In the coming years, we can expect a large amount of valuable digital health solutions to be launched. This post analyses the most ideal marketplace for digital health.
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A marketplace for future-proof ideas
I’m a chronic analyser and overthinking. Until I discovered meditation, there was not a single thing that did not trigger my brain. I see. I analyse. I challenge. I adapt for the future. My mind could easily be considered a marketplace for future-proof ideas. My mind got me into this business of trend watching, future thinking, or strategic foresight. I follow what comes naturally and then put my thoughts into structure and canvasses. This is why I inspire and advise my clients on the future of health business. Want to know what I can do for you? Don’t mind booking a moment on my schedule.
A marketplace for digital health
Interest, usage and investment in digital health solutions have increased these past years significantly. But it’s only a precursor of what is yet to come. I expect that, soon enough, we will be inundated by valuable digital health solutions. Ok, I agree that inundated might sound radical. But at the very least, several digital solutions will radically change how we do health business today.
In my previous newsletter, I wrote about how this tsunami of digital health solutions will turn the first line caregivers into careguiders. After all, digital health will be taking up a considerable number of tasks in the first line. This change even risks instigating the first burning platform in healthcare, forcing General Practitioners, pharmacies and sick funds to reinvent themselves into careguiders.
Here are the related “The digital tsunami scenarios”:
2. The marketplace for digital health
3. The biomarker tsunami
4. The platform tsunami
In the current newsletter, I aim to highlight another potential future scenario from this upcoming tsunami of solutions: the marketplace for digital health solutions.
Table of content
The go-to-market strategy
I’ve been involved as an advisor, mentor, board member, or investor in several dozens of digital health start-ups in the past four years. Most struggle with similar challenges. But one struggle has always caught my attention: who is the ideal customer of the digital health start-up?
There are a couple of options, and each comes with considerable challenges or consequences:
1. Direct to consumers or patients: This is the most desirable option for many digital health start-ups because it focuses on the end-user, the one for which the start-up was founded. But at the same time, this approach requires considerable, long-term marketing investments and typically generates a relatively slow uptake in usage.
2. The Healthcare Professionals: It might make perfect sense for a health solution to focus on the Healthcare Professional (HCP), the second most crucial factor in managing one’s health. But it is essential to understand that most HCPs are not trained in digital health. They are also already submerged with new medical products, clinical studies and related administrative obligations. Add to that the shortage of doctors and the rising patient expectations, and you understand that it is challenging to integrate a digital health solution into prescription habits. Reimbursement might feel like the way out of this deadlock, but it adds bureaucratic complexity without more certainty of uptake.
3. The pharma companies: Ever since their ‘beyond the pill’ focus, pharma companies have been constantly on the lookout for valuable services to complement their products. But what may seem like a straightforward approach comes with the complexity that pharma companies are over-consulted, risk-averse and painfully slow in decision making. The lack of a long-term business model for this approach makes this a mere tactic with a short-term objective for the start-up.
4. The Government: One of the missions of governments is to enhance the health and well-being of all citizens by providing effective health and human services. The government might undoubtedly be the ideal customer to reach the broadest audience at once. But solutions that are not funded or issued by governments are rarely distributed by them (except in Singapore, for example). In reality, choosing the government as your customer is only a valuable option for digital health solutions that are already widely used or have significantly proven their worth. This is not the most prominent pathway for younger digital health solutions.
5. The Companies and Corporations: This is the route for which at least one in two digital health solutions are opting. Driven by the urgent need for more employee well-being, many start-ups have decided to target corporates and other organisations looking for corporate well-being solutions. Early seed start-ups could survive the first two years with merely a couple of clients. When more clients are needed in a later stage, they could even direct themselves to insurances or other aggregators to gain speed and extend their reach in the market. But then again, today, there are perhaps too many solutions going down that path, causing bottlenecks and choice overload on the employer side. Regardless, it still feels like the fastest and least complicated route compared to the other options for digital health start-ups. I do not see that digital health start-ups will hold back from choosing the employer as their customer. Neither do I expect corporations and companies to scale back their corporate well-being initiatives in the coming years
This leaves us with the question: are companies and corporates the ideal customer for the upcoming tsunami of digital health solutions?
Not just yet, in my opinion.
Here’s why: There is no successful Corporate Marketplace just yet.
Companies and corporations as a customer
The most apparent corporate marketplace would, of course, be related to corporate well-being. And rightfully so. I’ve been fortunate to be able to learn a lot about corporate well-being in the recent years: I’ve mentored digital health start-ups focused on corporate well-being, advised different corporations and insurance companies on their health business strategy, interviewed several dozens of international corporate well-being leads (incl Google), and have been involved in some health & well-being initiatives within organisations. During these years, I’ve seen the market grow massively. But I don’t believe it has a proper marketplace for digital health solutions yet.
