Investing in Healthcare: Think Exponentially

For 21st Century Healthcare to be….well…21st Century Healthcare, we will need heavy-duty investing activity – and not just in terms of financial capital. We will need a kind of investment thinking which accounts not only for the exponential growth of technology but also for the corresponding ramifications of that growth.

Much of the venture ideas we hear about basically follow this template: We’ve identified this problem and have come up with this solution. Typically, this does work: there are static problems which basically need static solutions. For instance, if you want to decrease nosocomial wound complications, build a better device that’s safer, more effective and cheaper. No need to think too deeply about the variable of time: such a solution won’t necessarily be out-dated in 18 months.

For more complex and dynamic problems, however, whatever solutions that are currently viable may not be so viable in 18 months (or some other length of time in the future).

A good example would be EMR. By definition, these are technologies – specifically technologies which must meet multiple demands within multiple workflows across multiple platforms and so on. It would be economic insanity to build such systems for today. Why? Because the technology alone will be outdated in 18 months. In choosing to invest in EMR, you must think exponentially.

But, as I said earlier, investing in EMR doesn’t just involve thinking about technology and problems conceived as of today: it involves thinking about how the surrounding ecosystem (e.g. clinical collaboration culture, patient values on privacy permissions, etc.) can change exponentially.

Five or more years ago, it would be hard to imagine that patients would share as much health information online as they do today. The relative percentage of patients sharing select medical data openly may still be rather small today. …But: if the trend is extrapolated, what might the percentage be in another five years (or even less)?

What’s more, social features of EMR – at this point – are a must. Which is to say, any investing in EMR *must* account for the exponential increase in adoption of social, mobile and other technologies which will absolutely have to be embedded in the design of EMR. It would simply be either hardly feasible or expensive to add them later.

This, then, makes the problem of successful Healthcare investing especially difficult and…well…more risky. And therein lies the opportunity: risk is effectively a barrier to entry, so those innovators pregnant with either capital or risk-love stand to earn large returns. That’s only fair.

So investment decisions in Healthcare need to move away from a linear conception of time to an exponential conception of it.

This is why all those iphone Healthcare apps aren’t making too much of a ding by themselves. …But they do demonstrate one thing: tiny enhancements in productivity and information gathering can lead to big things.

That’s sort of the principle behind exponential curves – a tiny step to the right, a huge jump upward.

@PhilBaumann – @HealthIsSocial – Newsletter