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Analyst firms focus on IT, not consumer health technology

The investment industry is covering their eyes about trends in money, health and aging. Visible awareness of the current swelling ranks of an aging (and not so healthy) population has yet to seriously penetrate the portfolios of the top venture capitalists, despite their rip-roaring second quarter. Yet the health industry employs 1 in 8 Americans. Costs are skyrocketing. No other industry has ever lowered the cost curve without technology. Instead, mobile health has a bit of VC attention -- those $3 mobile self-absorption apps for the naval-gazing young, marginally employed, and phone-obsessed. Ah, but did you know that the 18-29 year olds have less spending power than their parents? Did you know that families are spending all of their money on their smart phones instead of on consumer goods (the engine of the US economy?)

Analyst firms – should they lead or do they follow?  But the thought leaders, industry analyst firms like Gartner, Forrester, or IDC, for example -- have little or nothing to say about these trends.  Yet shouldn’t they have their finger, so to speak, on the pulse of the times?  For the most part, their limited coverage of health IT, or to put it another way, the IT impact of health-related trends, is aimed at CIOs and IT execs -- with a sprinkling of consumer/mobile health here and there (in Europe!). That's in a time when health care spending is rocketing out of control, where the biggest US bucks are being spent on the sickest and, dare I say it, oldest population. Yet I can find no leading analyst firm suggestions about the use of tech to mitigate ballooning costs. And even when the word "innovation" does come up – like the CMS $1 billion quest for innovation – the focus is on job preservation, not tech innovation for eliminating wasted labor and bloated processes. Still no observations about the missed opportunity were noted by any of the big analyst firms.

Bloggers and columnists have taken over the role of trend identification. Okay, so analyst firms have had very little to say about health and tech for consumers. So what happens when startups need to market new products? Without analysts, new products launch like trees falling in the forest -- someone must grasp what these newcomers are doing so that marketing initiatives are effective. And marketing is so critical – companies that don’t market well can spend years cultivating the level of visibility that a seasoned marketer with good industry smarts can rapidly generate -- if they have someone besides the news media to tell. But health tech marketers need analysts – who will size the overall market, help them position their products in a space? Who will provide needed guidance to investors that expect a bedrock of research to underpin the wisdom of placing bets with their unspent funds? Forget the fact that 90% of ALL (including IT) startup companies fail – investors put money into all 100%. And they need information to help them.

Lacking industry specifics, how can analyst firms serve investors and their IT customers well?  The expertise about the health tech marketplace is splintering into blogs, news sites and columns – all interviewing and publishing what experts say.  And that’s just health topics. Way down the visibility stack, why aren't the large analyst firms cultivating non-IT relationships with AARP, for example, whose revenue is north of $1 billion? How about the 6000-member association of non-profits like LeadingAge?  No chance. And they aren’t chasing the National Council on Aging, the American Society on Aging, or even the Social Security Administration. So what’s a VC to do?  Not too much, judging from their portfolios. They appear to assume that markets of health and age-related or caregiving businesses barely exist. And it is sad that in an age of un-vetted bloggers and pundits blabbing about everything, the firms that were the original thought-leading pundits are silent, still bonded to the CIO, as though clues to the future could be found inside enterprise back office apps or data centers. 


The problem with the health industry products/services, especially for frail older adults, is that there isn't any newer tech product that has hit a home run in adoption yet. In an era where preordering 2 million units is the norm for accepted tech products, we have barely scratched the surface withat option of tech for frail older adults or even healthy older adults. This industry is fraught with "who pays" issues, liability issues, etc.

Once upon a time, Netscape's IPO broke open investing in Internet companies. Where is our Netscape?

I think the PERS industry (which has grown to be a $2 billion market, about to get kicked around and mobile) is the mainstay and backbone of industry for frail older adults.  GreatCall (and its Jitterbug phone) was the home run for communications, and apps for the iPad and its successor tablets will be the hit singles.  Wireless networks will be probably be placed correctly (not in the wrong place down a hall), installed in every senior housing building. So when all that is a given, Skype is a given (and free), data plans are reasonable and a smart phone is viable for the shaky of hand, then there will be another home run.



Hello Laurie, thank you for all the good work you do covering aging in place technologies. I'd like to bring to your and your readers' attention that IDC Health Insights has a dedicated research service, Connected Health IT Strategies, which covers a range wide consumer health technology, including mHealth, person health and fitness monitoring (remote patient monitoring), personal health records, online care (on demand video conferencing between clinicians and consumers using Web cams, IM, etc), and aging in place technologies. I have written extensively on how these technologies can be deployed by payers and providers to help empower consumers to take a more active role in managing their own health care, leading to better patient outcomes and reduced health care costs. Major themes of my 2013 research agenda include consumer engagement, end-to-end remote patient monitoring, and mobility. IDC Health Insights research does discuss how major demographic and industry trends impact the demand for healthcare IT, including connected health technologies, and we talk to a wide range of people and organizations to develop our research. However, you are correct, our published research is aimed at CIOs and IT executives because they represent our readership.

Happy to talk to you further about the role of analyst firms if you like. You raise a very provocative question about the role of VCs, analyst firms, and bloggers/media in moving the discussion about consumer health technology forward.

Lynne A. Dunbrack
Program Director, Connected Health IT Strategies
IDC Health Insights

Your feedback is appreciated.