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Technology (alone) is not sufficient to innovate in Digital Health
Interview with our CEO, Francesco Marcellino, to better understand the dynamics of digital health, Datawizard’s activities and the impact of COVID19 on innovation for health.
Where did Datawizard’s business idea come from?
Datawizard’s story is intertwined with that of my professional development. Professionally, I was not born an entrepreneur. I worked in management consulting and IT consulting for 14 years: very satisfying, but at some point the desire to go beyond the limits imposed by a corporate career – a bit like the myth of the Pillars of Hercules – became too great.
So in 2012, together with another partner, I set up my own digital consultancy. A company that now has four offices and employs around 180 people. It was there that I began to navigate the ocean of opportunities offered by the digital frontier. After a short time, however, it became clear to me that one sector in particular would benefit more than any other from the convergence dynamics that digital had unleashed in those years (2008-2012): the healthcare sector.
And so, less than a year after registering the trademark for my first company, I launched another digital health start-up: Datawizard.
Initially, Datawizard was a startup with a very specific challenge: to use open data on medicines to create a valuable service for users. This was the idea behind Pharmawizard, the app that eventually made medicine leaflets ‘readable’ for hundreds of thousands of people. At the time of its launch (2014), it was even the most downloaded app in the health section of digital stores for several weeks, and to date has reached nearly 1 million downloads and subscriptions.
Pharmawizard was the start of many other projects. From this experience we learned a lot about citizen-patient engagement models, health service design, strategies to overcome the obstacles of outdated regulations, loyalty mechanisms, etc.
During our experience at Datawizard, we have deeply explored the market, the technologies and the important needs to be solved, not only with respect to the Italian context.
Today, the company employs people with very different cultural backgrounds and skills: developers, pharmacists, designers who work alongside project managers from Silicon Valley, PhDs in immunology and molecular biologists with decades of experience abroad, plus a network of over 120 research centres, universities and industry experts across Europe who actively collaborate with us to create highly innovative projects. This means that in the course of our consolidation process (from start-up to company), we have acquired 2 important insights: the first is that the challenge of digital health (now and in the years to come) is a long-term and universal one; the second is that to make a difference today, it is very necessary to be open-minded and able to contaminate between different skills, such as between the designer and the doctor.
Could you tell us more about Datawizard’s innovation process?
Datawizard innovates through 3 different lines of action:
The first is a continuous activity of participation in different innovation projects in Europe. We are currently part of 6 European research consortia, one of which is the UNICOM project, a project that has never been undertaken in Europe before and which aims to standardise the nomenclature of medicines, their dispensing and cross-border prescribing. These projects not only bring us into contact with the best digital health experts in Europe, but also provide us with skills and knowledge that can add value to our offerings (platforms and consulting) to the market.
The second line of innovation is the application of Design Thinking and Service Design methodologies and processes to the challenges and insights offered by the market: we involve experts from different fields (doctors, developers, designers) in co-creation sessions designed to stimulate the search for original, competitive and sustainable solutions. With regard to this line of innovation, I would like to mention the partnership we have with Prof. Graffigna and the EnagageMinds HUB, the first Italian multidisciplinary research centre dedicated to the study and promotion of engagement – the active involvement of people in health behaviour and food consumption.
Finally, the third line comes from the market. On a daily basis, we work with and are confronted by all those companies that are orienting their offer portfolio towards the creation of health services as a de-commercialisation lever of their core offer: from insurance companies to banks, from utilities to pharmaceutical companies and telecoms.
These comparisons are fundamental for us in order to turn each project into a sustainable and profitable business idea, as they allow us to complement our vision and our initiatives, born from pure research, with the concreteness of the market and the evolution of its needs.
Beyond these 3 lines of action, the real drivers of our ability to innovate are the curiosity and passion that each person in our team brings to the table.
In order to be truly innovative – and not ‘pose’ as innovative – it is essential to have the ability to change perspectives and to constantly question oneself.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect Datawizard’s business and how was this crisis managed?
