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What's a problem in health care that tech can't solve?

What's a problem in health care that tech can't solve?

Stigmatized issues and cross-system collaboration have still evaded tech solutions to date, members of the Braintrust say.

Good afternoon! With so many advancements in health tech in the last few years, we wanted to pivot and ask a different kind of question of health care experts. Questions or comments? Send us a note at

Amit Phadnis

Chief Digital Officer at GE Healthcare

While technology has immensely improved health care, driving more informed decisions, better and more accessible treatment and operational efficiencies, it is not a panacea for one of biggest healthcare issues we face today: stigmatized public health crisis. From mental illness to obesity and opioids, the statistics are alarming. Today, nearly 1 billion people live with a mental disorder, and in low-income countries, more than 75% of people with the disorder do not receive treatment. Every year, close to 3 million people die due to substance abuse. And, according to the World Health Organization, the pandemic has disrupted or, in some cases, halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide, while the demand for mental health is only increasing.

These stigmatized issues are not interpersonal; they equate to a health crisis. These individuals die younger, are often misdiagnosed when prejudice comes into play or simply do not receive the proper care they need. While there are no easy answers, education and investment in early intervention can be used to reduce the stigma caused by society's misunderstanding and fear. As a society, demystification of these issues and acceptance is the ultimate goal. The human element of empathy and understanding cannot be overstated in ultimately enabling health care workers and accordingly systems to seriously address the misunderstandings and reduced standard of care received by people with these issues. Until that happens the stigma can not be eliminated.

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Deena Shakir

Partner at Lux Capital

Unfortunately, America's health system is mired in historic, persistent and endemic structural inequities — from systemic racism in R&D and care delivery to racial and gender bias in the operating room. If thoughtfully designed in partnership with the right stakeholders, technology has the opportunity to help bridge some of these gaps; but it can also exacerbate them.

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Doug Hirsch

Co-Founder/Co-CEO at GoodRx

I believe that technology is going to solve most of the problems facing the American health care system. From cutting wait times to creating vaccines in record time, technology should enable better, more affordable, more convenient care for patients.

But what tech can't do is change the will and perseverance to fix things that are broken. Tech has no moral compass; it can't determine right from wrong or choose where to focus itself — at least not yet. It's up to us to decide which problems to solve and then take the necessary steps to solve them, from an industry, societal and legislative perspective.

Amid a contentious political landscape, we have to decide whether to invest in preventing versus treating serious health conditions. We have to create laws that encourage innovation and competition while also ensuring Americans have access to the care they need. Today, it often feels like technology in health care is working in spite of legislation, versus working together to achieve the common goal of improving the health of our population.

As entrepreneurs and innovators, we must continue to be the judges of which problems are worth investing in. Technology cannot be the judge for us. It can do the job, but we must put it to work.

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Kelly Haenlein

Global Head, Personalized Healthcare Ecosystems at Roche

Despite recent innovations in technology, health care systems are not always able to capture their full value, which can perpetuate health disparities and inequality of care. In order to cultivate sustainable health care systems that deliver improved experiences and better health outcomes, we must leverage the most advanced technology, yes, but health care ecosystem stakeholders must also overcome individual interests and collaborate.

Many countries currently lack the appropriate infrastructure to deliver personalized health care. By building and implementing a more integrated model — one that marries advances in data, analytics and digital technology with transformative changes in healthcare delivery and public policy, we can achieve the speed, scale and efficiency needed to deliver high-quality care targeted to an individual's unique needs, while minimizing current waste and inefficiencies. For patients, this means getting the right care at the right time. For society, this means healthier communities at lower costs. To achieve this, though, partnership is essential.

As an example, in Australia, Roche is partnered with the Ministry of Health, the Australasian Lung Cancer Trials Group, Omico (formerly the Australian Genomic Cancer Medicine Centre) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Clinical Trials Centre to support a clinical trial for patients with a certain type of advanced lung cancer. In addition to potentially improving outcomes for a diagnosis with unusually low survival, this trial, co-funded by Roche and the Ministry of Health, will serve as a blueprint for how personalized health care can become a standard of care in treating cancer in Australia.

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Caroline Savello

Chief Commercial Officer at Color

So much of healthcare is inherently physical: receiving a shot, performing an x-ray, drawing a sample. Technology can make these all a better experience by improving speed or cost-effectiveness or user experience, but it can't ever replace the fact that we are dealing with bodies.

The infrastructure we build for healthcare must be hybrid – even though it so often isn't. Most of healthcare has either gone entirely virtual, or has failed completely to evolve beyond the inherently physical, requiring highly trained professionals to spend time on services that technology could instead improve.

We've seen this with genetic counseling: highly trained and incredibly empathetic clinicians can support seven times more patients when we reimagine and simplify their workflows through technology. We've taken the same approach with vaccination clinics: the scalability of vaccine delivery during this public health crisis is limited by its very physical nature, but technology dramatically increases vaccine accessibility when we use it to reduce the friction of signing up, and to simplify onsite workflows of high-throughput vaccine administration for frontline healthcare workers, decreasing the burden of long, intense clinic days.

Technology will never replace the inherently physical, but it is necessary for us to scale the human impact of health care.

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See who's who in the Protocol Braintrust and browse every previous edition by category here (Updated Sept. 2, 2021).
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