Consumerization of health care solutions is connected to a growing desire of patients to have accessible health care/health data and an individualized care experience.
The personalization and consumerization of health care solutions is a growing trend in the health care and pharmaceutical industries, according to a panel of wellness startup entrepreneurs at National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) Total Store Expo in San Diego, California, August 12 through 14, 2023.
“There's a lot less red tape when it comes to consumer interactions, which allows us to talk with them to understand what they need,” said panelist Victor Chapela, founder and CEO of Suggestic, during the session.
For example, at MedsNow, the founder and CEO of the startup, Nikhil Misra, is advancing the use of technology in community pharmacy to improve the pharmacist’s ability to build relationships with the consumer.
“[They are] already able to connect with their patients in a way that other health care professions struggle with,” Misra said. “Pharmacists can provide much more than prescriptions, but they’re also bogged down with operational difficulties.”
Digital infrastructure can assist independent pharmacists with digitized payments, patient onboarding, and operations that allows them to leverage their accessibility to patients by freeing up time to perform other tasks at the top of their license, such as offering personalized care for patients.
“[Digitization] is where the trends are moving. We want to be able to help support that and push it forward … [to] ride that momentum,” Misra said.
Furthermore, personalized treatment, often given via digital platforms, is quickly becoming a requisite feature that defines many health care startups. Take panelist Alexandra Sowa, MD, CEO and founder of SoWell Health—she was tired of watching her grandparents swap diets and doctors, who were telling them to simply “eat less” to manage their weight, so Sowa decided to create a platform where patients can receive individualized metabolic health care solutions to achieve weight loss.
Sowa describes her company as the point of connection between the doctor’s office and pharmacy, taking the patient’s unique biomarker data and personalizing supplement and dietary recommendations for each patient.
“Personalization goes beyond just what our body needs,” Chapela explains. Other businesses like Mayo Clinic use Suggestic’s apps and tools to create tele-wellness programs that support everyone’s own health journey.
“[Personalization] is a route of taking control,” Chapela said. “It’s ‘what are we willing to do, and how fast and how much can we spend to make it faster and easier for ourselves?’”
According to Chapela, everyone is seeking this direct relationship with health data, whether its via lab tests, assessments, continuous glucose monitoring, wearables, or getting personalized wellness content. Pharmacy is beginning to offer patients tools and services that give them a more direct relationship with their health data, a trend that was not popular just a decade ago, Chapela noted.
One the other hand, Erika Tyburski created the startup Sanguina to help her manage her own condition, anemia (iron deficiency)—which affects approximately 1.6 billion people worldwide—while warding off emergency situations. Using this application, those with anemia/blood disorders can use personalized blood health diagnostics and screening tools to directly access health data.
“We've really become passionate about lowering barriers to learning more about health,” Tyburski said.
Similarly, panelist Emily Cohen created Resist protein bars after noticing that women wanted nutritional items that promote hormone health. But despite her early success ina female audience, Cohen noted she would like to figure out how to get more men interested in hormone health and products.
Other panelists, comprised of first-time and serial entrepreneurs, noted that they were also facing barriers that impede their ability to scale personalized services. For Chapela, it’s the US structure of liabilities designated for wellness products.
“If you tell people to eat correctly, or to eat differently, you can get sued. You can get sued for helping people have a better lifestyle,” Chapela said. However, vaccine and food companies are often protected from this.
“It’s a buyer beware model,” said session moderator Pano Anthos, a managing partner at the startup accelerator XRC Ventures.
For Sowa, the struggle is the disconnect between what goes on behind the pharmacy counter vs the front of the store. Her end goal is to ultimately combine prescriptive and proscriptive services to give patients personalized and holistic care.
“Pharmacists are our best partners,” Sowa said, and Misra concurred.
An invaluable way to help wellness entrepreneurs is getting the products on retail shelves, Chapela said. And if a startup sells to enterprises, like MedsNow and Suggestic, it’s important that they clarify to other businesses how their services are valuable and can help those businesses help their customers, he explained.
“It is a consumer-driven trend, and it's grown exponentially over the last few years,” Chapela said.
“We're led by [the] directive that (everything we’re doing) is very much in the customer’s best interest,” Sowa adds. “I'm proud that we've been able to stay true [to that].”
Anthos P, Chapela V, Cohen E, Misra N, Sowa A, Tyburski E. Consumerization of Healthcare. Presented at: NACDS Total Store Expo; August 12-14, 2023; San Diego, CA. https://tse.nacds.org/schedule. Accessed August 21, 2023.