COVID-19 the time for digital health companies to “prove their worth”

Digital startup guru Jessica Federer has called on pharma to see the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to become “better, faster, more agile” by embracing digital health innovations.

Speaking at eyeforpharma Barcelona, which is being run as a virtual conference due to the outbreak, Federer also said that the epidemic is a “time for digital companies to prove their worth”.

“This is the time they get to prove what they can do if given the opportunity, and if they take advantage of that opportunity they have the chance to change the status quo – to make digital health solutions the standard of care when it comes to infectious disease, at the very least.”

Federer, who acts as a mentor to many startups, said that companies working in areas like telecare, AI/natural language processing of COVID-19 literature, and electronic health record sharing will be key during the outbreak.

She used the example of Berlin-based gastrointestinal (GI) healthcare app Cara Care, whose parent company Federer is on the board of.

“Right now because you can’t go to the hospital for non-urgent conditions, we are seeing an increased willingness from populations that normally wouldn’t go to a digital solution first to use one for their GI concerns.

“And once people get used to it – once they’ve downloaded the app and had a good experience with it – they usually stick with it. They wonder why they would ever go outside and wait in a doctor’s waiting room.”

Acknowledging that a lot of startups are struggling in these difficult times, Federer said that those that can really demonstrate what their core capability is and “strip back all the bells and whistles” to show what they do better than anyone else, even in times of crisis, will be the companies that win over customers in the long run. 

Meanwhile, she said she “would challenge pharma to see this as a chance to use a hard time as an opportunity to be better, faster, more agile and different.” 

“We can’t keep doing the same thing we’ve always done because we can’t go to our clinical trial sites, we can’t even leave the house. 

“How do we work around that? There are digital solutions out there that you didn’t have an excuse to work with before, but now there’s no reason you shouldn’t be trying to work with those innovators.

“You can’t miss this opportunity to change what you’re doing and to stop the status quo.”

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