The Future of Healthcare


Building a 'full-stack' healthcare disruptor

Technology-enabled care delivery will one day create a 10x improvement in care efficiency

Innovation series by Sami Inkinen
March 15, 2017
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[Editor's note: Our Splash Health, Wellness and Wearables event is coming up on March 23 in San Francisco. Check out the full lineup and register for tickets before they jump!  If you want to invest as little as $2500 in our healthtech startup cohort, join the Vator Investment Club (VIC). Sami Inkinen, Founder and CEO of Virta Health and author of this article will also be speaking!]


Recently, Silicon Valley has been taken by the idea of a full-stack startup, a technology company that builds and owns the entire experience for a product or service. Doing so allows startups to “bypass incumbents and overcome cultural resistance to new tech.” Tesla, Nest, Uber and Warby Parker are just a few of the many examples of this type of company.

But can this be done in healthcare, a massive industry that is approximately one-fifth of the U.S. economy?

Recently, I set out to try.

Specifically, I’ve been building a “full-stack” healthcare company that combines a technology-enabled and human-powered service with a team of world-class physicians, leading scientists, software engineers, data scientists (natural language processing, machine learning and bioinformatics), and product builders all under one roof. This approach has been complex, but it has tremendous advantages that enable previously impossible results, such as the ability to address diseases like type 2 diabetes at incredibly large scale.

Intellectually, building a full-stack healthcare company has been one of the most rewarding yet challenging things I have ever done. No single person will be an expert in everything, but running a full-stack company requires at least some knowledge across a wide range of specialties in order to be successful orchestrating the many moving parts. From my experience, I’ve learned that companies that build on the following principles will be the most successful in improving and in many cases, disrupting traditional healthcare:

Full control of the patient experience

Typical health care is delivered by a hodge-podge of primary care providers, specialists, labs, pharmacists, and medical devices, each with a different service level, price tag, and overall experience. Conversely, a full-stack company can integrate nearly all of the patient experience into one flow. This substantially reduces the cognitive dissonance and inconvenience patients can have throughout their care management.

Continuous remote care with substantially lower costs

Most outpatient care is based on periodic, perhaps quarterly or annual, 15-minute visits with a healthcare provider. These providers are not prepared to provide real-time support based on near-real-time patient data, even with the right technology. To counteract this, all clinician processes need to be built from the ground up to support this type of technology-enabled care delivery. These processes can be powered by AI to create an order of magnitude (not 10 percent, but 10x) improvement in care efficiency and clinical outcomes. This is only possible if processes are built around technology, not the other way around.

Reinvented economic model

Having complete awareness of patient outcomes enables focus and pricing on results, not transactions or software fees. When health outcomes and economic incentives are directly aligned, everyone wins: the patient, the provider, and the payer.

End-to-end data access

In a traditional approach, a technology company sells to a provider, but the data needed to improve the product sits in silos and is inaccessible by the technology company. In a full-stack healthcare company, real-time access to inputs (what patients are prescribed and asked to do) and outputs (the patients’ actual health outcomes) enables rapid iteration and improvement in every aspect of service.

Respect for regulation

It may be fashionable in tech to break rules and ask for forgiveness later, but healthcare deals with real people, real patients and their health, so regulation exists for a very good reason: it protects patients and saves lives. Yes, there is a lot of red tape to worry about making progress slower, but only through respecting regulation can founders build sustainable companies that guard patients’ safety.

One integrated culture

With a full-stack healthcare company, it is easy to struggle with the balance of cultures between technology and healthcare. It is a mistake to build a fragmented culture, though, where different specialties operate in silos, each with a different set of values, or even worse, different visions about the company. Making sure the entire company is bought into a unified culture is critical to long-term success.

Setting up a full-stack company is slow relative to a pure software company, but the speed at which it can iterate and improve patient care is unprecedented. Founders keeping these principles at the forefront will ultimately be more successful solving the most pressing healthcare problems.

[Editor's note: Our Splash Health, Wellness and Wearables event is coming up on March 23 in San Francisco. Check out the full lineup and register for tickets before they jump!  If you want to invest as little as $2500 in our healthtech startup cohort, join the Vator Investment Club (VIC). Sami Inkinen, Founder and CEO of Virta Health and author of this article will also be speaking!

Thanks to the Vator Splash Health sponsors: AdvsrAARPAvison Young, Bread and Butter WineSurf AirStratpoint and Scrubbed.]

Image source: Derive tech

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