MDisrupt is celebrating its second anniversary this week, and we’re speaking with the company’s founder and CEO, Ruby Gadelrab, about what she’s learned and where digital health is headed.
Solving the three pain points
MDisrupt: First, tell us about your path to founding MDisrupt.
Ruby Gadelrab: I spent 24 years in healthcare on the commercial side and eventually landed at 23andMe, as VP of commercial marketing. In three years there I really caught the bug for consumerized healthcare and digital health. I left 23andMe to help the growing number of digital health companies that were forming, and consulted for twenty-five of these companies back to back. I learned that these companies, as they bring their products to market, all have the same three pain points.
We built MDisrupt to help them overcome those pain points, which are:
- How can digital health innovators access trusted health care operators who can help them build and commercialize their products?
- As soon as a health product gets to market, how does a digital health company find its earliest clinical users? Who are those innovators within the healthcare system that are willing to try products early on?
- How to quickly generate evidence to convince the variety of stakeholders that need to be convinced?
Our mission is to help the most impactful digital health products get to market quickly and responsibly.
Today, as we embark on our third year, I want to say a huge thank you to everybody who’s been involved in MDisrupt. We’ve built a network of over 200 health industry experts on demand. We’ve worked with over 40 clients already. And we have this network of incredible advisors who have been guiding us every step of the way. I could not be more grateful to the experts in our network, the clients who have trusted us with complex challenges, and the advisors who have guided us every step of the way.
MDisrupt: What are some lessons you’ve learned in growing MDisrupt through its second year?
Ruby Gadelrab: The top lesson is around trust. A few weeks ago, I interviewed Dr. Shantanu Nundy on Clubhouse and he said, “Healthcare moves at the speed of trust.” It’s all about trust with your clients, your community, your team, and your advisors.
Secondly, you have to build a team that shares your mission and can fill in your knowledge gaps. We’ve built a really incredible team to augment what I know and push the company forward.
The third lesson is the complexities of fundraising, which we started in the last couple of months. We’ve had some amazing interest so far, but fundraising is hard—and it’s really hard as a brown, female, first-time founder. But I’m really optimistic, because we’ve had some great traction and we see ourselves as building a scalable platform that can really help digital health companies accelerate their path to market.
Healthcare innovation is not optional—it’s an absolute necessity.
MDisrupt: What have you learned from MDisrupt’s health experts that has surprised you?
Ruby Gadelrab: I’ve been marketing and selling to scientists and physicians my whole career. Today, we are at an inflection point. Everybody I speak to is united in saying that innovation in healthcare is not an option anymore. It’s an absolute necessity.
There is a lot of focus on finding solutions around access to health care, improved health outcomes, simplified delivery of services, transparency, and convenience. And one of the challenges is, How do we build these solutions in an evidence-based way?
The incentives for each type of stakeholder are very different. For providers, it’s about maximizing their time, creating solutions that fit into their clinical workflows, and improving their patients’ experience. For payers, it’s about the economics. For patients, it’s about how to access healthcare simply, conveniently, and transparently. And for the digital health companies, it’s about scaling quickly and being the first disrupters in a very complex market.
The big challenge is, How do we create solutions that address the incentives for everybody in that ecosystem? How do we do it cost effectively, responsibly, and in a way that scales? These are the challenges I think we’ll see solved over the next 10 years.
A new breed of clinician
MDisrupt: What are some characteristics of the people who have joined MDisrupt this year?
Ruby Gadelrab: A lot of the experts who have joined us have experience in building health products. That’s one of the key features of the MDisrupt health expert network—it’s made up of people who have done this before and really understand the challenges.
We’re also seeing a new breed of clinician. These clinicians have been in practice for many years, and see the need for change through innovation. They want to get involved with digital health companies, they want to be medical advisors, and they want to have a say in building products and in how the products are presented to their peers.
