Why Doctors Don’t Create Healthcare Startups
It’s clear that the healthcare industry is broken. In the US it’s become too expensive; in India, there aren’t enough medical facilities for the population. It’s clearly an industry ripe for disruption.
In order for business disruption to occur, there must be new companies often created by domain experts. Therefore, one would expect it to be doctors who carve out a path for themselves as medical entrepreneurs and shake up the healthcare system.
However, very few doctors end up creating healthcare startups. Why are most healthcare technology startups founded by engineers, even though they understand little about doctors’ pain points? For example, most EMRs are designed by engineers, and because they don’t understand the doctor’s workflow, they end up creating products which most doctors hate.
Part of the problem is the way doctors are trained – they are taught not to fail. It is drilled into them that they can’t afford to make mistakes because a patient’s life is at stake. They are brain-washed into doing everything exactly by the book, and if you deviate, you get into trouble.
Engineers, on the other hand, are taught to take risks. They’re encouraged to break things and put them back together again as they see dismantling current products as the way forward. This allows innovation and creativity to be constantly encouraged.
In medical school, on the other hand, doctors are taught to cram and regurgitate what’s taught in medical textbooks. You are supposed to blindly obey standard teaching and not challenge it. In fact, professors get extremely upset if you do so. You’re expected to blindly apply everything you are taught to your patients. It’s only when they become more experienced that they realise a lot of traditional teaching is plain wrong. However, once they have become so senior, they are no longer willing to take the risk associated with creating a new startup. They are, predictably, reticent to challenge the status quo.
This is one of the reasons healthcare is still stuck in the dark ages and innovation in this space is so slow. Young medical students are as bright and as smart as engineering students. They are happy to create startups and take risks because they know that they can afford to fail fast, since they have their whole life ahead of them. Unfortunately, they don’t have any role models they can look up to.
The brightest ones are programmed into spending most of their productive years in pursuing further studies so that by the time they become fully qualified super-specialists, they don’t have the stomach to start off on their own. There are very few successful medical entrepreneur success stories, as a result of which the entire ecosystem is starved of heroes. Since there is no innovation happening within the medical colleges, who are these students supposed to emulate?
Another part of the problem is that doctors are highly conservative (and for good reason). However, the price we pay for this mindset is that the healthcare industry is slow to change. It refuses to adapt, and fails to evolve, because they are so bound to their perspectives.
One way of solving this problem is by encouraging successful medical entrepreneurs to talk to medical students and to start accelerators, labs and startup incubators within medical colleges, so that young impressionable medical students are exposed to this line of thinking. They can accomplish much more and have a much greater impact if they have the courage to step out on their own. The good news is that it’s become much easier for them to do this due to a growing network of supportive angel investors and a digital ecosystem which allows for inexpensive experimentation.