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RSA publishes new study on leadership in digital health

Posted on 30/06/2016

Results reveal key differences between digital health and other life science companies.

The RSA Group has published the latest of its Talent Equity® reports, revealing vital leadership traits for building a successful digital health company.

The research was prompted by the need for new insights into the sector given the remarkable global upsurge in funding and talent searches across the breadth of digital health. It provides a helpful taxonomy across five sectors of digital health – ranging from genome-guided medicine to mobile health apps, and from clinical trials management to population health. It also examines the profiles of leaders from innovative companies across these sub-sectors.

Visionaries and pragmatists

It reveals significant differences in leadership profiles between digital health and other life science companies, such as specialty pharma, biotech and CRO services. These exist in the CEOs and founders as well as the balance of capability between the executive leadership and the board.

The study showed that while many digital health leaders have been to elite universities they hold fewer PhDs and patents than their life sciences peers. Simply put, they value application more highly than publication. The best leaders in digital health have a crystal clear view of the problem they are solving and who will pay for that solution. They combine a vision for improving people’s health with the pragmatism necessary to develop a successful software product, seamlessly harnessing teams with very different skills and motivations.

Zeal and judgment

Chris Molloy, CEO of RSA added: “We’ve seen another important feature in this sector: skills at board level. Digital innovation is the natural domain of the young but it’s also necessary to respect scientific rigour and evidence. Facts are stubborn things and an ability to work with them is a critical assessment in choosing and supporting a sound leader. The right combination of youthful zeal with proven judgement and challenge is vital. This is where the balance of leadership, talent and relevant board skills is so critical.”

Dr Charlie Grebenstein at RSA’s US partner, Heritage Partners who also worked on this study added: “successful leaders don’t need the specialist skills of software developers and health experts, they can manage with skills on one side of the ‘divide’. However, they can’t exist succeed without an effective combined vision. They need to be natural born problem solvers who either identified a healthcare problem that technology can solve or a technology that lends itself to a problem they have then identified through contacts in healthcare.”

Culture clash?

Our study exposed another difference too. Normal behaviours for people working in the technology and medical/scientific ecosystems are quite different. The tech world is an aggressive ‘do-it, fix-it’ culture, while the medical and scientific community has a regulatory obligation to vet and submit for review products and systems which bear on health and patient outcomes. Both communities can (and must) learn from the other, especially as they move into a more regulated environment.

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