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Therantology: What Can We Learn from the Theranos Ordeal?


The downfall of lab services firm Theranos has made for thousands of headlines, but it's also created a good learning opportunity for physicians and entrepreneurs.

Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes, innovation

The Theranos story continues to unfold in the headlines and will likely be the stuff of Harvard Business School cases for years to come. Here is a brief history of Theranos, its blood-testing device, and the trouble in which they now find themselves.

Many journalists have offered lessons to be learned from the Theranos ordeal. Yet, we continue to see examples of people who develop businesses and technologies that, it seems, have ignored these lessons.

For those just getting started, beware of:

1. Digital health companies that create products that are not clinically effective

2. Companies that continue to tug on the FDA's cape in an attempt to bypass regulatory rules that they don't think should apply to them

3. The unbridled hubris of some sick-care entrepreneurs

4. Executives who just won’t do the right thing, particularly when the company interest is placed above the patient interest

5. Entrepreneurs who don’t know when and how to tell the truth to authority

6. Massive PR and crisis mismanagement teams

7. Executive who get caught up in the techno-hype and smelling too much of their own perfume

8. People who refuse to acknowledge truth, regardless of its source

9. A company built around a personality instead of a product that makes a difference

10. The failure to recognize the difference between sick-care compared to other highly regulated non-sick care industries

Doctors suffer from the same faults when they try to manage a patient with complications that are spiraling out of control. Many times, one bad decision leads to another. It is never comfortable presenting at Innovation Morbidity and Mortality Conference.

Physician entrepreneurs should take a breath and apply the lessons they learn at the bedside to crises in the boardroom. The clinical mindset is not that different from the entrepreneurial mindset.

Photo: Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos. Image (cropped) by TechCrunch. Used via Creative Commons license.

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