Healthcare’s Digital Destination – 3 Lessons from Automotive and Consumer Tech

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Whether Henry Ford actually said this famous quote, or not, the attribution remains attached to him, most likely due to how provocative it is, pitting single visionary, intuitive leadership against a more collaborative wisdom of crowds. Almost a century later, Steve Jobs told BusinessWeek, “A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

What both statements speak to is an understanding of the interplay of motivations behind customers’ wants and needs. Pre-Model T Ford customers needed greater mobility. Ford figured out what they really wanted: easier, faster, plentiful and more affordable cars. The dynamic remains relatively the same for their great great-grandkids in 2020. 

Today, cars have basically become computers on wheels and alternative business models (i.e., ridesharing) are transforming the way we are being transported. In the consumer tech world, the telephone, originally purposed simply to connect one voice with another now serves multiple avenues of engagement, including mobile entertainment, photography and videography, navigation, plus health tracking too. We need some of that, but now we want it all.

Innovative new technology has been the driver in both the automotive and consumer technology industries and now it’s healthcare’s turn as digital health technology transforms the patient experience and healthcare products behave much more like consumer products. The industry has entered fresh ground, inspiring old companies to embrace new approaches in their mission to improve healthcare and optimize patient outcomes.

Still, many traditional healthcare companies continue to be slow at incorporating the latest technological advancements into their solutions, a consequence due to a combination of factors, not the least of which are regulatory concerns. Even so, considering the pace of today's industry, any additional hesitancy may be hard to recover from.

Meanwhile, the sector has attracted eager new players: a formidable mix of both large high-tech companies and start-ups laser-focused on better fulfilling customer wants and needs with innovative healthcare solutions. Apple recently introduced its newest OS for their watch featuring enhanced sleep tracking, fitness coaching and advances in biometric monitoring. Amazon has rolled up its sleeves to revolutionize the pharmaceutical supply chain. Google is studying the use of artificial intelligence to assist in diagnosing cancer, predicting patient outcomes, preventing blindness and much more. Microsoft has been an aggressive investor on the data side of the business in a bid to provide healthcare companies with a safe place to store their data and help them better harness that information too. In 2019, both Google, and Microsoft made massive investments in digital health startups. Currently, the combined market cap of these four tech firms hovers around $5 trillion. They’ve got a lot of muscle and they’re using it.

In the past, we’ve explored potential obstacles to the future of digital health. Even though trends are shifting in favor of more widespread adoption, there’s more urgency than ever. Improvements in therapy have traditionally been the primary driver in healthcare, but today technological innovations are increasingly taking the wheel. As healthcare OEMs pivot further into a marketplace wanting and demanding more digital solutions, there’s much to be learned looking in the rear-view mirror at recent performance from the auto industry. Eyes forward, however, it’s the nimble, customer-focused technology franchises with equally valuable travel tips. 

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Here are three key observations from automotive and consumer-tech to help healthcare companies navigate the road ahead:

Lesson #1: Connectivity Has Changed Everything

The Internet of Things (IoT) increasingly connects everyone and everything thanks to inexpensive processing power, the growth in cloud computing, manufacturing expertise with miniaturization and lots and lots of sensors. According to some current estimates, by the year 2030 there will be 24 billion connected things generating revenue in excess $1.5 trillion (USD) worldwide.

In the automotive industry, digital technologies now provide us with a range of entertainment options, sophisticated navigation and communication capabilities, monitoring for fuel consumption, tire wear and other diagnostics, as well as driving performance nudges to keep us safer. Driverless cars have emerged from future concept to wheels on the ground and an estimated market of $60 billion, (USD) by 2030.

In healthcare, across all domains and applications, the increasing use and acceptance of biometric trackers, portable diagnostics devices and remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices is building out a broad connected infrastructure enabling greater efficiency for providers, more value for payers and positioning the patient essentially as the point-of-care. In both cases, automotive and healthcare, it’s the electronics pushing the pace. Connectivity is changing everything. It hasn’t been dramatic new engines or chassis designs driving car sales as much as CarPlay. Automotive OEMs responded by rethinking product designs and shifting to a modular approach. 

Modular Product Architecture

For years, automakers were re-engineering their core products approximately once every seven years, with noticeable updates every three years. The market pressure to keep pace with the evolutions of newer connected technology has accelerated the rate of upgrades and in turn further bolstered the rationale for modular design. Think of it this way: while the needs for mobility are being addressed by mechanical engineers, the connectivity and communication wants are what’s driving new product cycles and ringing up sales at the dealership.

Healthcare shares much in common with the automotive industry. Rigorous product-development practices; complex supply chains; and the way that strict regulatory practices shape and inform a conservative orientation valuing consistency, quality and the minimization of risk over exciting new innovative bells and whistles. The fast and often disruptive pace of software upgrades and new communications protocols has required a culture shift for both. Healthcare companies need to catch up to what auto OEMs have already learned – the recognition that technology’s role in the industry’s products and services will not be diminishing. In fact, acceleration through quickly turned electronics product cycles means healthcare companies need to completely re-imagine supply chains to protect from risk of parts going end-of-life (EOL).