The pandemic was a catalyst for Datawizard. Many of our stakeholders (pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, etc.) realised that digitalisation and innovation were hic et nunc and that the time was ripe to break new ground.
From an organisational point of view, Covid-19 has had little impact on our activities: Datawizard has a flexible and decentralised organisational model.
Even before the pandemic, our business calendar was punctuated by remote conference calls and shared projects on collaborative cloud platforms.
Were there any difficult decisions to be made? And what were the lessons learned?
We were not forced to make any drastic decisions, but that depends on a number of factors: the sector we operate in, the flexibility of the organisational model, a robust and diversified business model, and so on.
In any case, this pandemic has also been a learning experience for us. Just think about how the patient experience – the journey – of accessing healthcare services has changed. Talking about the patient journey is an approach that now has very obvious limitations because it excludes many contingent factors; it is a perspective that does not give a clear overview. We have observed, for example, that making a visit, booking a diagnostic test, is not a process triggered solely by individual will (individual journey), but can be an action that corresponds to the final part of a pathway – ‘funnel’ – of social marketing that has persuaded the individual to act for the benefit of a group of individuals. What is being ‘sold’ is responsible and correct behaviour, which requires thinking outside the canon of traditional marketing. Anyone wishing to engage in health marketing today must be able to completely rethink the mechanism of user engagement and avoid easy florileges or parallels with established strategies in other sectors.
How do you manage stress and anxiety in this time of health emergency, and how do you project people and companies into the future?
A lot of resilience, both individually and as a team.
It has often been the case that our increasingly frequent work meetings have begun with a discussion of the current situation, and we have shared our moods on a daily basis. Over the past year, our team has been joined by people from other countries who have suddenly found themselves in a new city, under lockdown, and in a dimension of work far removed from the office. These are conditions that can lead to great stress, which is why I have personally tried to listen more, to understand expectations, fears and needs beyond the sphere of work. It is a simple gesture, but one that makes us feel less alone and helps us overcome the communication problems that can easily hinder the smooth exchange of information in smartworking.
It was tough, but we all came out of it very well. This is what I mean by team resilience.
As I said, the challenge we face is a long-term one. Digital health in Italy, but more generally in the world, does not yet have a real target market, the context is still very liquid and the demand is still rather latent. Essentially, it is supply that stimulates potential demand and not the other way around. We are at the beginning of a new, huge and very interesting market; those taking the first steps are doing so mainly through education and experimentation to find better ways and use cases.
Datawizard’s construction site for 2021 includes the creation of a new digital services platform. This is a very important project, the idea for which was born after a strategic scouting of digital health solutions at a global level. This is a very substantial and solid piece of research, which we intend to publish in a few weeks’ time, in which we have compared products, technologies, markets and business models in an evaluation matrix, following a selection framework linked to an analysis of investment flows.
In the medium term, the discourse is clearly different: our growth strategy in the area of innovation projects remains firm: it is thanks to this activity that we are able to generate new knowledge and test new services on the market to propose to our clients.
Another proof of our positive growth trend is our internal team, which has been strengthened over the last year with the presence of 1 Senior Service Designer with vertical experience in health issues, 2 Data Scientists, 1 PhD of Greek origin with experience in the Netherlands and 1 PhD of Milanese origin with experience in South East Asia.
How is Datawizard positioned in relation to its competitors in the world of Digital Health?
Digital Health is a very specific field and cannot yet be defined as a sector tout court.
To date, Datawizard does not have any direct competitors – able to offer the same services – but rather comparators: companies with similar skills to ours, but applied in other sectors.
On the market, our value lies in a consulting approach that is always focused on the objective: to reinterpret the mechanisms of engagement, re-engagement and activation of users on digital health platforms, knowing how to use innovation, service design and digital development expertise to anchor a project.
