Should Health Systems Consider the Entrepreneur Experience?

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Matt Zenker

I think we all know the patient and provider experience is paramount to the future of healthcare. We also know that innovation is required to transform these experiences, and many of us are working hard on these solutions as we speak. University Hospitals is indebted to the early-stage companies we have partnered with — and invested in — to close gaps and improve experiences with novel technologies. Admittedly many of the external applications that are live in our system overcame remarkable odds just to get noticed, reviewed, funded, contracted, and implemented. Some of the companies spent years overcoming many hurdles just to get pilots started. Ask any startup, perhaps over drinks, about their own experience, and I think many systems would blush and offer to buy the next round.
Every startup founder I know would likely be mortified if we were considering their experience in the same breath as the consumer experience. But if we really believe innovation is a key ingredient to transforming healthcare, perhaps we should consider the innovation experience, or more specifically for this post, the entrepreneur experience.
To start, let’s lay out some of the most common barriers to a positive experience for startups that are looking to work with providers.
Scheduling Issues and Long Wait Times: Physicians and clinicians are increasingly hard to nail down for focused discussions and feedback, leading to delays in scheduling (and rescheduling) and it can take months just to get some initial buy in from a possible champion.
Billing Complexities: Who’s paying for this? Who has the budget, who has the resources, and who’s going to measure the ROI? Anyone? Bueller? It’s a critical question and not an easy question for healthcare systems to answer, so it often gets kicked down the road, often at the expense of the startup team’s time and expectations.
Overburdened Staff: Our IT and Digital Health teams in particular are almost always overwhelmed with some very big rocks to move (EMR transitions, recent acquisitions, vendor contracts, etc…). Testing small scale solutions sounds easy on the surface, but it often requires the same amount of hours to review, implement, and manage as longer-term relationships. This can result in a “take a ticket” deli situation, often with a line forming around the block.
Complicated Journeys: The amount of hoops to jump through seems to be growing every day, from the litany of forms, questionnaires, legal documents, and committees startups and clinical champions need to present to. Every system is different and startups are often unsure of the next step of a seemingly infinite process.
Do the headlines on these constraints sound familiar? They are the exact prickly pears that seem to snag us every time we start our work on reimagining the healthcare consumer experience. But do you know who can help us with those roadblocks? Entrepreneurs! We want them to gravitate toward us for this reason. If we continue to force startups to survive the gauntlet of minutiae in order to get the distinct honor of letting us take their tech for a spin, we will exhaust them. Just as our patients might go to our competitors (or worse, avoid care) the savviest of startups will stop working with providers, and instead work with our disruptors. And the most innovative solutions will no longer be built for us.
I certainly don’t suggest that healthcare systems work with every company that knocks on their door. Realistically, and according to our own UH Ventures data, we contract with less than 5% of the startups we talk to annually. While we wish we could do more, the constraints laid out above are not necessarily going away.
So what can systems do?
It starts with being better communicators. We can take a minute to send a note back or set up a 15-minute call to get to know them. We can try to be better at giving real and actually helpful feedback, no matter how brief. We can show them our processes and checklists, and manage expectations from the beginning. We can be honest when things aren’t going as planned. And we can tell them no, or not right now, so they can find another system with a more urgent need for their solution than us.
In other words, maybe some of us with ventures and innovation roles should start thinking of these startups, as our consumers. We can show empathy, support where we can, deliver hard news, and celebrate success with them. I’ll be the first to admit that UH Ventures can do better. We can’t afford to sap the spirit of the entrepreneurs by burying them in our inbox, and we can’t let the future of healthcare wander in the wilderness somewhere between Business Associate Agreements and Architecture Review.
If healthcare systems can invest in the entrepreneur experience, the innovations will keep coming. And maybe, just maybe, the next round of drinks will be a toast to our good work together.