Medical students and junior doctors are often among the most enthusiastic adopters of digital technologies and innovations being developed to improve healthcare. But can more be done to pave the way for a new generation of digitally disruptive, medical entrepreneurs?
According to the British Medical Journal, in the UK alone, more than 100 junior doctors have joined NHS England and Health Education England’s clinical entrepreneur training program since 2015, and many students and doctors in training around the UK are now turning creative ideas into innovative products, apps and services to enhance patient care and boost health education and learning.
Closer to home, the Federal Government's Entrepreneur’s Programme has already helped a number of medical innovation companies launch from the ground up. Meanwhile, tertiary institutions like the University of Adelaide have innovation programs like the Australian eChallenge Medical Innovations initiative, which is designed to increase innovation within the medical field. The program, which offers cash prizes of up to $10,000, is designed to encourage medical innovations including those that introduce dramatic new capabilities, incremental innovations in existing medical products and processes, or innovations that improve existing medical devices, products or services.
MedicalDirector’s CEO Matt Bardsley said doctors have the potential to be great entrepreneurs and innovators, and posses translatable skills such as being able to build clinical judgement, deal with uncertainty and knowing how to question, observe, connect and associate. But he stresses if doctors have the appetite for new technologies and building entrepreneurship in order to improve the future of healthcare, they need to focus on facts and leave opinions at the door.
“Doctors may have all the skills in theory, to drive innovation, but in practice, there are still some challenges they need to overcome,” he said. "I’ve seen a lot of doctors want to be entrepreneurs, but sometimes opinion can get in the way of driving innovation. And even if doctors are highly intelligent, educated and skilled, an emphasis on opinion over fact could run the risk of driving people away.”
According to Bardsley, the best doctors who are innovators are truly passionate about what they do, caring for patients and enabling better health outcomes. And all the best innovations have arisen from taking the time to seek the facts out and understand the problem that requires the new solution, he said.
“What medical innovators also need to do is to find a better way to understand problems within the healthcare ecosystem,” he said. “This way, opinion and biases matter less, and facts, problems and solutions matter more. And once you have those facts on the table, then you can really get those deeper insights that you need to drive innovation, and open up opportunities to offer creative solutions that are really new and unique.”
A fear-based economy is also driving more accountability and risk mitigation, which Bardsley highlights is something innovators in healthcare need to be particularly mindful of, especially as lives could potentially be at risk.
“The fear-based economy in which we transact in healthcare, means you can’t be entrepreneurial in the same way as other industries, where you have more scope to take some greater level of risk,” he explained. “Because in healthcare, lives are ultimately at stake. In other entrepreneurial fields, if something doesn’t work, you might lose $10,000. In healthcare, if something doesn’t work, a patient might die. So while it sounds great to continue to innovate and build disruptive models of care, we need to be extremely careful of managing the risks around innovation.”
Research networks are a great example of where innovation happens, Bardsley says, where there is a focus on facts and problems, rather than opinion and ego. Another great example of a doctor-turned-entrepreneur is Sam Prince, who built a $300 million food chain empire and made it to the top ten richest young Australians in 2016.
“Not only is he a great entrepreneur, but he has also built a new healthcare model called Next Practice Health, where he is leveraging cloud-based clinical management solution Helix as part of his exciting vision to leverage exceptional technology to re-imagine a new model of care, where GPs and their patients can work together as partners for better health,” Bardsley said.
Tips for taking a medical idea to market
- Do your research, find the facts
- Identify a solution to a specific problem
- Be creative, think outside the box
- Look to other industries for inspiration
- Innovate to enable wellness with risk mitigation at front of mine
- Tap into the potential of the cloud-based technology and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)
- Make sure your idea is sustainable
- Build a team around you
- Examine all funding options