VP Digital Marketing at Itamar-Medical | Digital Health Expert | Business Growth Mentor | mHealth Israel | G-CMO
While Covid-19 was the catalyst for the shift to remote monitoring and telemedicine, its importance will not fade even after the pandemic is finally over. Forecasters at Polaris Market Research project that the U.S. telemedicine market will surge in value, from $6.61 billion in 2019 to $17.14 billion in 2026, with that growth driven in large part by the recent expansion of telehealth services.
Telemedicine (and remote monitoring) can make health services more accessible and convenient for those who need care to actually seek it out. This is especially important in sleep medicine. A Frost & Sullivan analysis prepared for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) in 2016 found that while an estimated 12% of the U.S. adult population suffers from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), 80% of those with the condition — some 23.5 million Americans — go undiagnosed.
This February, the AASM issued a position paper endorsing home sleep apnea tests (HSATs), provided that “a technically adequate device can be used.” The AASM noted that polysomnography (PSG) is the gold standard for diagnosing OSA, an illness linked to conditions including diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, new advances in medical technology, like the solutions offered by the company I work for, Itamar Medical, make it possible for home-based tests to meet the standards set by PSG.
Sleep Medicine’s New Triggered Reality
As I stated in a previous article, “the problem was never a lack of technology, but a lack of understanding of market barriers to scale tech offering solutions.” Timing is everything, and with nearly three-quarters of sleep labs having halted in-lab studies during the pandemic and the AASM endorsement of home-based tests, we now have a unique chance to reach our audiences. And I believe we also have an obligation to address the unreasonable 80% of undiagnosed OSA cases, as well as others who suffer from sleep disorders.
In my opinion, both product and marketing leaders of companies that develop apps, wearables, medical devices, digital health technology portfolios or even marketplaces for therapists have a unique window of opportunity with this new triggered reality of sleep medicine:
• There is value in joining forces to effectively educate audiences about sleep health, sleep disorders and better care.
• There is space to promote scalable, cost-effective and accessible solutions to patients suffering from sleep disorders in general, and as a therapeutic component for chronic disease management in particular.
Regardless, I believe that successful healthcare tech companies, more than ever, will be the ones that work to better organize the healthcare system, building on a community of partners. We need the apps and the wearables to raise awareness; we need medical devices to provide diagnostics; we need digital health platforms to integrate the processes and analytics to measure progress and success; we need therapist marketplaces to continuously reach, engage and build trust with our audiences.
Build By Educating Your Audience
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-third of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep, and this comes at a heavy price to economic performance. A 2016 Rand Corporation study found that the consequences of insufficient sleep — lost productivity and comorbidities like heart disease, stroke and hypertension — collectively cost the United States economy between $280 billion and $411 billion each year.
With a lack of quality sleep being a risk factor to so many chronic diseases, we should expect this topic to be raised to the same levels as high blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating. The process has indeed started, but in an industry like healthcare, as Allen Karp, the executive vice president of healthcare management and transformation at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, stated, “When you make a systemic change … and particularly when you’re changing the economic model, it takes time. It takes preparation. It takes work. And it takes a lot of collaboration.”
I believe the momentum created by the pandemic will accelerate the change, and we must focus on simplifying the healthcare pathway (rather than selling technology) and develop trustful alliances based on common goals and partners’ assets to overcome the resistances and bureaucracies on the way.
Scaling Up While Expanding The Offering
Our industry can learn some lessons from Livongo, a company I’ve been following throughout my career, and its approach to growth strategy planning. On the one hand, its mission to build excellent relationships in the U.S. guarantees its sales targets with the paying part of the market. On the other hand, the company has made decisions to invest a large amount of time, money and resources in expanding its offerings to members. Livongo’s strategy included three acquisitions: a diabetes management company in 2017, a weight management company in 2018 and a behavioral health management company in 2019. These acquisitions, among other partnerships, have guaranteed growth at an amazing pace.
When having conversations with my peers, we often discuss the trade-off between expanding product offering and increasing sales numbers, while managing the company’s bottom line. So, why not ramp up our capabilities and expand our business scenarios via partnerships and acquisitions? In my opinion, this will not only accelerate growth, but also create unique long-term market value.
Not all discussions will lead to acquisitions, and not all partnerships will succeed. But as marketers and product leaders, we should all have a list of synergies we want to explore to reach more people, provide better services and help those struggling with sleep disorders.
Better Sleep Is The Goal
Expanding access to home-based sleep medicine services has the potential to usher in dramatic improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions like OSA and other sleep disorders. The pandemic has accelerated adoption and acquainted clinicians and patients alike with the benefits of sleep telemedicine and home-based testing.
At a time when audiences are listening, product leaders and marketers have a chance to secure alliances and partnerships to tap larger markets and work toward solving the paradox of sleep.
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