Without a doubt, the demand for tech-enabled and digitally-focused healthcare and medicine continues to grow and 2023 is projected to be a record-breaking year for the digital health industry.
Clearly, the need for digital health solutions is at an inflection point.
But just how exactly should you go about building a startup in this $3.8 trillion (yes that’s with a “t”) industry? And more importantly, how you do avoid the traps and dead-ends of all those that have tried and failed before?
Well, let me cut to the chase. Follow these seven steps for building a digital health startup in 2023 and you’ll be way ahead of everyone else:
- Develop and test a digital-first problem solution
- Articulate a testable digital-first business model
- Plan your digital infrastructure
- Ruthlessly avoid building commodity technology
- Prototype, iterate, and get feedback
- Fuel the vision with funding (VC, strategic, non-dilutive)
- Scale using e-commerce best practices
Easy right? Well, you’d be surprised how non-obvious this is to a lot of people.
Why are there still so many small companies spending money on building redundant systems?
If there’s one piece of advice you learn today, it is that building a company in digital health today is very different than even a few years ago.
The big difference is the speed at which healthcare companies can generate value in the marketplace today. That speed is completely enabled by a deep understanding of what to build and even more importantly, what NOT to build.
There are just so many more products and services available today that have made available what were traditionally closed ecosystems.
Those that understand how to access the right solutions quickly and only spend time building what they absolutely have to will be the fast movers in today’s digital health marketplace.
It’s important to remember that most digital health companies need to have the same backend infrastructure in place as traditional healthcare providers.
We’re not talking about old-school IT systems. Rather, we’re talking about tech stacks specifically designed for healthcare software and healthcare integrations.
If you plan on launching a small business, startup, or private practice in the healthcare sector, we’re here to help. Keep reading to see the tips and strategies you can use in our guide to launching a digital health startup in 2023.
Specifically, we’ll be covering the digital health tools and health tech stacks that are key to launching in digital health today.
Starting your own digital health company from the ground up doesn’t have to be so difficult.
For inspiration, it helps to look at a few major examples of successful digital health applications. Some examples include the following:
- Mobile MIM – This platform was not only the first medical app to be granted access in the iTunes store, but it’s also the first major app to be released for sharing radiation imaging between physicians and peers.
- Kry – This virtual physician and therapist app has raised $500 million to date. This Swedish platform makes it possible for patients to meet with their physicians or therapists at any time, at any place.
- Hinge Health – For U.K. residents who deal with chronic musculoskeletal conditions that make it difficult to travel, Hinge Health provides digital care programs.
- AmWell – One of the biggest digital health companies out there, AmWell’s platform makes it possible to deliver HIPAA-compliant and extremely secure telehealth services to patients in need of urgent care, therapy, and other needs.
- MDLive – Consultation meetings with potential doctors or physicians can be quite convenient. During the pandemic, they were almost impossible. MDLive makes it possible for physician consultations to take place straight from home, quickly and easily. This platform is praised by patients and doctors alike.
We’ll mention a few more digital health giants later on in this guide as well.
The Business models of virtually every single healthcare company founded over 10 years ago are vulnerable
The underlying infrastructure required to build a healthcare company has changed, and most entrenched companies have been slow to adopt these changes.
Leaning into these infrastructure changes will not only let your company optimize for speed but also take advantage of modern tech.
The cost to start a new healthcare product has never been lower which means that are plenty of new companies that can be seeded using infrastructure that’s been pre-built for you.
The analogy here is simple, think of AWS or Google Cloud. Amazon and Google have spent billions over the last decade bringing down the cost to store and manage data.
Not only that but they now provide full-service compute capabilities meaning that companies today don’t have to build their own data center to support a data-rich business model.
You can rent and scale your computing resources up or down as desired simply by clicking a few buttons.
New companies today can focus fully on creating businesses that solve pain points in the market and not spend valuable resources building computing infrastructure just to get off the ground. They can get the market faster and scale as quickly as needed.
Digital Health today is no different, except the infrastructure driving today’s companies are capabilities like data interoperability, white-label telehealth, APIs, AI/ML, and Clinical Operations.
There is an emerging ecosystem of healthtech companies that provide world-class tech-enabled services to the digital health market.
Today, each of these categories can be viewed as a micro-service where a digital health company might contract with multiple companies across these categories, or even create redundancy through multiple relationships within a category.
Many of these companies started within a very specific niche and have developed class-leading capabilities in a specific area. In the future, these companies will expand into adjacent areas, like Truepill for example.
Truepill started as virtual pharmacy API. They are now branching into telehealth and lab services.
The key to a successful digital health tech stack is interoperability.
Interoperability is the key to building a successful digital health application, as patients, physicians, clinicians, labs, and hospitals will need to interact seamlessly but still securely.
Interoperability should be the center of your digital health tech stack on a functional, structural, and semantic level.
Your client-side tech stack is what will be installed on a client’s machine of choice– such as their laptop, smartphone, etc. The client-side tech stack will make it possible for healthcare providers to run the environments and perform the tasks needed to run the app.
Server-side tech stacks are installed on a server. This tech stack will include all of the client-side technology in addition to database software and server software.
We mentioned the importance of implementing digital health infrastructure tools into your tech stack. However, nobody wants to have to build everything themselves.
Building your entire infrastructure and tech stack from the bottom-up is expensive, time-consuming, and usually not possible for many small digital health startups. And it’s a waste of resources in today’s market.
