Success Is 20% Technology and 80% Psychology

Lessons in Innovation and Entrepreneurism from Kent Dicks, CEO of Alere Connect

Kent Dicks headshotRecently, I had the opportunity to interview Kent Dicks, Chief Executive Officer of Alere Connect. Alere has just received FDA approval for its latest hub device, HomeLink. I’ve seen Alere at conferences and am excited by its potential to alter the quality of lives for many while reducing healthcare costs. What makes the Alere Connect platform so exciting is the behavioral psychology behind its development.

Where it all started

In 2006, before mHealth was a term on the tongue tips of venture capitalists, Kent Dicks was trying to find technology solutions for the defense industry. He was working with a company to develop devices to monitor troop location, hydration levels, and other stats remotely. It dawned on Kent that there was a tremendous need to manage a number of healthcare consumers in the United States in a similar fashion, but the health monitoring technology was fairly antiquated and expensive.

The consumers Kent was thinking about – the elderly – didn’t use computers. At the time (and, to a certain extent, this still rings true), this population didn’t use cell phones. Yet, this 15% of the U.S. population represents 80% of healthcare costs. From his previous experience, Kent knew the importance of aligning technology with users. Finding the right device that wouldn’t require extra steps or Internet use – even connectivity – would be challenging.

Formula for success

There’s a reason Alere Connect is successful. According to Mr. Dicks, successful development is 20% technology and 80% psychology. Developers and behavioral psychologists are busy trying to figure out just what it is that motivates people to change their habits, and just how to harness those behavior change theories to improve public health. The most successful technological advances are those that work seamlessly with little to no input from users. Say, for example, that you want to track a patient’s (we’ll call him Tom) weight following his hospital stay to treat his congestive heart disease. Taking daily weight measurements – and communicating those measurements in front of a medical professional – might not be a habit that Tom can sustain.

HomeLink in home settingWith Alere HomeLink, all that Tom has to do is step on the scale every day. HomeLink connects wirelessly to the scale, and automatically sends the data through the cloud via Bluetooth technology, where it can be reviewed and acted upon by Tom’s caregiving team. Tom is more likely to weigh himself daily if he knows someone else is on the other end, waiting for the data. At the start of treatment, Tom has selected his preferred method of communication with the Alere team from a list of possibilities, including text messages, phone calls from caregivers or family members. If Tom forgets to weigh in one morning, he’ll get a reminder message.

For congestive heart patients like Tom, Alere’s behind-the-scenes technology has reduced 30-day readmissions by up to 70%. Tom’s caregivers are able to detect fluctuations in his weight and adjust his medication regimen accordingly. Something as simple as stepping on a scale daily, and sharing that information (with no added steps for the patient) with health providers can improve Tom’s quality of life while reducing healthcare costs.

Advice for up-and-comers

I couldn’t spend 30 minutes with a successful, innovative entrepreneur like Kent Dicks without asking his advice for others interested in health technology start-ups. Mr. Dicks advises:

  • Leverage as many partnerships as you can.
  • Try to get to market quickly.
  • Bring solutions that fill a gap in marketplace that people just aren’t addressing well. Right now, investors are looking for quick hits and alignments.
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