3 golden rules for health tech entrepreneurs

If the last 10 years practicing family medicine have taught me anything, it’s that there is a desperate need for innovation in healthcare. I don’t just mean in terms of medical treatments or protocols, but really in every aspect. As a physician, I’ve worked with my fair share of “the latest and greatest” innovations both in my outpatient practice and at hospitals.

As I shifted into my current position, I’ve come across some products that were distinguished winners, eventually going on to become not just highly successful but the new gold standard in the industry. Others, unfortunately, never even got off the ground. Often, in the back of my mind, I felt like I could always tell which ones had the staying power to transform healthcare the way it needed to be transformed.

When it comes to ensuring the success of your product, service or innovation, following these three golden rules will put you on the right track.

When it comes to ensuring the success of your product, service or innovation, following these three golden rules will put you on the right track. It’s no guarantee, but without getting these three things right, you’ve got no shot.

Design for outcomes first

Stephen Covey coined the phrase: “Begin with the end in mind.” It’s the second of his 7 Habits. But he could have also been writing about habits for health tech innovators. It’s not enough to develop a “new tool” to use in a health setting. Maybe it has a purpose, but does it meaningfully address a need, or solve a problem, in a way that measurably improves outcomes? In other words: Does it have value?

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, pharmaceutical and research firms set out upon a global mission to develop safe and effective vaccines, to bring the virus under control and return life around the world to something approaching “normal” … and quickly. In less than a year, Pfizer and Moderna crossed the finish line first, bringing novel two-jab mRNA vaccines to market with extraordinary speed and with an outstanding efficacy rate.

Vaccine makers started with an outcome in mind and, in countries with plentiful vaccine access, are delivering on those outcomes. But not all outcomes need be so lofty to be effective. Maybe your innovation aims to:

  • Improve patient compliance with at-home treatment plans.
  • Reduce the burden of documentation on physicians and scribes.
  • Increase access to quality care among underserved, impoverished or marginalized communities.

For example, Alertive Healthcare, one of our portfolio companies, wanted to meaningfully improve round-the-clock care for when patients couldn’t get in to see their physicians and developed a platform for clinical-grade remote patient monitoring. Patients download an easy-to-use app that sends intelligent alerts to providers, reducing documentation and decreasing time to treatment. Patients enrolled in the app reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke by 50%. That’s compelling value and an example of designing for outcomes.

When designing for outcomes, it’s also important to know precisely how you’ll measure success. When you can point toward quantifiable metrics, you’re not only giving yourself goals in your product design and development, you’re also establishing the proof points that sell your product into the market. Make them as meaningful and measurable as possible, as soon as possible.

Even if you’ve designed for outcomes with a compelling value and clear metrics, you must still address a critical gap many startups face to sustain viability in the market.

Perform rigorous pilot tests in real-world, front-line settings

This practice is vital in determining which technologies demand our attention and investment, which don’t and which could benefit from further refinement. There’s just no substitute for it. Sadly, that kind of testing’s not a luxury that many early-stage startups have. In lieu of true pilots, many startups fall prey to a common misconception: What works in the boardroom will work in clinical practice. That’s often a recipe for failure.

When you put your product into the hands of patients and physicians, or those who understand the unique challenges faced on a daily basis, you gain clarity on the use and utility of your product or service with a clear path to iteration and optimization. This insight allows you to target your consumer effectively, efficiently and in tandem.

Piloting de-risks your journey. The more robust your testing ecosystem — evaluating as many meaningful use cases with as much measurement as possible — the lower your risk upon entering the market.

Our team is physician-owned and -led, meaning we have robust access to care providers, health systems and key industry players. This allows us the opportunities to put innovations to the test and properly pilot innovations in real-world settings. We’ve performed thousands. We saw that success on the front lines is what separated companies with flourishing products from those that never had their product see the light of day.

We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for better care and an innovation hub. But our mission also comes with a distinct purpose: Giving patients the best there is to offer. That means bringing new products and services to testing environments bolstered with some of the best clinical expertise.

Preserve the patient-provider relationship

As a physician, my primary focus is to be able to make the time that I spend with my patients meaningful. That may mean that I am equipped with the tools to evaluate them effectively without compromising the integrity of their time with me. The more we can increase not just the quantity but the quality of time spent together, the more we can build trust and meaning into each patient-provider interaction.

Patients want to follow their physician’s advice and guidance. They want to be heard, understood and equipped with the resources that best support their path to optimal health in an altruistic yet cost-effective way, and providers want to do the same for their patients. No matter how the industry changes, that relationship remains the backbone of healthcare.

A patient-centric health tech startup not only protects that relationship, it also strengthens that bond, empowering patients and care teams to confidently co-manage health and wellness together. When I see that’s their mission, it clues me in to whether a startup is serious about incorporating what it takes to build and scale their company.

Protecting this trust can be multifaceted:

  • It could be demonstrated in the depth-of-care delivery transformation, such as reducing the administrative burden for providers through tools that capture pertinent patient information without manual involvement.
  • It could rely on communication tools that improve the transfer of information between members of the care team seamlessly.
  • It could even focus on expanding upon the patient visit to capture important health data beyond the hospital or clinical walls, and sharing that knowledge proactively so that the time spent with patients and their care teams are directed toward optimizing their health outcomes preventatively.

Absent these or similar benefits, it is a hard sell for any new product or service to preserve that relationship, no matter how well your technology improves outcomes in a vacuum or in a pilot test.

Technology today is built on the premise of lasting relationships: The ones we have with the outside world, with media, social circles, consumerism and even ourselves. It builds and even breaks down our assumptions of what we think is best for ourselves, bringing in doubt, confusion and a sense of being overwhelmed by the volume of options at our fingertips.

Still, health tech companies today have major opportunities ahead of them. There’s no shortage of avenues to explore or outcomes that can be improved. If they can design and deliver on those outcomes, test their innovations in the clinical settings and reinforce the connection between patients and members of their care team, health tech can do what it sets out to do.

As a result, they’ll ensure that physicians and health systems feel supported to do what they do best: Care.