What is the secret sauce to digital health?

I understand that for some, digital health still might be a bitter pill, but the promise of techno-medical mumbo jumbo is bold and transformative. That being said, in my opinion, the “secret sauce” to digital health might be a bit outside the conventional “drug development” methodology — both in logistics and psychology.

Therefore, I thought it would be fun to take a page out of IBM’s Watson playbook. IBM recently used “cognitive cooking” to combine a wide variety of ingredients to craft entirely new, often unexpected, and frequently delicious taste sensations. For example, who ever thought of combining bourbon with vanilla, bananas, and turmeric? Yep. Watson did. Because digital health combines a variety of flavors that some might not immediately appreciate, I reasoned that we can apply the very same “cognitive creating” approach. Let’s have a taste.

Three parts technology. Technology is the magical driver that empowers innovation. In today’s world, the goal is still the killer app or technology that advances information or care. The outcomes data are still a step in the future (nonetheless important) but tech and its application to clinical care are in the driver’s seat.

Three parts inspiration. What I find most interesting in this area is a sense of passion. It’s passion driven by a personal health experience, a deep-seated drive to innovate, curiosity, and also ambition. It’s a restless inspiration that seems both anxious and empowered. Many of the players have a keen sense of “the time is now” and act accordingly.

Two parts medicine. While many people swoon over the idea of the democratization of health, I’m not completely convinced that this trend should exclude the fundamental value of medicine and the integral role of the healthcare provider. A digital health innovator, without the rudder of clinical judgment and perspective, may find herself on a course to disaster.

Two parts persistence. Digital health isn’t a point in time and space. It’s a vector with both direction and magnitude. And that’s certainly part of the magic. Some people call it the ability to “pivot” as a company evolves with rapid developments in the marketplace or in technology. But I see it as a sense of drive that’s pushed forward by a visceral understanding that the world is changing. And it’s about a sense of “now and not tomorrow.”

Two parts urgency. Hurry. That’s it. Exponential growth, so well articulated by Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis, clearly establish that change isn’t a gradual process that can be managed by quarterly board meetings. The rate of change demands that companies move at the speed of life!

Two parts HIT. Technology is powered by electronics and data. Today’s data-driven world provides the “code” for expressing and focusing the complexity of information, health, and medicine. HIT is the functional source code for translation and articulation. But beyond that lies a funky and ubiquitous concept: interoperability. It’s becoming the critical link to assimilate the varied and complex data voices in digital health.

One-and-a-half parts cash. Yep, money. I’m not even going to explain this.

One part ignorance. The eclectic nature of digital health has an interesting component that often takes us down unexpected roads. Clinicians don’t always know or understand why you can’t make something faster or smaller. And engineers don’t always fully grasp the intricacies of the arachidonic acid cascade. In other words, a digital health stakeholder can often be ignorant of what can’t be done. And there lies the magic of discovery that is contrary to many industries.

One part legal/regulatory. The technological and scientific complexities are huge hurdles. But the regulations and legal considerations are similarly high. The value of smart and engaged compliance advice is critical.

A few dashes of special sauce. By this I mean the idea makes you passionate or unsolved problem that drives you crazy. Digital health is defined by disruption and changing the game, and that’s where new projects come in. It’s these brilliant new flavors and remarkable variations that keep up our taste for this recipe, and help it remain one that can continuously shape and change the world.

John Nosta is founder, Nostalab. This article originally appeared on The Doctor Blog.

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