Let me give you an example: to date, Datawizard is the only company to be certified by Eheden – https://www.ehden.eu/ – a network working to ensure interoperability and standardisation of health data at European level. Today, if a company wanted to develop a digital project in compliance with European interoperability rules, relevant to the user, to start a digital development and make it a mature business, Datawizard is the only company in Italy, and among the few in Europe, able to realise such a project.
What are your final thoughts on this emergency?
I am almost embarrassed to repeat that this is a difficult period and a crisis, but never, because in an emergency like this you have to remain clear and focused to know how to interpret this moment as a phase.
I would like to remind you of the words of two great scientists of the 20th century:
“In the midst of difficulties there are possibilities.” (A. Einstein)
“Do not fear the difficult moments. The best comes from them.” (R.L. Montalcini)
Montalcini and Einstein, in addition to being extraordinary intellects, suffered profound injustices during their lives, as well as living through 2 world wars, the Spanish flu pandemic, the crisis of ’29…
Perhaps today, before giving in to fears and anxieties, we should remember the profound message that these people gave us with these words.
The importance of patient centricity for pharmaceutical companies
The importance of patient centricity for pharmaceutical companies
Patient Centricity has long been an element that healthcare and pharmaceutical companies can no longer afford to ignore. Digital transformation has accelerated changes in the relationship between patients and healthcare companies.
As has already happened in several other sectors, patients, like consumers in general, have become more empowered and informed, and it would be a mistake to still consider them as passive users of therapies prescribed by doctors. Today, more than ever, there is a shift in objectives and strategies in the healthcare market. The pharmaceutical world is therefore also a protagonist in this evolution, which affects the way in which companies relate to and communicate with patients. In an increasingly crowded and competitive scenario, pharmaceutical companies can no longer limit their communication to their interlocutors alone, but must dialogue more and better with healthcare users through a multi-channel approach.
Digital transformation also means empowering patients
An effective patient-centric strategy must address the growing empowerment of patients. According to a recent EU survey, one in two EU citizens (55%) said they had searched for health-related information online, and 20% had made an appointment with a healthcare professional online. Many now come to their doctor’s appointment having already done their research, and continue to do so after diagnosis.
Therefore, multi-channel interaction with patients requires careful analysis of the customer journey. The answers to their expectations must be easy to find, perceived as reliable and therefore useful, thanks to quality content that adds value to the “informed” patient who wants to feel like an active protagonist of his or her own treatment path.
The future of patient engagement
The pharmaceutical industry will gain significant value across the value chain by focusing on patient-centric initiatives. A valuable patient experience helps patients better manage their diagnosed conditions and adhere to treatments to improve their health.
Pharmaceutical companies are beginning to recognise the new power of patients and are striving to put patient engagement at the heart of their business models. Patients, like consumers in general, are not all the same, so patient engagement is also a complex challenge for companies and marketers.
What can the pharmaceutical industry do to unlock its value potential and develop a more human-centred approach?
Why is Continuous Patient Engagement so relevant?
Why is Continuous Patient Engagement so relevant?
The pandemic has given a strong impetus to the implementation and adoption of digital tools in daily clinical practice by demonstrating the effectiveness of individual services such as telehealth, online booking, electronic prescription sharing, video consultation and more.
From a paradigm shift to a role change
We are experiencing an epochal change characterised by a shift from reactive to active and continuous health management. The logics of use of services will change, shifting part of the management of therapies from the hospital to the patient’s home
- General practitioners will increasingly be managers of the health of their patients and it will be necessary to help them support this transformation
- The great and expected availability of data and devices will lead to a push for change in reimbursement systems.
- Major changes that may represent great opportunities for companies that are ready to seize them.
A new role for Patients
Digitalisation and its tools are therefore enabling tools that can improve and amplify the relationship between the doctor and the patient. A relationship that evolves from a patriarchal relationship of the doctor towards the patient to one of continuous partnership for the achievement of the common goal: the patient’s health.
The patient thus becomes an active part of the care pathway thanks to the guidance and support of the doctor within a digital and secure environment, designed through an analysis of the needs of both parties involved.
