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Why I Disagree With Google’s Founders About the Healthcare Market

Google’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, were recently asked at a conference if they could imagine Google becoming a healthcare company. They both said “no” and explained their reasoning as follows. Brin felt the regulatory obstacles would “dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs” from entering the market and added “it’s just a painful business to be in.” Page gave an example of what he thought could be a useful medical research tool and said “that’s almost impossible to do because of HIPAA.”

Well, I am an entrepreneur and I am not dissuaded. In fact, as CEO of Redspin, an IT security company, I decided 3 years ago that the healthcare market presented us with our greatest opportunity. Government legislation actually helped convinced me of that. Since the 2009 HITECH Act, the adoption and use of information technology in healthcare has accelerated dramatically. Hospitals and other providers are moving in droves from paper to electronic medical records (EMRs). I’ve dedicated Redspin to help them protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of patient data by improving the security of their infrastructure.

Although the IT transformation of healthcare is still in its infancy, it has already enabled both doctors and patients to be more informed than ever. IT systems provide clinicians with real-time access to patient data, improving decision support for diagnosis and treatment. The burgeoning amount of patient data now collected and stored will spur the development of life-saving innovations made only possible by “big data.” In addition, the expanded use of IT streamlines business processes and reduces administrative overhead. These trends lead forecasters to project that the healthcare IT market will grow from $21.9 billion in 2012 to $31.3 billion by 2017 (Research and Markets’ North American Healthcare IT Market Report 2013-2017).

Will regulations slow IT adoption? Almost everyone agrees that the regulatory environment is a burden. Sergey Brin sees it as “painful” and “not necessarily where I want to spend my time.” So it’s not likely in Google’s plans. I look at the obstacles and see a challenge. We need more people working on the fix not less. Keep this in mind: The Commonwealth Fund’s June 2014 Healthcare Update reports that the U.S. spends nearly 20% of its annual GDP on healthcare and almost double the per capita spending of 10 other industrialized nations. Yet we rank dead last among that same group in the performance of our healthcare system.

The people that work in healthcare in the U.S are fantastic, among the most competent and compassionate people I’ve ever met. It is an honor and privilege to be of service to them. It’s the system that is badly broken. I believe solving the U.S. “healthcare crisis” is the greatest challenge of our generation. It’s a complex, hard, and frustrating problem – but we’re all in it together. It involves politics, economics, business, and societal change. It also effects every individual on a deeply personal level. Over the course of our lives, we are all patients. When we get sick or a family member is ailing, we all want the best healthcare possible to be available.

Unlike Larry Page, I can’t accept that something is “nearly impossible because of HIPAA.” HIPAA is just words on paper. Regulations can be changed. We need the best and the brightest building healthcare solutions, not just targeted advertising algorithms or cool social media apps. If we can develop compelling applications that can save lives by lowering infant mortality or better treat chronic diseases such as diabetes, I believe we can marshal the political will to change regulations.

This is the best kind of opportunity for innovation. In the healthcare market, we get to spend our time helping ourselves, our citizens, our economy, our country, ultimately humanity itself. For all you entrepreneurs out there, there’s your mission statement. If you can do that – don’t worry, the money will follow. And your personal satisfaction levels will be off the charts.

Our healthcare system needs to get healthy.

This Post Has One Comment
  1. With all the shouting going on about America’s health care crisis, many are probably finding it difficult to concentrate, much less understand the cause of the problems confronting us. I find myself dismayed at the tone of the discussion (though I understand it—people are scared) as well as bemused that anyone would presume themselves sufficiently qualified to know how to best improve our health care system simply because they’ve encountered it, when people who’ve spent entire careers studying it (and I don’t mean politicians) aren’t sure what to do themselves.

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