Further confirmation of the New Reality for digital health–lower valuations, more exits, fewer startups, tech buyers not seeing ROI

In the wrap ups of 2023 last December and a month later in January, this Editor summarized it as not a year of slow, steady growth as predicted by the experts in January 2023, but one of utter turmoil starting in March, peaking mid-summer when M&A cratered and the Feds cracked down on antitrust and privacy. By year’s end, picking through the debris, we saw it as a ‘clearing’ year of the “also-rans and never-should-have-beens” that were funded willy-nilly in 2020-2022. 

The good, bad, and ugly are facing the music in 2024′. Our latest in POVs on the New Reality surrounding digital health/health technology. 

More exits of various types, reduced valuations, need to fundraise again among digital health startups. Katie Adams of MedCityNews, which of the mainstream online health news websites has the tartest takes on the business, interviewed two investors in digital health. Their POVs:

Cheryl Cheng, CEO of Vive Collective (Menlo Park, California)

  • Raised large rounds in 2021? These companies now face ‘valuation overhangs’ that aren’t ‘bridged by organic growth’ and a far tighter investment environment with reduced valuations and exits. (That exit may be a sale–or a shutdown–Ed.)
  • Investor priority? Profitability, not growth.
  • What counts in today’s environment in raising capital? Be within 24 months of being EBITDA positive. (EBITDA=earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization). Steady growth in last two years also counts as a positive. Raising money will be less difficult–not easy. (No more rivers of free-flowing money to fill one’s buckets–Ed.)
  • Have a point solution? Many providers have point-solution fatigue and are pushing toward platforms. That alone will force some startups to sell.

Ian Wijaya, managing director at investment bank Lazard

  • What are the big questions of startup boards that include investors? How many months of cash runway are left? If markets are improving, is now the time to explore a sale jointly with a financing?
  • What drives the pricing? The “specific quality of the company and the value it can achieve across its strategic alternatives.”
  • What should startups do? Thoroughly explore their strategic alternatives and separate what is actionable from what is fantasy.
  • The best deal? When companies are bought, not sold–when the buyer initiates the process, not when the company puts up the ‘For Sale’ sign. That requires a little sleight of hand in engaging with potential buyers well in advance and creating a competitive environment, which requires time.

Not a good environment for startups, either. If Redesign Health is a bellwether of startup creation–their business is building healthcare companies which are then spun off–their layoff of 77 staff from their New York-based 200 to 250 (estimated) is not a good sign. The cuts are from the areas that support new venture creation. Redesign started in 2018. According to FierceHealthcare, Redesign has started up 65 healthcare companies (over 50 stated on the website), including 40 in the past two years, but only 35 are current on their website. They are backed by a ‘who’s who’ of investors who have $165 million with, in September 2022, a $1.7 billion valuation, but they’re not going anywhere. But it’s a sign that Redesign is backing off from actively forming new startups, and likely working to ensure the survival of those in the portfolio like the challenged Calibrate.  BNN Breaking

The tech buyer market has a problem that could interfere with all the above: ROI. It turns out that while payers and providers are integrating digital health into their systems, 71% in the Ernst & Young (EY) survey said that their hospital expenses weren’t decreased by said implementation. But then there’s efficiencies.

  • 93% of respondents said emerging technology is an asset for providers and that the technology has positively affected operational efficiency (but efficiency isn’t translating into savings?)
  • 90% said their departments have more time to take care of the needs of providers thanks to pushing administrative tasks to a digital system
  • But while 86% acknowledged the potential for reducing costs via digital health, 70% said they have yet to see a return on investment


And in this year, providers are where it’s at if you’re investing–especially for-profit hospitals. This is the first time in years, according to TD Cowen analyst Gary Taylor at a Nashville Health Care Council event. Providers are finally experiencing meaningful lower labor costs. However, non-profits have come out of the past few years in uncertain to poor shape and for-profits will pick up their market share, facilities, and technology. Conversely, payers are adjusting to increased Medicare Advantage costs that have turned profits into losses (e.g. Humana, Cigna’s exit, the Cano Health and Bright Health failures). Medical utilization is rising and CMS is cutting back on benchmark payments to payers. Becker’s

All reasons why 2024 will be a most interesting year. To be continued. 

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