Vital Voices: Lisa Suennen the Venture Valkyrie on #JPM19 & #DigitalHealth
 

Her first trip to the San Francisco conference was circa 2000, when there were practically zero health tech companies presenting—with the possible exceptions of WebMd and Allscripts.

Now 20-plus health tech companies are making an appearance, in addition to five related panels, including one entirely devoted to digital health. (The conference hosted the first digital health panel in 2014.) Beyond the walls of the St. Francis, there are at least half a dozen gatherings taking place at the same time, including the StartUp Health Festival, HealthTech4Medicaid, the Digital Orthopaedics Conference and – shameless plug – the Tech & Health Luncheon by 120/80 MKTG

“There’s a pretty healthy health IT set here,” says Suennen, scouring the agenda. She’s not surprised at the lineup, which includes One Medical, Health Catalyst and Sharecare. Most of these companies are candidates for near term acquisitions or IPO.”

What surprises her is the number of private companies that are presenting, including a couple of small ones, such as digital therapeutics startup Pear Therapeutics and Quartet, which focuses on mental health.

“You know what I don’t see? There’s no consumer health, that’s all at CES [Consumer Electronics Show].” Although Suennen is no fan of consumer-oriented digital health, because people usually balk at paying out-of-pocket, the recent overlap between the two conferences is forcing people to choose.  “If you’re a consumer-oriented healthcare company, you’re better off at CES.”

She likes to attend the Las Vegas conference to get a glimpse of the future of digital health. “You know that some day that stuff will show up in healthcare.” 3D printing is an example, so are wearables and sensors.

The J.P. Morgan conference is largely about publicly traded companies. Despite digital health startups raising $7.9 billion in 2018—another record year according to Rock Health, there have been zero IPOs over the past two years. “I would have hoped to see more companies IPO-ready, getting to size. It’s taking companies a lot of time to mature; on the other hand it’s not really that shocking, eight years. Healthcare companies take a long time to mature.”

It’s also been a journey of trial and error to get business models right, and convince customers that digital health tools save money and improve outcomes. “Companies have up until the last couple of years done a very poor job of demonstrating value and efficacy for what they do. It’s only in the past two or three years that companies have started to say that we may have to prove that what we do saves money or has medical benefits. It’s not just cool.”