Do not build everything yourself. Spend the time upfront to identify a strategy where you leverage many of the great digital health infrastructure tools available today.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the key digital health infrastructure tools.
In the tech world, the cost of spinning up a startup plummeted like crazy thanks to Amazon’s Web Services (AWS). which lets startups rent out Amazon’s data storage and compute power.
This not only dropped the cost of starting a company from millions to hundreds of dollars but also allowed pay-as-use models that could scale with the companies as they grew.
Now, that same speed and cost reduction is coming to healthcare thanks to HIPAA-compliant cloud services. There are 119 different HIPAA-compliant AWS cloud services today vs 25 in 2017. Some of these are really cool healthcare-specific ones like AWS Comprehend Medical, which parses unstructured text data and maps it to different medical terms.
When it comes to the actual platforms your developers can use to build digital health and telehealth mobile and web apps, AWS Amplify is probably the most intuitive and simple platform to use. AWS Amplify is essentially a set of tools as well as services that can be used to help front-end developers build scalable, fully-fledged stack applications.
Amplify also supports pretty much every web framework under the sun, so it will integrate well with your framework of choice. Deployment with AWS Amplify is also quite simple.
If you’re considering working with connected medical devices. You’ll want to keep in mind device management services.
Phillips HealthSuite for example builds a layer on top of AWS to offer digital health-specific services for clinical and consumer applications and devices.
The proliferation of API-as-a-service has made it worth paying attention to in the digital health industry. One great API-first data solution to consider is Verifiable. This tool can be easily embedded into onboarding forms, thus making it possible for physician data to be pre-populated from a SSN. This significantly reduces friction throughout the provider onboarding process and removes many of the human error risks associated with data entry.
Eligible is a great product that could be used for back-office purposes for financial systems. This powerful API makes it easy to add insurance billing into your end product. In fact, this tool is trusted by developers from healthcare companies like Blue California and Omada. EHNAC accreditation, SOC II Compliance, and HiTrust certification are a few big perks to having this tool in your tech stack.
For patient data interoperability and care coordination, look at Particle. Particle makes it possible for startups to boost innovative solutions with data from hundreds of millions of patient records.
A rather simple API, Particle bridges the gap between digital health startups and the data being stored by thousands of hospitals and other networks. Particle’s API platform can unify this data into easy-to-work-with data records, secure access points, and so much more. If you have a limited development team, this intuitive tool could be very beneficial.
Ribbon Health is another great API-first company that provides healthcare enterprises with an API layer for accurate data on doctors, insurance plans, costs & quality of care. If you’re looking to build a provider network you’ll need the most accurate and up-to-date information (name, locations, hours, services offered, insurance accepted etc).
You’d be surprised how hard it is to keep directories up to date with this information. Ribbon’s API makes sure your directory is up to date always.
For EHR interoperability Redox is a leader in providing digital health companies API-based integration with many of the leading EHR systems like Epic and Cerner. They abstract away the complexity of this integration work and offer it a ready-made solution for a monthly fee. Many of the biggest medtech companies, like Stryker, Omron and Dexcom, work with Redox.
Suffice it to say that these are just a few of the API-as-a-service companies that support the digital health industry. The point here is that healthcare is complex and you need to test your value in the market as quickly as possible.
You’ll have a better shot at getting there if you’re not getting stuck trying to address outdated directories, EHR billing issues or provider credentialing challenges.
Use API-as-a-service infrastructure to build the foundation of your digital health startup.
A few more digital health startup tech stack tools to consider include:
- Anchor Health
- Amazon S3 and EC2
Verana Health and CorEvitas are taking this structured registry data and using it in new areas like life sciences. Registries are a viable approach to building a business, but the data is still coming from EMRs, so you’re not really replacing EMR so much as finding new use cases for the data.
Data registration is another big part of developing competitive and compliant digital health applications. Apache Spark is a unified analytics engine designed for the purpose of large-scale data processing. Apache Spark is popular because it can run workloads at lightning speeds, it’s very easy to use, it combines SQL with streaming with complex analytics, and it’s run virtually everywhere.
Many large organizations use Spark to process very large datasets, which is a vital ability to have if you’re dealing with massive amounts of patient and physician data. Plus, Spark is available as an open-source project– meaning you could potentially install and run it with absolutely no installation costs. Spark is also easy to program from most coding backgrounds, so your programming language of choice will implement well.
One of the biggest benefits of this movement of digital health companies becoming buyers of healthtech is the raising of the quality bar for healthcare products—both in terms of the quality of the technology itself and that of the end-user experiences they enable.
- Look into what other successful digital startups have done and what they’re currently up to.
- Realize that there a ton of world-class companies building tools for digital health innovators
- Ensure that you invest your resources into proving your value in the market and not into rebuilding infrastructure that’s already out there.
- You do not have to build everything from the ground up by yourself. There are many excellent tools that you can implement.
Medtech Founder was launched to help the medtech and digital health community launch their startups. Our goal is to boost the growth of successful digital health companies with more success than ever before. Specifically, we aim to guide and collaborate with startup founders to help them make the right choices when launching their company. From healthcare professionals to providers to entrepreneurs and tech developers, we’re helping pros in the digital health world by offering experience-based knowledge of the industry.
Get in touch with our team today to learn how we can help you get your digital health launch strategy right. Every entrepreneur deserves mentorship and assistance in the complex and intensive world of digital health. Medtech Founder is here to help!
How was our guide to building a digital health startup in 2023? We want to hear what your experience has been like in the comments below.