Venture Philanthropy Growing in the Medical Field

Unlike the systems of many other countries, the United States medical system depends on the efforts of private companies. Insurance companies, providers and pharmaceutical agencies all play a critical role in America’s healthcare system. While venture capitalism has existed for several decades, this practice is relatively new within the medical field. This creates a plethora of new opportunities for research and advancement, however, there are also several issues that emerge. For instance, privately funded and operated medical ventures can often sidestep legislative oversight. This presents a potential danger for not only patient health, but also the traditional providers of medical services.

Since 2007, venture investments in the digital healthy have exploded – growing by more than 800%. Digital health is a term used to describe wearable technology and other devices that provide analytical information about a user’s health and fitness. This is interesting because it significantly outpaces the venture capital investments in the entire economy. Physicians nationwide are overbooked and can be difficult for patients to reach, so digital health devices provide at least some type of monitoring for users. Private companies have recently made the healthcare system more complex to navigate as well as more expensive. Thus, software and digital health advances have provided new avenues for medical communications. Finally, several U.S. insurance companies offer incentives and discounts for customers that use digital health wearables or other software applications.

While these advances seem beneficial, there is little data to support or deny this claim. Digital health advances funded by venture capital have not been intertwined into the medical industry long enough for changes over time to be noticeable. Small and localized studies have suggested that wearable devices have increased consumer awareness for the need to maintain a healthy heart rate, blood pressure and glucose level. These studies are far from comprehensive, however, and fail to note any long-term trends. Some digital health software programs have worked towards increasing transparency within the insurance industry – driving new competition and creating lower prices.

While many of these seem beneficial for healthcare, it is pertinent to remember that venture capitalism is not based in ethical care of patients. Thus, if the companies funding these advancements decide that the industry is no longer profitable, the billions of dollars of funding may dry up overnight. This would leave many in a worse place than before.