Houston health care expert shares lessons from journey of developing a telehealth MVP

When creating groundbreaking health care technology, keeping products user friendly is a necessity. Photo via Getty Images

In the vibrant landscape of startups, the quest to build groundbreaking products can sometimes overshadow the true essence of our existence — to solve problems for our customers.

It's a trap many fall into, often leading to two common outcomes: prolonged product launches stretching over years or an unfortunate mismatch between product and market leading to startup death. But a dynamic solution exists, minimum viable products, or MVPs. MVP has propelled startups to unprecedented success.

A real-life testimony: MVP's power

Imagine a health care-focused at-home testing startup partnered with a major player. The aim: a telehealth support system for the at-home colon cancer screening. Unlike traditional telehealth services, this system required guiding members through a complex process of collecting stool samples accurately.

Challenges presented

  • Develop a user-friendly telehealth solution in five to six weeks on a limited budget and secure a high-stakes multimillion-dollar deal.
  • Carefully integrating telehealth on the existing portal for user-friendly access while aligning seamlessly with user expectations.
  • Address the complexities of Telehealth, including clinician staffing and regulatory adherence.

User Insights

User journeys and interviews confirmed the necessity for guided support during test-taking, but users showed reluctance to navigate the process independently and expressed a preference for customer support over a clinician assistant.

Interestingly, telehealth was not instinctively linked to test support, but rather to medical advice.

The birth of an MVP strategy: a catalyst for innovation

Since the main user problem was the guided support during test-taking, we created the following MVP solutions.

  • Video call integration: Direct video call button under customer support.
  • Guided messaging: Articulate call support purpose.
  • Testing guides: Portal's step-by-step guidance with videos.
  • Video guide in test kit materials.

Our MVP led us to an excellent NPS score and became a guide for our future roadmap.

Next time you build, remember this and embrace the dynamic MVP strategy — create, learn, and reiterate are the cornerstones of success in digital health product management's journey.

Here are four steps for building a successful MVP in telehealth.

  • Identify crucial user problems: Pinpoint your target customers' most pressing issue.
  • Solve a small problem simply: Initiate a straightforward solution to address a minor problem.
  • Plot the user's journey: Map out the user's path through your solution.
  • Prioritize ruthlessly: Discern the key features and prioritize with precision.

Tanu Jain is the founder and CEO of Houston-based Digital Health Innovator, a strategic marketing firm for health care products.

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A research team housed out of the newly launched Rice Biotech Launch Pad received funding to scale tech that could slash cancer deaths in half. Photo via Rice University

A research funding agency has deployed capital into a team at Rice University that's working to develop a technology that could cut cancer-related deaths in half.

Rice researchers received $45 million from the National Institutes of Health's Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, to scale up development of a sense-and-respond implant technology. Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh leads the team developing the technology as principal investigator.

“Instead of tethering patients to hospital beds, IV bags and external monitors, we’ll use a minimally invasive procedure to implant a small device that continuously monitors their cancer and adjusts their immunotherapy dose in real time,” he says in a news release. “This kind of ‘closed-loop therapy’ has been used for managing diabetes, where you have a glucose monitor that continuously talks to an insulin pump. But for cancer immunotherapy, it’s revolutionary.”

Joining Veiseh on the 19-person research project named THOR, which stands for “targeted hybrid oncotherapeutic regulation,” is Amir Jazaeri, co-PI and professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The device they are developing is called HAMMR, or hybrid advanced molecular manufacturing regulator.

“Cancer cells are continually evolving and adapting to therapy. However, currently available diagnostic tools, including radiologic tests, blood assays and biopsies, provide very infrequent and limited snapshots of this dynamic process," Jazaeri adds. "As a result, today’s therapies treat cancer as if it were a static disease. We believe THOR could transform the status quo by providing real-time data from the tumor environment that can in turn guide more effective and tumor-informed novel therapies.”

With a national team of engineers, physicians, and experts across synthetic biology, materials science, immunology, oncology, and more, the team will receive its funding through the Rice Biotech Launch Pad, a newly launched initiative led by Veiseh that exists to help life-saving medical innovation scale quickly.

"Rice is proud to be the recipient of the second major funding award from the ARPA-H, a new funding agency established last year to support research that catalyzes health breakthroughs," Rice President Reginald DesRoches says. "The research Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh is doing in leading this team is truly groundbreaking and could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. This is the type of research that makes a significant impact on the world.”

The initial focus of the technology will be on ovarian cancer, and this funding agreement includes a first-phase clinical trial of HAMMR for the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer that's expected to take place in the fourth year of THOR’s multi-year project.

“The technology is broadly applicable for peritoneal cancers that affect the pancreas, liver, lungs and other organs,” Veiseh says. “The first clinical trial will focus on refractory recurrent ovarian cancer, and the benefit of that is that we have an ongoing trial for ovarian cancer with our encapsulated cytokine ‘drug factory’ technology. We'll be able to build on that experience. We have already demonstrated a unique model to go from concept to clinical trial within five years, and HAMMR is the next iteration of that approach.”

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