When startup hype meets healthcare

This is about a silicon valley startup showing the world that the faced paced startup culture doesn’t translate easily to healthcare. Before we go further I have to clarify. This isn’t a smug post about how I saw it coming whilst others didn’t. I believed the hype. I remember enthusiastically sharing the stories on my Facebook page. I wanted the hype to be true. Sadly I was wrong, and so were many others.

The company I’m talking about is Theranos. Started by a young female Stanford dropout, Theranos claimed that it could perform a range blood test with a finger prick. They obtained millions in funding, and the founder was young, firey, and a bit of a showman. I was hungry for more. I and others had used Apple as an example of what healthcare needs. Finally, we would see some accelerated growth in healthcare innovation. Healthcare would get what personal computing had. An explosion of ever increasing tech, with cheaper costs delivered to people all over the world.

Even if you don’t know the story of Theranos, you’ve most probably guessed that it didn’t result in this. We’re not lining up outside iBlood stores all over the world to get the latest blood tester and monitoring kit. The company turned out to be actively deceiving investors and users. It was getting standard commercial machines from other companies, diluting the blood, and then running it. Some patients were subjected to false blood results, and the founders of the company are currently under investigation. However, I got exactly what I wanted with Theranos. They had the same silicon valley, faced paced, fake it till you make it attitude that Apple had in its early years. When Apple was in its infancy, they took orders that they barely could make, and worked around the clock in a garage finishing the motherboards hours before they had to be delivered. However, healthcare is a different game. Would you want to have an operation using tech that was knocked together by a bunch of young guys in a garage who barely slept for the last couple of days? I would hate the medical devices I used to have the same error and failure rate as personal laptops.

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So what has this taught me? We shouldn’t be using analogies such as Apple when planning and thinking about innovation in healthcare. A better model would be servers. Nearly everyone has a personal computer or smartphone, and the price of these has plummeted. We get slightly annoyed when the phone freezes or malfunctions, but we restart it, and don’t give it a second thought. A better analogy would be the server industry. Unlike personal computers, servers are constantly on, and if they break, the consequences can be massive. Data storage also has to be to a higher standard, with plan-B systems ready to kick-in in order to prevent downtime. This results in costs being much higher. Only professionals seem to be concerned with the new developments in server technology, resulting in less hype. So let’s not take our inspiration from personal computer companies, but their quiet more dependable cousin, server companies.

personal mutterings

maxwellflitton View All →

I help clinicians get to grips with coding and tech, I also code for a financial tech firm

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