has over 100 apps on their phone. No one is asking for more apps for more things. They want more solutions. But the healthcare product market is already overwhelmed with options with no clear indicator for “good.” Companies like TimelyMD, Teladoc, Headspace Health, and Babylon have moved from telehealth to virtual health & well-being platforms. Even the largest companies today can never hope to have a complete solution – healthcare is too broad. Interoperability is no longer a “nice to have.” Instead of solving on an island, propel yourself up using and improving platforms.
Find simple ways to provide access to needed services
DTC health solutions have raised the bar on what a good digital interface should look like in healthcare. However, there are still virtual walls dividing parts of the consumer experience that need to come down. It wasn’t that long ago that product leaders in healthcare were fighting to invest in user experience design and showing how that was the key to success. Take a day to audit the top 100 healthcare apps and you will find that there is no longer meaningful differentiation. Consumers are prioritizing solutions over interfaces. Healthcare companies can learn from recent examples like Zoom. It is a simple but high-quality service.
Healthcare has unprecedented access to innovative solutions. Product managers and leaders can use their unique position to successfully unlock the future of healthcare.
To ensure your product strategies are future-proof, follow the recommendations laid out in the above paragraphs. Rephrased as 9 questions, I suggest you regularly ask yourself the following as you continue building the future of healthcare:
- How can you be intentional about building trust across the product experience?
- How are you ensuring the AI is being used responsibly?
- How are you integrating AI and Clinical SMEs across the product development life cycle?
- How can you ensure your solutions are grounded in science before you scale?
- How can you build in assessments from the beginning to understand how you are impacting health outcomes?
- How can you use outcome measurements to differentiate your product?
- How can you find the holes that exist across the patient journey?
- How can you add value to existing platforms?
- How can you find simple ways to provide access to needed services?
About the speaker
Zac is a growth driver with a passion to create innovation within healthcare. With over a decade on the leading edge of digital health, he brings his experience across start-ups to Fortune 30 corporations to help companies transform to make healthcare the way we all wish it would be. He casts bold visions that are grounded in proven strategies to help product-led companies exceed their growth, EBITDA and experience goals.