These physicians hold the power to change the healthcare system from within. I want to help them understand their power, so they can work with digital health companies so we can get those solutions into healthcare faster.
Secrets of digital health success
MDisrupt: When you look at successful digital health companies, what are they doing right?
Ruby Gadelrab: First, they engage clinical experts early and often throughout the process of developing a health product.
Second, they take their regulatory and evidence generation very seriously. They don’t skip steps, and they go very deeply into figuring out the appropriate regulatory path and generating the right evidence to convince the various stakeholders.
Third, they build balanced teams. Building health products requires careful orchestration between technical, commercial, and clinical teams, and I think some of the best companies we’ve seen have got a great balance between those three areas.
MDisrupt: In our webinar next week, we’re talking about why it can be important, early on, for a digital health company to hire a chief medical or scientific officer. What’s your view on that?
Ruby Gadelrab: It’s really important. It helps you build the right product from the start, and save a ton of time and money by not making mistakes. For example, we see a lot of companies who have a technology, and they’re trying to back it into a problem—but it doesn’t actually solve a clinical problem. So having people who really understand clinical workflows and what physicians are looking for can add huge value.
Physicians are some of the most skeptical audiences in the world, but they listen to their peers. And I think chief medical officers, chief scientific officers, and medical affairs teams are really the key to communicating with those communities. Even if it’s a part-time role, chief medical officers are worth their weight in gold and can be the difference between success and failure in getting a health product adopted.
The need for standards
MDisrupt: What are some of the biggest challenges you see in the digital health industry as a whole?
Ruby Gadelrab: There was an article out recently from IQVIA that said there are 350,000 digital health apps in the market, and 250 new ones come out every day. How do we, as consumers or providers, know what’s good? There is no systematized way of identifying what the standards are. If you have a choice of five different genetic tests, which one is right for you? So I think there need to be some standards and transparency around the standards. And I think it’s really important that we bring some of the clinicians along with us in that journey around how that data is generated, how they use it in their clinics.
One thing we would like to do over time is to develop the standards for digital health—to organize the world’s digital health products by performance and create transparency, so people can make the right decisions.
The final challenge is around the cost and time it takes to commercialize a health product. In the consumer world, we can build and commercialize and scale a product within five years. In healthcare, it’s different—the evidence generation by itself takes longer, and the amount of time and the cost in convincing the stakeholders to get widespread adoption is much longer. I think it’s important for innovators to be realistic about what it takes to scale a health product.
MDisrupt: What do you think is in store for digital health in 2022?
Ruby Gadelrab: I wish I wasn’t saying more COVID solutions, but it will be more COVID solutions because we’re not nearly out of the pandemic yet. With the delta variant, there are going to be more options for testing. I hope over the next year or so, we’ll be thinking about some of the back-to-work solutions for COVID. And I see more healthcare from home solutions, whether that be at-home testing, remote patient monitoring, telemedicine. Many chronic conditions are a function of lifestyle and social determinants of health, so I see a lot of solutions coming around mental health, cancer, cardiovascular disease, addiction, and diabetes.
MDisrupt: This time next year, what do you think we’ll be saying about MDisrupt?
Ruby Gadelrab: I think we will have built out our community of experts to be even bigger and broader. We will have served more truth-seeking clients who are bringing game-changing innovations to healthcare. I think we will have raised our first institutional funding and we’ll hopefully be celebrating with our investors at that point. And I think we will have some new solutions for our digital health clients around how they find their earliest clinical adopters and how they generate evidence. I hope we’ll be celebrating all of that!
At MDisrupt we believe that the most impactful health products should make it to market quickly. We help make this happen by connecting digital health innovators to the healthcare industry experts and scientists they need to responsibly accelerate product development, commercialization, adoption, and scale.
Our expert consultants span the healthcare continuum and can assist with all stages of health product development. This includes regulatory, clinical studies and evidence generation, payor strategies, commercialization, and channel strategies. If you are building a health product, talk to us.