Stop the tambourines: Digital health needs to grow up

Steve Dodsworth – CEO at Digital Health consultancy D-Health gives a very interesting overview on the adoption of Digital Health and the challenges the industry faces.

I started my journey from life sciences into digital health in 2008. Jeremy started his journey somewhat earlier. Although having taken different paths, along the way, we have both experienced the highs and lows of commerce and the challenges of planning and executing technology enabled projects.

So here we are in 2015 having been fully immersed in digital health for a number of years acting as a neutral party; having helped everyone from start-ups to corporates, through retailers to charities, governments and public sector service providers. I think we see digital health in a very different way to many in the sector. Last year, we racked up over 1200 face to face meetings in addition to VOIP and phone calls and as such, I would suggest we have a pretty good overview of digital health. We want digital health to grow but we have become some of the biggest sceptics in the process.

This is a tough market whether you’re in industry, government or service provision. It is complex with many obstacles to navigate. It requires diverse knowledge and skill sets which few, if any organisations possess in their entirety. We empathise with anyone having a difficult journey in this space but we see truly remarkable dynamics in this sector which simply aren’t helping anyone.

We didn’t believe the market reports that indicated exponential growth in the various aspects of digital health in 2012. We find it hard to believe the reports being published now. We know that the market drivers are significant, the pressure is growing and digital health will one day be the way that healthcare is delivered but at present, the reality on the ground is very different. We still simply don’t see at scale deployments. We still don’t hear of too much money being made (with some notable exceptions).

How does this happen?

Firstly, there are many reasons why digital health hasn’t grown as rapidly as many had predicted. We listed close to 40 barriers to growth in 2013 and most of them are still with us. Once you’re aware of these, you can make informed plans but that awareness still isn’t wide spread. There are other factors that have become more evident to us in the last few years.

Let’s learn from the biotech bubble and the dotcom crash. They happened, investors lost money, business went bust but in the end, biotech is still a global industry and we don’t refer to dotcom companies any more – business has simply become digitally enabled. Did the market research companies predict these phenomena? To an extent, market reports simply justify what purchasers want to believe. Even worse, when reports are based on surveys, the hype and excitement in the market is simply reflected back to those purchasing reports; self-fulfilling prophecies.

There is a growing band of execs who entered the market early, informed by some very expensive reports but they simply mis-understood the market’s dynamics. We all know that digital health will be massive but why not save yourself some money, take the time and trouble to gain some in-depth understanding? Work out which segments will grow and why. Work out why the practises that have been successful in one sector won’t work in this new market that is melting pot of healthcare, life science, consumer psychology and consumer electronics. We never see this thinking from what are, after all, generic market research companies and it’s beginning to damage our sector.

And what of the champions? Every emerging sector needs its champions but when their voices don’t reflect the reality of their markets, they start to breed scepticism outside of their immediate following. Worse still, for those who believe the hype and excitement and promote thinking and initiatives that aren’t grounded in the hard reality of the market, businesses and careers are put at risk. Whilst shaking the tambourine and leading the dance is always in the interest of those making money from those orchestrating proceedings, those dancing to their tune unwittingly provide ammunition for sceptics to block much needed progress. In the last few years we have seen the vast majority of businesses and business units either struggle or fail. We have seen digital health initiatives stall at the pilot phase within healthcare providers. We have, however, found a few excellent people and excellent organisations who are dancing to their own tune who are finding success and are well positioned for the inevitable growth in the sector. They can see the merry dance for what it is.

Business is tough and I have a great deal of respect for anyone entering the arena. That said, for the majority of start-ups we meet, we simply smile and wish them well; they’re doomed to struggle or fail. No one is born with experience but if you’re in business, you need to adhere to basic business principles as well as understand this challenging and complex market. Sadly, it’s difficult to do this when you’re “dancing to the tune”.

When I first started my journey in 2008 I felt more connected to my youth than old age. As I write now, I am developing a very different perspective and I haven’t seen the market progress in a way that bolsters my confidence about growing older. I understand what unsustainable healthcare means and I really haven’t seen digital health play a meaningful role in the transition to sustainability since I’ve been in this industry. I’ve been lucky in avoiding significant health-related crises over the years in family and friends but more recently my luck has changed. There’s nothing like first-hand experience to help crystallise how things have to change.

For every failure, the necessary transition to new and sustainable healthcare systems is delayed. We can’t afford this. The stakes are high. To be dependent on unsustainable healthcare will result in human misery and the clock is ticking. We need digital health to grow quickly and sensibly. We need business to grow based on real world, valuable innovation. We need healthcare providers to learn quickly and plan realistically.

We need the cheer leading to stop. We need the tambourines silenced. It’s time for digital health to grow up and make an impact on the real world. It’s within our capability.


D Health is making digital healthcare happen by:  

•Helping companies commercialise technology and increase sales

•Helping healthcare providers design and implement digitally enabled services

•Helping organisations develop business models, business cases and strategies for digital healthcare 

Visit for more information and to contact Steve.



Paul Budd

Co-Founder and Business Development Director

Paul is an experienced sales & marketing leader within the healthcare sector and is a Co-Founder of Salus Digital. He is a Digital Health enthusiast with a passion for extending the reach of technology to improve patient’s lives and reduce the strain on healthcare services.

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  • Daniel Calvert

    Well said!

  • D Health

    Let me comment that this was an article that was perhaps not received favourably by everyone at the time… the message is more readily received for some when one of the major consultancies delivers a similar message: Accenture “Half of all digital health start-ups will fail”

    We formed D health to help organisations move digital health forward – but we can only work with organisations grounded in reality. Let’s hope that statistic (and the pain that goes with it) reduces quickly.