Changing patient habits
According to recent research promoted by PWC, 33% of Italians monitor their lifestyle through apps;
- 22% use them to remind themselves to take a medication;
- 21% use them to keep track of their clinical parameters.
Also emblematic of this new attitude is the fact that 80% of Italians now say they want to use digital platforms to interact with their doctors.
According to recent research by the Milan Polytechnic, 73% of users make decisions about their health based on information found on the Internet.
So, why is Patient Engagement so relevant?
Datawizard supports companies in creating and delivering a personalised, data-driven health experience. Contact us at email@example.com
Consumer Health Tech Company: the world’s largest company of the future
Consumer Health Tech Company: the world's largest company of the future
Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm founded in 2009, claims that the largest company in the world will be a consumer health tech company.
Today, four of the five largest companies in the world are consumer companies, and healthcare remains one of the most important sectors. Each of these companies – Google, Apple, Meta, Amazon (GAMA for short) – has recognised the huge opportunity in healthcare and is working to be part of it. But healthcare is complex and not the focus of the 4 giants, so apart from marginal acquisitions, we cannot expect any of them to win the race to own healthcare.
On the other hand, the world’s largest healthcare company, UnitedHealth Group, is not a technology company and its poor consumer engagement will always limit its potential (its Net Promoter Score, a tool to measure customer satisfaction, is actually 4 out of 10).
The core competency of a healthcare company should be the ability to #involve and #frustrate patients by putting them first.
How to get there:
Today, for a consumer health startup with ambitions to become the largest company in the world, there are two alternatives:
(a) a vertical integration path of building a ‘payvidor’ (a combination of payor and provider) that eventually owns most of the care
(b) a horizontal path of building a consumer market or infrastructure layer that serves all other healthcare companies (an Amazon or a Visa of healthcare).
A vertical path:
Imagine if UnitedHealth Group and Apple had a child, with UHG’s business model (a vertically integrated health insurer and provider) but with Apple’s elegant consumer experience and brand loyalty. It would be hard to argue that this would not be the greatest company in the world. (Employees would ask their employers to offer it; seniors would choose its Medicare Advantage plan without a second thought.
There is a reason this company does not yet exist, and it is the same reason the consumer experience in healthcare is terrible: third-party payers. Since consumers generally do not pay directly for health care, the system has been optimised for the real payers: health insurance companies and self-insured employers. In other words, the conventional wisdom is that there is no need for a health care provider or system to worry much about the consumer experience because consumers are not the ultimate purchasers, but insurance companies are. Insurance companies tell consumers where they can get care and how much they will pay for it, so there is no free market dynamic.
A horizontal way:
We then consider how a consumer marketplace or infrastructure layer can become the largest company in the world by serving all other healthcare companies. We see two main ways to become the largest company through a horizontal transaction in healthcare: one is to become the Amazon of healthcare, the other is to become the Visa of healthcare.
If you want to buy something, you most likely go to Amazon, search for the product, evaluate options from around the world by comparing prices and reliable reviews, and then complete the purchase. This magical experience does not exist in healthcare. When a person needs to find a doctor or book a medical procedure, they have many inferior options, ranging from Googling “allergist near me” to listing their insurance company’s providers. People have little or no knowledge of cost and quality. The experience of finding the cheapest option for their medication or the best health insurance is no better. That is why we need an Amazon of healthcare, a universal place where people can buy health services, insurance and medicines, with reliable reviews, quality benchmarks and price transparency.
Today, partly as a result of the strong digital push from the pandemic in recent years, there is an infinite space to improve the consumer experience in healthcare and, as a result, to build big companies. Many large healthcare companies will be built on both models, vertically and horizontally integrated. The largest companies in the world are consumer companies that have emerged from relatively small sectors. The scale of the healthcare sector could support many more companies beyond the four of Google, Apple, Meta, Amazon. These companies will become the new reality in the healthcare landscape for people, and we are ready to embrace them and work on new challenges.
