Q+A with Dr. Stephen Oesterle, Partner and Healthcare Advisor at New Enterprise Associates


Meet Dr. Stephen Oesterle, long-time friend of Worrell and venture partner at New Enterprise Associates (NEA), a California-based global venture capital firm investing in technology and healthcare. Last month, we were lucky enough to welcome Dr. Oesterle into Worrell’s Black Box Lab, where he kicked off Worrell’s annual Town Hall Meeting with a presentation on how emerging technologies will allow designers to revolutionize healthcare on a global scale. Read on to learn more about Dr. Oesterle’s presentation.

What is the biggest obstacle facing global healthcare today?

The current global statistics say that 4 billion people — over half of the world’s population — have little or no access to healthcare. There is a hospital in Chengdu, China that serves the entire rural Western portion of the country. Each year, 4.5 million outpatients travel to the hospital, some spending three days on a train. When they arrive, patients see a doctor for an average of only one minute. Although the hospital plans to add 5,000 more patient beds to its current number of 11,000, the real solution likely lies outside of simple increases in capacity. The big question has become, how can we effectively distribute healthcare to 7.5 billion people?

What new technologies provide the biggest opportunity to address this issue?

The key to distributing healthcare globally is all about data. New strides in sensor technology will allow us to collect health information in real time. In fact, many sensors that gather useful health information already exist within your iPhone. At the same time, communication technologies and cellphone data networks will allow us to send it from places like rural Western China to doctors in other parts of the country or even the world.

Will this digital approach to medicine make doctors and hospitals obsolete?

We will never replace a heart valve or remove an appendix with an iPhone, but the majority of the healthcare industry today is focused on the management of chronic diseases like diabetes and congestive heart failure, which can both be monitored remotely. If we could apply these new sensor technologies to these patients, we may be able to know that something was wrong and fix it before they even realize something might be wrong. Not only will a shift towards new technologies in medicine save money, it will also save lives.