How Do Digital Health Partnerships Happen?

Where do you go with them? Views from a developer and an app security provider.

By Donna Cusano, Editor in Chief, Telehealth & Telecare Aware
Twitter: @telecareaware
Twitter: @deetelecare

I recently covered a partnership between Doncaster UK’s MediBioSense Ltd. and San Francisco-based Blue Cedar, where Blue Cedar’s app security system will protect information from MediBioSense’s app through to the provider database. I was curious how two physically distant small companies, even in this global healthcare business, found each other, as well as how MediBioSense (MBS) adopted a US-developed sensor from VitalConnect. To find out more, I spoke with the company CEOs, Simon Beniston of MBS and John Aisien of Blue Cedar. Their respective experiences led me to three takeaways which are applicable to early-stage companies–wherever they are located.

Past business dealings of the principals and keeping connections ‘warm’ matter a great deal–when the time is right to partner. Both companies had a combination of people and past experience in common. “I had some interaction with Simon during my time at Mocana, the company from which Blue Cedar spun out.” Mr. Aisien noted. “Our sales leadership in the UK continued to be in touch with Simon, and as we continued to execute on our business plan and focused on healthcare, the relationship strengthened. Simon’s role as a healthcare global app developer made him even more attractive as a partner.” For Mr. Beniston considering Blue Cedar as a security partner, it was a combination of contacts and people he knew already, “driven by the realization that while our data was fairly secure by design, I was cognizant of the fact that data protection requirements were growing in the European market with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). As a forward-thinking company, we wanted to get to this early on. Given this, the partnership between MediBioSense and Blue Cedar was a perfect fit.”

MediBioSense’s relationship with VitalConnect is also unusual in that MediBioSense developed their platform that monitors data for the VitalPatch. Mr. Beniston founded the company because he believed that healthcare was where mobile technologies, his prior field, could make a real difference and be joined to the use of biosensors and wearables. His knowledge of the platform and app were thus from the ground up. “We then went on to ensure that their [Blue Cedar’s] technology fit with our technology and the testing was successful. We could then go to healthcare companies and tell them that we have data protection covered. It gives us a competitive edge.”

The right partnerships build use cases, look forward to where their businesses can go in meeting customer needs, and are a step ahead of their clients. Mr. Aisien: “What Simon is doing is a wonderful example of using digital channels to improve healthcare outcomes and reduce costs. We think it’s a great proof point of the value of our app-centric approach as it relates to security in healthcare. MediBioSense’s app will be running on devices which are outside of the control of the entity using VitalPatch to capture [the patient’s] data. It’s not practical or economic for that entity to manage the device.”

When asked about whether healthcare users and developers are finally seeing the light about app security, Mr. Aisien acknowledged that it is developing. “The knowledge of the criticality of protecting oneself against security threats is unquestionably there and has been for awhile. With the increased use of digital channels–mobile, IoT, wearables–to improve business and reduce risks, the growth, the understanding, and most importantly, the funding are there. App-centric security continues to evolve because while other approaches like securing the whole device or containerization are technically sound, they are not necessarily economic or practical for all use cases. What makes universal sense is to download the app that already has the requisite levels of security in it.”

This is what attracted Mr. Beniston to use an app-based security approach for MediBioSense. “Historically it’s always been a device approach such as MDM [mobile device management]. One of our key USPs, when we approach our clients, is that one of the big expenses, aside from the VitalPatch, is hardware. One of our strengths is that our platform and interface can work on a consumer mobile device. We can utilize what your clinicians and patients already have in their pockets. They can use what they have, and to date, we haven’t seen any interference with mobile devices.”

He added, “We were surprised that even today, some are saying about GDPR that ‘we’ll wait until it happens’. That’s hiding your heads in the sand! The impact can have an adverse effect–you may be fined for not being compliant, the data is leaked, etc. Our approach is to work with companies like Blue Cedar and be ready, to be proactive rather than reactive. If you wait till it happens, you’re a year behind and in a panic. Blue Cedar meets the GDPR specification for securing data from the mobile device to the back end. We are also exploring their reporting capabilities.”

Look beyond the country where you are located. Unlike retail, how healthcare is organized and regulated is highly country-specific. Thus the frame for most developers and entrepreneurs tends to be their home country, with global markets taking a back chair or none at all. In a contrarian approach, both companies here have created substantial business outside their respective countries. Blue Cedar, with clients in other sectors such as financial services, manufacturing, and government, adopted an international approach from the start. MediBioSense’s business is also internationally based, with a surprising 80 to 90 percent of MediBioSense clients outside the UK.

I asked Mr. Beniston about the reception MediBioSense’s received in the UK, as MBS is an in-hospital and post-acute monitoring technology which would be applicable to NHS hospital services. He affirmed that in this Editor’s words to him, it has it been a ‘tough slog’. “The UK by default is the NHS, and they both want to adopt technology and save money. We say, ‘fantastic’–there’s a major crisis around a lack of hospital beds and people dying, and we have the technology to help you solve that at a reasonable cost.” But at present, they are working with Mount Sinai here in NYC, have signed with the US Department of Defense, and with the government of the United Arab Emirates for their hospitals, with other international plans in the works.

More to follow from both companies and this unique partnership.

Thanks to John Aisien and Simon Beniston for their perspectives and Patrick Corman for organizing the interviews.

This article was originally published on TeleHealth & Telecare Aware and is republished here with permission.