Supply Chain Management

A modular design strategy has proven to be an effective hedge against risks (like component shortages), in increasingly complex global supply chains. This is true for all industries with connected technology, not just automotive, consumer tech or healthcare. In an era of accelerating innovation, healthcare products with 8 to 10-year lifecycles, full of legacy components are running enormous financial risks within their supply chains.

Whether the products support new therapy solutions, like continuous glucose monitoring for diabetes patients or ones that include technologies built from EOL components, that won’t be able to be sourced in the future, the continued availability of critical lifesaving products requires vigilance with procurement and flexible, strategic product roadmaps. The goal is to plan for technologies throughout the supply chain and product lifecycle. Once again, a modular approach is surfacing as the most practical solution. 

Also, by isolating ‘upgrades’ to the electronics, or other connectivity innovations, healthcare companies effectively manage their new designs around aspects of their product that aren’t as sensitive to compliance constraints.

This provides healthcare OEMs the ability to be more agile as technologies like artificial intelligence and 5G emerge. It enables reuse and incremental changes. It also allows companies to decrease costs, simplify innovation and keep pace with technological change.

Additive Manufacturing Solutions

Perhaps no emerging capability has more immediate impact on today’s need for agility than additive manufacturing (AM). The automotive industry has integrated additive technology to its manufacturing mix across multiple areas, including mass production, early prototyping and design, tooling and vehicle service and maintenance.

In our 2019 Additive Manufacturing Trends survey, medical devices and healthcare engineers were the most excited about the design freedom allowed by 3D printing, with almost 70% of surveyed individuals reporting this benefit. Although Jabil engineers were not interviewed as part of the survey, they have experienced this firsthand.

As your designers and engineers have gained experience with 3D printing, how have they reacted?

(Source: Jabil's 2019 Additive Manufacturing Trends Survey)

They are delighted with the increased design freedom

New processes and approaches have increased creativity

Jabil successfully accelerated the development of a proof-of-concept pressure-sensing heart catheter from scratch, aided by the rapid prototyping capabilities of 3D printing. This enabled the engineers to create new design iterations in a few days instead of weeks or months. But that’s not all that additive manufacturing can do to help companies keep pace in fast-paced markets.

Additive can also offer a solution for components that are in short supply or going EOL as opposed to ordering costly large runs of a component. In other words, AM makes possible manufacturing to ‘a unit of one.’ Automotive and aerospace are already leveraging capabilities for this purpose. Other AM benefits include:

  • Portfolio expansion: rapid prototyping makes it easier to expand offerings
  • Mass personalization: allows multiple, custom designs to be produced in one build
  • Part consolidation: can reduce production costs as well as assist surgeons by decreasing the number of in-theatre parts and risk of human error
  • Greater design freedom: removes barriers for Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM), enabling the design of new features that benefit both patients and surgeons.

Lesson #2: Partner to Prosper in the Ecosystem Model

Connectivity has transformed automotive away from its vertically integrated roots into a complex, horizontally structured ecosystem. Healthcare is being impacted the same way. This is not a ‘go-it-alone’ game anymore. Today’s OEMs and tier-one suppliers must embrace partnerships to better execute upon the most effective and timely digital strategy. 

If the heart of digital health is the ecosystem of smart connected devices, then the primary issue requiring industry-wide cooperation is solving health data interoperability. The newcomers are well-positioned. Amazon, Apple and Google are already working to develop an open communication standard for their smart home devices, to ensure that devices from different companies are able to work together. But when someone’s health – or life – depends on seamless interoperable data transfer, collaborative execution is critical. Interdependent technology platforms that collect, combine, share and analyze streams of data are emerging to capture value for all stakeholders. Recent actions by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to advance interoperability underscore just how universal this priority has become.

In Jabil’s 2020 Digital Health Technology Trends survey, more than nine in 10 digital healthcare solution providers agreed that digital healthcare’s collection and the purposing of data should be standardized to enable interoperability between devices and within product platforms. Download the full survey report.

Download the 2020 Digital Health Technology Trends Report.

of healthcare decision-makers agree that digital healthcare's collection and purposing of data should be standardized to enable interoperability between devices and product platforms.

However, healthcare decision-makers are divided on the best approach to interoperability. Just below half (46%) plan to deliver all needed functionality within their own controlled ecosystem, which would allow them to better control the customer experience. Approximately four in 10 say they prefer to follow generally accepted industry standards that enable interoperability within product platforms. Meanwhile, a small sampling (13%) say they plan to be open and enable their customers to do anything they want.

Transformation of Traditional Models

How patients experience health care has been changing incrementally for years. With the arrival of digital health, treatment and care that used to take place only within medically-purposed facilities can now occur remotely, facilitated by technology – wherever the patient is located. Virtual care is not a new paradigm, but the COVID-19 epidemic has provided the model immediate and enduring traction.

