Stephanie Kaiser is co-founder and managing director of the digital health platform Heartbeat Labs and is a member of the digital council that advises the German government on digitalization issues. Together with Tilo, she talks about how far we have come in the digitalization of the health sector, which markets are ahead in this field and which difficulties innovators face when it comes to modernizing processes in hospitals, medical practices or the private health sector.
Tilo Bonow: Welcome, Stephanie! Firstly, maybe you can give us a little glimpse on who you are. You’ve had a very impressive career so far and of course, I would like to know why you chose to work in the health sector?
Stephanie Kaiser: First, I have chosen to learn about product management and I’ve been in the business for 14 years now. I started at Jamba, a ringtone company, then built a learning platform for children at Nickelodeon. After some time, I went on to help building a games company called Wooga. I was in the entertainment business for quite a while, made many mistakes and learned a lot from them. And then at a certain point in time, I felt like a little bit more intrinsic motivation would be helpful. And that you can easily find in health and health care, obviously. And as a product manager, you can basically go. It’s very versatile. Right. You can be in entertainment as much as you can be in health.
Tilo Bonow: Essentially, your background for products and also the entertainment sector helps when you build products that really have to reach out and be accessible to millions of people’s life. What is the state of the union in digital health? There are also various descriptions and definitions of Health Tech – also called MedTech in some cases. How would you explain where we stand right now?
Stephanie Kaiser: So I would call it digital health, which is the same as health tech. The word implies the use of technology, it can be hardware or software that advances healthcare. And I think we all know that especially in Germany we are currently far behind. But we have understood that by now and can take it from here. The basic prerequisites for this already exist – worldwide! Everybody carries a mobile phone in their pocket. I carry my Oura-ring, which tells me every day how I slept. Also many people have a Google-Fitbit or an Apple Watch. So we are tracking individual data and we can communicate with the end user individually. Now we have to get to a point where we have user-centric products and also make use of this data in an actionable way for the individual, as well as in terms of big data to help diagnostics.
Tilo Bonow: What are the benefits of this type of data collection? Advantages that we may not even be aware of yet, because we are focusing on other arguments?
Stephanie Kaiser: That’s a tricky question. Well, I think especially with data, it’s always a chicken and egg problem. First, you have to gather the data and do a lot of analysis to see if you can actually learn from it. I can’t really predict what’s coming, but I would say that data will help us to make better and more informed decisions on the individual patient in the future. Many important cases and examples already exist and there will be more cases that we don’t know of yet.
Tilo Bonow: Can you give us some examples where technology can be truly beneficial for medicine and our health?
Stephanie Kaiser: Yes, of course. There are some areas that sound banal in the first place, like telemedicine. But in the end, it’s not that banal for people that are in rural places, who can finally talk to a doctor remotely and don’t have to drive for hours to see a specialist. And it’s also attractive for parents on a Sunday to avoid the emergency room and just talk to a doctor about children who always get sick on Sunday night. I’m looking forward to electronic health records and also to finally be able to bring data together in an interoperable and structured way so we can learn from that data about the individual patient. Also dealing with chronic diseases on a daily basis can be supported by a digital companion to help them manage their disease better. There is so much potential and I get very excited about this!
Tilo Bonow: Can you give us some insights into Heartbeat Labs? What is your ultimate goal for Heartbeat Labs?
Stephanie Kaiser: We want to improve health care with user-centric digital services. Heartbeat Labs is a platform that has three pillars. On the one hand, we are investing in digital health companies. On the other hand, we are also operationally building digital health companies on our own. And also we would like to partner with big pharma companies to work together in the digital sector because that’s what we are good at. Additionally, we are working with Heal Capital, which you may have heard of. It’s the new fund backed by the private health insurance companies in Germany, which is investing exclusively in digital health.
Tilo Bonow: Give us a little overview on your portfolio. Which companies have you founded and supported and what is your biggest success story so far?
Stephanie Kaiser: We started in 2017 and we have started in telemedicine when it was not allowed yet. Our first project was Kinderheldin, which is a digital service for pregnant women and young parents to connect through a digital measure – via video chat or chat- to a midwife. In 2017, doctors in Germany were not yet allowed to let the first patient contact take place virtually. But midwives were allowed! So we wanted to explore the customer response to this kind of service. Later on, we started Fernarzt, a service where you can order prescribed medicine online. Additionally, we started a practice chain, because we really wanted to learn with the patient about the healthcare system. I think for each individual company, I could now talk about individual successes. To give you one example: Kinderheldin managed to be reimbursed by many public health insurances in Germany! That was a big step because the health insurance wasn’t prepared for digital solutions and at the beginning didn’t know how to put them into reimbursement schemes.
