How digital health startups are staying competitive in a fast-growing arena

Human tragedy is often inextricably linked with human ingenuity and innovation, a notion borne out in a myriad of ways amid the Covid-19 pandemic. As cases of the deadly virus soared, the healthcare industry responded by evolving rapidly, especially with regard to technology use. The pandemic has resulted in quick pivots to digital platforms and a proliferation of health technology startups, which then begs the question — how does a digital health company survive and thrive in this competitive landscape?

For Varsha Rao, CEO of Nurx, it comes down to making strategic investments. The company, a telehealth platform for women, offers medical consultations as well as the ability to order medications and testing kits online. The company saw huge growth in 2020, and Rao believes it will continue to stay competitive because of certain key decisions, including the decision to invest in an end-to-end experience.

“We do everything, from the diagnosis with our providers all the way up to the online delivery of the medication,” Rao said at the J.P. Morgan 39th Annual Healthcare Conference, held virtually this year. “And that end-to-end experience is really complex, but yet is what patients really want.”

Another differentiator that Nurx is focused on involves insurance. To become a “true healthcare player,” a company must accept insurance, Rao said. Nurx is building up its infrastructure to begin doing so. Though the process is complicated, Nurx leaders believe that it will give the company an edge over competitors, she said.

But an increase in competitors may not necessarily be a bad thing in the digital health space, especially in the digital mental health space. David Ebersman, co-founder and CEO of mental health startup Lyra Health, sees the large-scale investment in teletherapy and behavioral health platforms as a positive sign, calling it “long overdue.”

Still, Lyra Health, which was founded in 2015 and recently hit $1.1 billion in valuation, intends to take advantage of the lead it has over competitors, in terms of the time it has been in the market and the amount of care it has been able to provide, Ebersman said at the conference.

The company plans to use the data it has collected over the years to develop a deeper understanding of “what works and doesn’t work in mental health,” he said.

“Our ability to look at datasets on a provider-specific level and a disease-specific level and to learn from that data to build the feedback loops — so that the next person, the next family who comes to Lyra, we have something to draw on to understand what direction to point them to and what’s likely to work best for them — I think is a really important thing,” Ebersman added.

Sometimes differentiation comes in the form of filling a niche, but key, need. For example, healthcare data tends to be disparate, with different companies and solutions focusing on different pieces of data, often resulting in an incomplete view of a patient. So the healthcare industry is moving toward standardizing and sharing data.

And this is where technology companies like HealthVerity come in, which provide the solutions that allow healthcare data to flow easily and securely from one entity to another, Andrew Kress, HealthVerity’s co-founder and CEO said at the conference.

“The best for [all healthcare stakeholders] is when all data can be combined into a single longitudinal view of a patient, where each party, based on privacy and governance, can use the piece of data that they need to power their particular use case,” Kress said.

The health technology startup arena experienced record-shattering funding growth in 2020, with startups raising $15.3 billion, up from $10.6 billion in 2019, according to Silicon Valley Bank’s latest Healthcare Investments and Exits report. With this level of investment, the sector will likely continue to grow in the coming year, making it all the more important for startups to figure out what sets them apart from the competition.

Photo credit: a-image, Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

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