Healthtech has boomed over the past decade. The passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) ushered in historic investments in healthtech development. The pandemic undoubtedly forced advancements to accelerate. But how well do digital health innovations address challenges across the care continuum?

In this episode of the Memora Health Care Delivery Podcast, we speak with Vineeta Agarwala, physician at Stanford University School of Medicine and general partner at Adreesen Horowitz (a16z), to discuss what digital health platforms need to offer to truly address the sector’s most urgent issues.

Even with recent healthtech advances, most people prefer in-person appointments

The emergence of COVID yielded an uptick in telehealth. But some recent evidence shows a decline in using this virtual clinical channel. And the reason, Vineeta explains, may be due to patient preference for face-to-face communication.

“Despite the number of startups and the extent of digital health funding that the sector has seen over the past two or three years — and despite the so-called COVID tailwind of healthtech adoption — in my observation, nothing has changed in most clinics across the country … I just don’t see it. Even in my Silicon Valley Stanford practice, most patients still prefer in-person appointments. And nothing in my workflow of documentation or patient communication has really changed,” Vineeta says.

Vineeta argues that digital health innovations that focus on enhancing and streamlining standard systems for care delivery — instead of only relying on expanding solutions within the virtual space — are better positioned to comprehensively improve the healthcare industry.

Digital health can’t circumvent existing health systems

As digital innovations steam ahead, the industry continues to witness an explosion of startups focused on directing patients away from traditional health systems rather than working with existing infrastructures to get people the care they need.

Vineeta remarks, “There are still so many startups that seek to build entirely around the existing healthcare system … They find the incumbent infrastructure so frustrating that there is an attraction to set up a separate system, or find out a way for patients to avoid the system, or figure out a way for patient payments to not flow through the system. In some isolated settings, they may be an important offering for some patients … But sick patients are going to require inpatient stays at some point in their journey. I think building around the system is really problematic and that’s something we’re starting to see a shift away from in the startup space.”

In order to be effective in making healthcare better, digital health solutions need to collaborate with existing operations — identifying greater systemic barriers while designing technology to work in tandem with embedded workflows.

The best digital health platforms solve healthcare workforce challenges and elevate care standards — while saving resources at the same time

One of the biggest challenges for healthtech is to produce solutions that can marry clinical and economic incentives to help improve care. Digital health needs to check all the boxes for providers and hospitals to get the most of innovative advancements without stretching thinned-out budgets. And, Vineeta explains, Memora Health does just that.

“I’ve learned a lot from the Memora journey and I’m grateful for that … For me, the framework of looking for alignment of economic and clinical incentives, as well as a desire to back startups working with incumbents, really led to our investment in Memora,” Vineeta states. “We were looking for products that seemed like they could actually move the needle, be implemented easily, pragmatically change patient care, but do so in a way that could have line of sight to a return for customers in terms of their workforce efficiency.”