Tilo Bonow: How do you see the digital health market in Germany in general? Are we facing differences also in comparison with other markets?
Stephanie Kaiser: Just to give you one example, as I like numbers: I think the electronic prescription is allowed in Sweden since 1983. I was one year old at that time. In Germany, we’ll have it in 2020, which sounds like the future to me. We all know that in Germany we are lagging behind. But I think we are taking the right steps at the moment. I like to call our Ministry of Health an execution machine. The electronic prescription is a good example, also electronic health records that all health insurances have to provide to their insured people from 2021 onwards. So I think we are at a good point in time where regulation has changed and doctors can now finally do telemedicine and also get money for it because that’s also important.
Tilo Bonow: And you’re also part of the digital council of the government. Which are some concrete next steps that need to be taken to improve our health system?
Stephanie Kaiser: In the digital council, we don’t specifically focus on health. It’s more about digitalization in general. Currently, our focus is on the use of data. I think we really need to find a good way in Europe to make data usable from and for more parties – of course in a safe way. No question about this! And I think we are now trying to find a good answer to the US and the Chinese system that we don’t want to have.
Tilo Bonow: But this is always connected with the fear of the people. What are they doing with our data, especially our health data?
Stephanie Kaiser: We need to differentiate: which kind of data are we actually talking about? Are we for example talking about personal patient data, anonymized and depersonalized data, or the usage data of a specific digital service? Of course, personal data needs to be as secure as possible. On the other side, there is anonymized, depersonalized data that is interesting once we get a lot of data to understand patterns, however, this is not connected with the individual patient anymore. On the other side, there is usage data of digital services, like how many people have been on Whatsapp today? This is important for developers of such digital services to understand the way the service is being used to ultimately improve and design it in a user-centric way. The second thing I would like to add is that we need to talk about use cases, because the moment we are talking about use cases, everything becomes more tangible. If you as a patient understand that there is an advantage for you, then you will be more open to exchanging data.
Tilo Bonow: We all agree that telemedicine won’t replace the doctor’s visits. But how far will we go? So many telemedicine companies are popping up now.
Stephanie Kaiser: As I said, it’s the clever connection and combination between digitalization and the human being, because a machine will never motivate a patient as much as a human being to actually follow a doctor’s instructions, e.g. to be adherent with their medicine. There is a human power to this and no machine will ever replace this. However e.g., the use of data should confirm the diagnosis and not replace human healthcare.
Tilo Bonow: So there is a lot of changes for the nurses and doctors. They need to be trained to use the technology, right? I mean, I would assume that we are not right there yet. Do you think doctors know what kind of different systems of digital health solutions exist and how to implement it in their daily work?
Stephanie Kaiser: I hope that they don’t need as many skills as you predict because we are building user-centric and easy to use products for the doctor’s side as well as for any other stakeholder in the system. It’s not only the patient. And I also think that going forward, many doctors will be curious about what is out there. But the one being even more curious about those things is the patient who is sick. They’re already googling everything and they are looking for solutions. They will continue to do so and do it even more often and they will find the solutions that help them. That’s my prediction. We can talk in five years, but I’m pretty sure that in the future patients will go to their doctor and say, hey, I found something. Can you prescribe this?
Tilo Bonow: Could you give us a little outlook, what will be possible by 2030? Which innovations will be the most important driving forces in the health tech sector?
Stephanie Kaiser: Well, I think in 2030 I won’t go to the doctor’s office anymore if I have a red-eye infection, for example. I can do a video call. It’s very clear what indication I have. And maybe somebody on a scooter in Berlin brings me the antibiotics that I need. So that’s one. Second, I think hopefully we will have connected, structured, interoperable data on safe platforms that doctors can access and supported by that take informed decisions on individual patients. Maybe that’s just my excitement as a product manager, but I think that would be very helpful. Doctors will have more time to spend with their patients instead of spending time with e.g. documentation, tasks machines can do. In the end that is what the patient needs, time with their doctor (= human being).
Tilo Bonow: Stephanie, thank you very much! It was very insightful. I wish you all the best, I think we will hear a lot from Heartbeat Labs in the future.
Stephanie Kaiser: Thank you, Tilo!