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The Healthcare Revolution Needs a Medical Device Platform

The future of healthcare relies on  the ability of care providers to collect data remotely, to make accurate diagnoses across distances, to use AI to analyze data to improve both business and health outcomes, and more. At the heart of this healthcare revolution are connected medical devices. The good news is that they are becoming increasingly commonplace in hospitals, as many as 10 to 15 devices per bed. Unfortunately, medical device software isn’t keeping pace with the changing business model of healthcare. As hospitals and clinics invest in connected medical devices, they often find insufficient software that fails to anticipate all use cases of that medical device. In other words, while connected hardware is proliferating, the software is still stunted and often inadequate for many end-uses of a given device.

Part of the problem is that medical device manufacturers see connectivity as the product to be monetized. Thus, manufacturers sink a lot of cash into building apps for devices to try to anticipate all the ways a device may be used, which is frankly an impossible and costly task for a single company. Instead, medical device manufacturers should begin to see connectivity as the infrastructure to an app development platform.

A platform is not to be confused with a data cloud.

If medical device manufacturers opened up their devices to third-party apps, then hospitals, clinics, and private practitioners could shop for the best app that suits their needs. Importantly, they would do so in an app store where all apps meet FDA regulations for medical device software and would be assured of quality and security. Thus, connected medical devices would become more useful to care providers. As hospitals and clinics see better health and business outcomes, they’ll invest more heavily and quickly in IoT medical devices, further growing the connected device infrastructure that will transform the healthcare industry for the better.

Embracing Platform Innovation in Healthcare

A platform is not to be confused with a data cloud. The data itself is valuable, but it isn’t sufficient to deliver what medical practitioners need. They need applications built on top of that data. And a medical device manufacturer won’t be able to build all of those applications on its own. A point solution can’t possibly serve all of the needs that practitioners have in a clinical setting. A platform approach can.

The data itself is valuable, but it isn’t sufficient to deliver what medical practitioners need. They need applications built on top of that data.

The platform will unlock the value of patient data by putting data-analyzing apps at the doctor’s finger tips, not as raw data but as actionable insights and recommendations. The platform owner won’t solve for every use case or diagnosis, but rather will build upon a catalog of existing devices to enable third-party developers to create the tools that care providers need. For example, instead of developing every application of AI a doctor might need, a platform could empower practitioners, from radiologists to clinicians and beyond, by giving them the tools to develop their own AI applications.

In a way, the medical device industry will take a page from the history of smartphones. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, cell phones competed on quality and product specs, until Apple’s and Google’s app stores changed the nature of the competition. Before the innovation of the App Store (which is an app development platform), Blackberries were the leading phone on the market.  Spec wise, Blackberries were great phones, and their proprietary apps were well reviewed, especially Blackberry Messenger. Yet, once Apple and then Android opened their app stores to third-party developers, Blackberry couldn’t compete, because consumers didn’t want to be limited to Blackberry’s suite of products. Eventually, Blackberry was forced to open its own app store, but it struggled to gain traction in a market that had already left it behind.

App stores can also impose rules around data collection and usage, code specifications, and other terms of service (ToS) and use. In the medical device industry, software must be compliant with FDA rules. An app platform built with the FDA’s regulations at the center of its ToS (or better yet, with the FDA’s cooperation and counsel) could perform an important quality-assurance function by only accepting apps that meet the FDA’s regulations.

In the process, medical software developers will become familiar with how medical software must be structured. In the same way that Apple taught developers how to develop for smartphones, the medical device app store teaches developers how to develop for medical devices, and FDA rules should be at the core of that.

Shifting to Platform Thinking

For the platform owner (or owners, as it may involve multiple companies working together) the focus shifts from selling a particular solution (IoT devices) to building a broader ecosystem, a medical device platform. One of the challenges in building a development platform in healthcare is the need for connected devices. The rollout of connectivity has been slowed by a traditional product-thinking approach that sees connectivity as a service to be monetized. In a platform-thinking approach, connectivity is the infrastructure that provides the foundation for a network of apps. This approach provides a strong rational to subsidize the expansion of that infrastructure rather than trying to set up and monetize traditional gates to access.

In other words, the real value is in the applications and exchanges that connectivity enables. The owner of the platform that facilitates those interactions will be in a position to capture some of that value – a payback whose monetary and competitive advantages will greatly exceed those achievable with traditional product-thinking in healthcare.

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