The pediatrics care delivery space has long been operating with a gap in innovative health solutions. This week, the KidsX Accelerator program launched with the goal of deploying more digital health technologies in pediatric hospitals across the country to address that gap.
“In talking to different leaders of innovation in pediatrics, it was pretty obvious that there’s a ton of need for innovation, for solutions, that are geared towards the pediatric market,” said Omkar Kulkarni, the chief innovation officer at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the managing director of KidsX. “But the reality is there just aren’t very many, or there haven’t been very many, focused on the real needs of the pediatric patient population.”
It’s no coincidence that the pediatric market is lacking in technological innovation in ways the adult space is not.
One reason for that lag is a smaller market with fewer incentives for product developers and investors, according to research from the Journal of Clinical and Translational Science. Beyond the smaller market size, designing pediatric devices can be challenging simply because of the smaller size and constantly changing anatomy and physiology of children. Developers must also consider how to make their product work for not only the child, but also the parents, school and other caregivers.
“Kids aren’t just small adults,” Kulkarni said. “So you need solutions that are going to be focused on the unique needs of pediatric patients and their families.”
Although there have been a number of pediatric startups like Hazel Health, which recently scored $35 million in funding, and Emilio Health coming onto the scene, overall innovation lags behind other fields.
Kulkarni also pointed out that children’s hospitals tend to be smaller than their adult hospital counterparts, which can make the prospect of developing digital health innovations less desirable.
With that in mind, the KidsX Accelerator program was created.
The program will bring together 26 pediatric hospitals to partner with early-stage digital health companies to build digital products that meet the unique needs of pediatric patients and their families. It will take place over 13 weeks beginning in early 2021 and will be completely virtual.
At the beginning of the program, the KidsX hospitals participated in a reverse-pitch model, where they collectively came up with a wish list of problems they hope to solve with digital solutions.
The eight items on the wish list ranged from better care coordination between families, doctors and schools, to improved remote monitoring technology, to creating predictive analytics for health outcomes.
“That’s a unique part of our program in the sense that it really helps these companies achieve product-market fit by really starting with the problem,” Kulkarni said.
KidsX began accepting applications on Tuesday and will continue until Wednesday, October 7.
From there, the top companies will be given the chance to pitch their products to all 26 hospitals, and the top 10 startups will be selected to partner with a KidsX hospital.
Through the partnership and over the course of the accelerator program, these companies will be mentored by the hospitals on how to prepare for the pediatric market, and eventually, have a place to test the innovation.
“When they are done with the program, they have a partner with ideally one of these 26 hospitals, or maybe a couple of these 26 hospitals, where they can actually test their solution,” Kulkarni said. “We have deliberately selected hospitals that have committed or have said that they are interested in using this technology.”
Children’s Wisconsin is one of the hospitals participating in the accelerator. Through the program, it hopes to get the startups from pilot to scale as quickly as possible, according to Christopher Neuharth, the executive director of digital health and experience at Children’s Wisconsin.
“Anything we can do to speed up that process and make sure we’re validating things quickly saves our organization a lot of research and investment,” he said. “It’s a way for us to de-risk what we’re looking to work on.”
This is the perfect time for a program like this, Kulkarni said. Not only has the pandemic rapidly accelerated the use of digital health to keep health systems up and running, but consumers are growing to expect these technologies to stick around after.
A survey conducted by McKinsey found that 11% of consumers used telehealth in 2019. However, since the pandemic, 76% of consumers said they are moderately or highly likely to use telehealth going forward, and 74% of people who had used telehealth were highly satisfied.
The survey also found that providers favor the move towards digital health, with 57% saying they support its use more since the start of the pandemic.
“There is a current, and will be future, focus on digital health,” Kulkarni said. “I think we’re living in a world right now where people are understanding the importance of using digital tools to improve the health of everybody.”
In the end, KidsX hopes to facilitate more successful deployments of digital health technologies from pediatrics hospitals across the country.
“We want to hear stories about how pediatric hospitals are regularly, and efficiently, deploying digital health solutions that are solving the problems that are most important to them,” Kulkarni said. “And so we think that through this program, we will start hearing far more of those success stories over the next many years.”