In this statement from March 2020, Seema Verma, Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), speaks unequivocally regarding the future of telehealth, “I think it’s fair to say that the advent of telehealth has been just completely accelerated, that it’s taken this crisis to push us to a new frontier, but there’s absolutely no going back.” 

Virtual care, remote patient monitoring, digital health data and artificial intelligence. These technology-based enhancements are modernizing care delivery across the globe, making it more connective and empowering. But they're also driving us more capably into the challenges and opportunities of value-based performance models. Just as Uber disrupted the automotive sector, demonstrating the viability of mobility delivered as a service, not as a product, digital health’s connected technologies are rewiring healthcare’s shift from volume to value.

Disrupters like Uber and Tesla, just like Apple, and Google in healthcare, exploit the weaknesses of the large manufacturers by looking beyond the traditional models while still delivering on the original organic needs of their customers. Automotive companies have shifted their business models accordingly, with 56% creating new ownership models, such as shared vehicles or flexible leasing, according to our automotive survey.

What new business models is your company considering to create new revenue streams?

(Source: Jabil's 2019 Automotive Technology Trends Survey)

are considering new ownership models such as shared vehicles or flexible leasing.

The “Ask” Ford heard back in the day wasn’t faster horses... it was: Improve my mobility. Similarly, when the Kindle entered the market in 2007, Amazon provided the technology simply and inexpensively, almost giving it away. It wasn’t really the technology that the customers wanted, their primary want was to read. The money was in the subscription, not the device.

In healthcare, the need is expanding beyond “treat my illness;” now it’s: Support my journey to improved health and wellness. Ironically, it's the technology that's helping to recover the healing within healthcare, enhancing our connectedness not just with our providers, but with our family and friends, as well as the collective support groups of people we may never meet directly, those strangers who have become aligned with us due to a shared condition. Healthcare doesn’t have to be a regimen; it can be a journey to better self-understanding and living a more comfortable, fulfilled life.

This is a critical part of the paradigm shift fueling emergent models.
In Jabil’s recent survey, 44% of participants noted that their lifetime revenue for digital healthcare solutions would be higher because they could sell them through subscription models. 

Lesson #3: The Customer Sits at the Center of the Platform 

Lessons #1 and #2 funnel directly into Lesson #3 – become more ‘patient-centric.’ Deliver product solutions that improve patient care and maintain therapy but with much more attention on how you’re addressing consumer preferences.

Consumers of healthcare products and services are patients first, but they’re also customers and they're social animals too, eagerly interfacing with apps that share and inform. Newcomer companies to the industry are envisioning patients holistically and providing compelling fresh solutions. In the diabetes domain, the emergence of interoperable devices has diabetics closer than ever to picking-and-choosing components (pumps, CGM systems, etc.) that fit their individual needs. 

The days of being locked into a one-brand system have given way to multi-brand, configurable systems that harness interconnectivity and centralized algorithms so that patients are at the center of a highly individualized custom diabetes product ecosystem to manage their disease. Digital health is helping to erase the isolation within illness, catalyzing the collective in a two-way street of shared information and experience.

Precision Medicine

In healthcare, improving user interfaces is certainly one objective, but the greater opportunity is in precision medicine: therapy tailored specifically to the patient’s unique profile, driven as much by psycho and social factors as well as genomic inputs. Precision medicine is a significant driver of more affordable healthcare, with benefits accruing both through more efficient, personalized therapies for individual patients as well as across broader patient population disease states.

Fitbits and other healthcare wearables are already well-integrated into people’s lives. These biometric monitoring devices are a vital health self-management tool but it’s their connectedness to providers and AI-empowered analysis platforms that will help ensure people are receiving the right treatment at the right time. As more high-quality health data is captured, analyzed and purposed the use cases for digital health technology’s monitoring capabilities keep expanding.

Realizing the benefits of this approach, three-quarters of digital healthcare solution providers say they are either seriously considering options or already working on projects that will synch up with personalized healthcare.

One of the potential benefits of digital healthcare solutions is that information can be used to enable highly personalized healthcare where specific courses of action are recommended or automatically taken based on ongoing monitoring of patient status and compliance.

Has your organization considered building in personalized healthcare capabilities to your solutions?

of digital healthcare solution providers say they are either seriously considering options or already working on projects that will synch up with personalized healthcare.

Author and humorist Douglas Adams once wrote a set of rules to describe reactions to technologies: 

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. 
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. 
  3. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.

As individuals, we can all relate to the key message in this: keeping pace with innovation is a lifelong pursuit.

So too, should it be within the business world. Healthcare has become a much more dynamic industry, driven by extraordinary technological innovation and other exciting new developments. Success and survival for the biggest brands as well as smaller upstarts will come to those with a better understanding of their customers, ready to serve with enhanced offerings while not being slow off the mark in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Download the 2020 Digital Health Tech Trends Survey Report

Insights from over 420 digital health decision-makers on the barriers, opportunities and the future of digital health.