Women Leaders in Digital Health See Rapid Growth and Increased Access Fueled by Pandemic

Recently, my fellow corporate partner Allison Cooper moderated a webinar, “A Conversation with the Women Building Digital Health’s Future,” during which she had the privilege of interviewing three amazing women CEOs of fast-growing digital health companies: Vernita Brown, CEO of reproductive health technology company Natalist, Varsha Rao, CEO of prescription and delivery platform company NURX and Christine Lemke, co-founder and co-CEO of healthcare data company Evidation Health.

The wide-ranging conversation included insights about the pandemic-fueled transformation that has reshaped the sector in the last year, overcoming barriers to continued growth and how these leaders are building the future of digital healthcare.

The following are select takeaways from the webinar that I hope you’ll find interesting.

What issues did the pandemic expose in U.S. healthcare?

  • Too much of healthcare providers’ time is poorly allocated, because hospitals and physicians are not always determining the most expedient form of care delivery for each patient. New technologies can help them optimize their schedules.
  • Not every medical issue requires a face-to-face visit with a doctor. The rise of telemedicine has shown that many issues can be handled remotely.
  • Patients have struggled with preventive care because it has traditionally featured too many steps and complicated logistics. Digital health technologies are making preventive care less burdensome.

Will the utilization of digital health products and services outlast COVID-19?

  • Digital health technologies make healthcare more convenient and more accessible. Now that consumers are learning to trust the quality of care on these new platforms, and have experienced the convenience, these technologies are here to stay.
  • Asynchronous communication means more dialogue with care providers. Consumers have gotten used to improved access and communication with physicians and won’t want to go back to waiting in line and booking appointments simply to communicate.
  • Women want less friction as they manage their family’s health, and digital health technologies reduce that friction. Millennials and Gen-Z patients, who represent the future direction of healthcare, are even willing to pay more for a system that’s more convenient.

How can virtual care providers ensure that all patients—including those that have traditionally been marginalized—are equipped to really participate in telemedicine care?

  • Solving healthcare disparities includes patients having ready access to laptops, smartphones and the internet. Some of these connectivity issues are simply beyond the purview of individual providers or a healthcare system.
  • Not every medical visit requires video. In some cases, the telephone works well, and many patients prefer phone calls to online visits. Providers should think beyond one-size-fits-all and offer various options such as phone visits and asynchronous communications.

What advice would you give founders who may be struggling to find their niche in this market?

  • Give yourself some time to ramp up. Healthcare is really complex and challenging, and it takes time to learn the different parts of the ecosystem. Founders should learn the payer space and what drives patient motivations when insurance pays for a lot of things, versus their motivations when everything is out of pocket. Along with time, really go deep and survey users and prospective users to get a good sense of the kinds of challenges that people want to solve. Varsha Rao, CEO of NURX
  • Try not to make the same mistake twice. Create a culture where failure is safe, built upon and used in a constructive way. Every time you make a mistake you learn something, and make sure that you pivot or do it a little bit better the next time. After every product launch or even before the product is even launched, already be critiquing it, and thinking about how to create the next version of it. Vernita Brown, CEO of Natalist
  • Play to your strengths. Ignore generalized advice about which market to pursue or not to pursue and take a really hard, objective, critical view of your strengths. If you have a particular talent for consumer, go compete in the consumer health marketplace. It’s a place you can compete today and build a really interesting business that you couldn’t just five years ago because the infrastructure is there now. If you’re extraordinarily good at selling and you have the right background, go sell to payors. It’s a crowded market but if you have a lot of great relationships, you can build an early advantage. Christine Lemke, co-founder and co-CEO of Evidation Health

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Originally published April 26, 2021, on Fenwick's Life Sciences Legal Insights blog​.