Voice4health: using voice assistants to promote positive ageing
Voice4health: using voice assistants to promote positive ageing
The health emergency caused by the pandemic has highlighted the importance of factors contributing to active ageing, defined as a process of optimising health, social participation and security to improve the quality of life of older people.
Datawizard, in collaboration with the EngageMinds HUB research centre of the Università Cattolica and with an unconditional contribution from Amazon, conducted a study to evaluate the effectiveness of a self-help psychological protocol supported by the use of voice-activated intelligent personal assistants to promote well-being and active ageing in the elderly population.
“We were the first promoter of this project for Amazon Europe and the research data we examined was very significant,” said Dr Riccardo Emmolo, Digital Strategist at Datawizard, who co-designed and implemented the experiment with EMH.
The study showed that despite the fact that older people are less accustomed to using technology, they benefit from voice assistants by improving their quality of life, well-being and reducing their sense of loneliness.
Voice4health’s findings confirm a fairly clear picture:
In the next 2-3 years, digital technologies will have
a decisive impact on the so-called “Silver economy”.
Specifically, voice assistants, but more generally any communication device equipped with artificial intelligence, are increasingly effective tools for identifying potential health problems, but also for breaking down barriers and difficulties that make many older people demotivated and more vulnerable to social isolation, a phenomenon that often precedes cognitive decline and other health problems.
The voice: a cheap interface for the elderly
During the experiment, it was interesting to observe how voice turned out to be a “cheap interface” for older people: it requires little learning and leaves the person free to perform other tasks or to adopt comfortable positions. This once again confirms the importance of designing ‘digital experiences’ – not just services – that can improve their lives, their relationships, their habits, the way they care for themselves and their self-sufficiency.
Indeed, the study highlights the potential of intelligent voice assistants not only to support people in their daily activities, but also to contribute to their well-being.
Voice4health: a scientifically validated research protocol
Datawizard, together with the EMH test centre, was responsible for the design and implementation of the experiment, which was based on a research protocol involving four interviews at two-week intervals for each participant using the CATI method.
The experiment, conducted over a six-week period, used a ‘one-to-one’ methodology: each participant was assigned a reference operator to administer the questionnaire.
This approach encouraged a positive attitude towards telephone contact from the participants, and provided direct evidence of the contribution to change made by the Alexa voice assistant on the days when the subjects became familiar with the device.
The Voice4health study used scientific tools to investigate whether the use of these devices by older people could contribute to improving their quality of life, in addition to facilitating many daily activities.
And the results, although still preliminary, are more than encouraging. The study involved 60 men and women aged between 65 and 80. At the end of the six-week trial, three out of four people experienced an increase in well-being, both in general and in emotional and relational terms.
What’s more, the people who took part in the study – which followed a scientifically validated research protocol involving the use of the Alexa voice assistant – reported a significant reduction in psychological stress and an improvement in their personal attitude towards the use of technology.
This research comes from a “secret garden”
From a methodological point of view, the scientific matrix that gave rise to this research is derived from another protocol called “The Secret Garden” (www.covidfeelgood.com), the results of which have already been published internationally. This is an immersive video that simulates a natural environment and is designed to promote relaxation and self-reflection. This was complemented by a series of exercises using the features of the voice assistant used in the study: games, music, video calls, questions and answers, news and more.
During the first week of the study, participants were asked to complete a series of exercises based on the voice assistant’s applications; during the second week, they were free to use the device as they wished. During the second week, they were free to use the device as they wished, as long as they kept a diary of their actions and feelings, which the Catholic University researchers analysed along with four questionnaires at the end of the six weeks.
Alexa could be a tool to counteract the isolation and feelings of inadequacy experienced by older people as their autonomy and sociality decline.
The encouraging results of the latest study draw attention to the importance of adapting and including older people in today’s increasingly digital society. The use of the Alexa voice assistant also proved useful in bringing older people closer to their loved ones, providing an effective bridge to younger generations – such as their grandchildren.