This is mainly because employers are still figuring out their role in corporate well-being. Do they need to facilitate a healthy environment or the health itself of employees? Meanwhile, the professional world deals with unseen numbers of workplace stress and burnout. Corporate well-being quickly became essential to any company’s coping mechanism, post-covid transformation, and corporate branding in the current war for talent. Still, to me, corporate well-being feels like the orphan looking for a home within companies. Even sincere and valuable initiatives often lack a longer-term vision and strategy.
I believe that the main struggle lies in the question mentioned above: “Do we need to facilitate a healthy environment or support the employee in managing his or her health & well-being?” Because of this ambiguity, many health & well-being solutions don’t fit either objective very well and miss their intended goal. In the worst case, health & well-being initiatives may even come across to employees as indulgent bribes to make up for the demanding workplace expectations. But in the meantime, hardly anything changes within the company.
Therefore, many agree that both objectives need to be separated and approached differently. We need to realise that “Facilitating a healthy working environment” is far more than having ergonomic chairs and screens at eye height. On the other hand, we also need to understand that “supporting the health & well-being of employees” is more than team building activities. They are different handles that serve to influence completely other things. Yet today, I see too many solutions (and aggregators or marketplaces) that don’t make a clear distinction. Teambuilding activities are expected to facilitate a healthy working environment, and ergonomic chairs make employees healthy & happy.
In the next section, I will elaborate on why it is vital to make this distinction in the next segment. I will also explain how I expect a new marketplace to arise from it that will welcome the tsunami of digital health solutions.
Healthy working environment
Let’s get the elephant out of the room: (digital) health solutions won’t help create a healthier working environment. Instead, the work environment requires a corporate culture that makes people feel psychologically safe. Only an environment that breaths trust and empathy manifest this necessary psychological safety. Only then people will dare to talk about and deal with work-related unhealthy situations that cause stress and burnout. Whether this is related to their job control, the purpose of their job, or the social support within the team, psychological safety is the basics of a healthy working environment.
I always claim that “aspirations are the new needs”. Well, here it comes down to meeting specific life aspirations of employees: autonomy, meaningful connections, empathy & kindness, purpose, gratitude, authenticity, realness, and togetherness are all aspirations that are important for employees. I write about this in the book “Employee Engagement, what else?” by Klaus Lommatzsch & Inge Van Belle.
The corporate well-being initiatives that facilitate a “healthy working environment” should be directly related to the work itself. They provide employees with a sense of well-being through purpose, social connections, community involvement and career management. I don’t expect most of the digital health tsunami to focus on these types of corporate well-being. Instead, the tsunami will meet different aspirations like avoiding stress, being in the moment, personal development, optimised energy, enjoyment, healing… They will have the objective to make people healthy & happy. And that’s where I expect a new marketplace to be born in the coming years.
Making employees healthy and happy
Corporate well-being solutions that facilitate a ”healthy working environment” typically serve the company culture. On the contrary, health & well-being solutions help the person for the person, not the culture. The purpose here for a company is to benefit indirectly from healthier employees because these are likely to be more productive than the unhealthy ones.
Providing solutions like direct psychotherapy consultations, personal coaching sessions, or vouchers for wellness centres will bring a return on investment. In fact, studies have indeed proven that every euro invested in corporate well-being can expect a return on investment of at least 271%. Still, today, I see too many companies trying to redo that calculation for their own company. Corporate well-being initiatives are then launched as an itemised task at least x% of employees must complete. They are made by a company, not for an employee (as I write in my book “Healthusiasm”). It will feel like yet another thing people are expected to do at work.
It can be tempting to itemise and track health & well-being initiatives as you would with a budget, but that's not how people work. That’s not how to make people healthier & happier. So, let’s just forget about that. These corporate well-being initiatives are for the employees. They serve the ones that want to be(come) healthier and happier. So yes, it’s probable that the already-healthy ones might benefit more from these health & well-being solutions. But perhaps we need to look at it differently: not everyone will become healthier and happier in the same way.
Everybody has their own interest, personality, and pace of going about something. Let’s keep that in mind. I believe we should treat these health & well-being initiatives more like training and educational initiatives. When educational pieces of training are organised for employees, we don’t wonder whether everybody will benefit from it in the same way, don’t we? We want to make employees smarter and educated, and we want to make them healthier & happier. But it will all happen at their own pace, with their own capabilities and driven