Sculley: Domain expertise just as critical as technology in healthcare

By Neil Versel
03:44 am

Neil_Versel_LargeMobile and wireless health are trying hard to win over a public that at best is skeptical, but more likely has no idea what this stuff actually is.

As I argued in my previous column, most people don't get the whole concept of connected health, but explaining it in simple terms could change that. I also said that there hasn't been enough distinction made between healthcare and consumer health/wellness when it comes to mobility.

Apparently, I'm not alone.

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No less an authority than John Sculley, former CEO of both Apple and PepsiCo, suggested that consumer-facing products like Google Health and Jawbone's UP have failed because developers did not understand the market they were targeting or the hypercomplex healthcare industry as a whole.

Making his first appearance at International CES since 1993 to speak at the Digital Health Summit portion of the massive consumer electronics show last week, Sculley said that some companies have put too much emphasis on style over substance.

"The thing that is missing is getting the people with the domain expertise aligned with the people with technological know-how to turn ideas into branded services," said Sculley, who famously clashed with Steve Jobs over whether Apple should discontinue the iconic Apple II computer in favor of the up-and-coming Macintosh, as Jobs had preferred. "You have to have domain expertise in addition to technical know-how," Sculley added.

"You never compromise on the user experience," he said.

Interestingly, reDesign Mobile analyst Rocky Agrawal recently wondered in a VentureBeat commentary whether Silicon Valley innovators were "too smart for their own good," building products more suited for their own small world rather than for the masses. It is not unlike what I said in a controversial column last summer.

And healthcare is different from pretty much every other industry in that consumers often expect others to pick up the tab since they are generally isolated from the true cost of products and services, and that people have become conditioned to outmoded ways of thinking when it comes to health information. "This is not a typical Silicon Valley problem," Sculley noted last week.

Hoping to effect some kind of change, Sculley now is putting his considerable amount of money where his mouth is. The Digital Health Summit showcased one firm Sculley invested in, Audax Health, a Washington-based start-up "social Web company" founded by 22-year-old Grant Verstandig, who endured seven surgeries in a 20-month period after wrecking his knee while playing lacrosse.

Audax hosts specialized communities that bring in social and condition-specific networks as well as elements of online gaming to help people find answers to health questions. I have no idea if it will succeed, but the fact that Sculley and Verstandig apparently understand that healthcare is not like other industries is a good start.

Sculley also has financial stakes in telehealth company MDLiveCare, which provides e-visits and 24/7 access to nurses for a monthly fee, and in Watermark Medical, a company that provides home-based diagnostic testing and treatment services for sleep apnea. MDLiveCare can help people schedule doctor visits, too, à la ZocDoc.

MobiHealthNews reported on some of these investments back in September, as well as on Sculley's involvement with MisfitWearables, founded by Sonny Vu, who also created Agamatrix. MisfitWearables hasn't said exactly what it is doing, but Sculley said it "probably has something to do with sensors."

The real breakthrough in consumer health information, according to Sculley, will come when wearable sensors send wireless data to "big data analytics" that connects with electronic health records and personal health records, with privacy protected. People's data may be mined to sell advertising to them, but the advertising will be targeted to their true health concerns, Sculley said.

We aren't there yet, but it looks like we're heading that way. Those companies that figure out how to make the connections without overwhelming the consumer with technical minutiae and for the right price will win. The others will get left in the dustbin of history as academic case studies.

Or, as Sculley put it, paraphrasing Albert Einstein, "You don't really understand something complex unless you can explain it in a simple way."


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