How to pilot digital health applications

March 3, 2017
Niko Skievaski President & Co-Founder

I had the pleasure of trying to fit in on a panel of health tech experts this week at the Digital Medtech Conference in San Francisco. The topic: Preparing for a Successful Digital Health Pilot. The panel was moderated by Tamara StClaire (former CIO of Xerox) and included Alexander Grunewald (Healthcare Innovation at J&J), Cory Kid (Founder of Catalia), and, for some reason, they invited me too.

.@drstclaire, @JNJNews, @coryk, & @niko_ski share insights – preparing 4 a successful #DigitalHealth pilot #startupsessions #DigitalMedTech

— Erin Leahy (@ErinMedTechCon) March 1, 2017

I’d like to recap some of the things I learned up there—some of the points were fitting for many of our application partners building new products on top of the Redox network.

A pilot is an experiment

The purpose of a pilot is to test a hypothesis: if we implement product X with a specific population over a defined time horizon, then we should expect Y result. It’s important to clearly define the expected outcomes of a pilot before hand—this is the only way you’ll be able to tell when the pilot phase is done, if it was successful, and how to move forward based on evidence.  

The benefit your customer gets from a pilot is improved outcomes. The benefit you get is a customer reference and case study to help you sell in the future. Make sure to make the expectations clear that you’re able to use the oucomes of the pilot for marketing purposes.

Align outcomes with strategic initiatives

A pilot is a collaboration. As such, the customer is taking a risk by embarking on the pilot with you, and the best way to help them feel good about taking that risk is by aligning the goals of the pilot with specific strategic initiatives at the health system.

Typically, healthcare organizations have 3-5 strategic initiatives that broadly outline what’s of immediate importance to the organization. As you get to know the health system, you should be able to figure out what these are (they’re often listed publicly on their websites, too).

For example, check out Intermountain Healthcare’s strategic initiatives here. If your product focuses on patient safety, try to align the outcomes you’re testing for under the same metrics and language used by their Patient Safety initiative.

Choose early adopters

The best pilot customers are early adopters. I’m talking about the typical lean startup definition of an early adopter.

An early adopter…

  1. knows they have a problem
  2. has tried to solve the problem on their own, often with a piecemeal solution
  3. has the budget (the right incentives) to solve it

This is why I love focusing on problems in stated strategic initiatives. A strategic initiative is the health system essentially spelling out these characteristics.

Because early adopters have often scrapped together manual and clunky solutions to the problem, they’re also willing to work with an early-stage product or prototype without all of the slick bells and whistles. For folks integrating with Redox, we suggest slimming down their integration scope (or just don’t do integration at all) in the pilot phase. Early adopters are okay with having a little clunkier workflow, especially if they know it’s just for the pilot and there’s an integration plan in place for enterprise roll-out.

Customer success is key

As Paul Graham puts it, do things that don’t scale. Heavy-handed customer success tactics are a requirement for pilots, and the lessons you’ll learn from going on-site will be tremendous. Take the opportunity to meet with stakeholders face-to-face and provide at-the-elbow support and observation of users.

The immersion in your user’s workflows will yield invaluable insight into how and why your product is used (or not) in the pilot, and the relationships you create with your users can help to turn them into your internal champions as the product is rolled out beyond the early-adopter pilot group.

Pilots are not trials

While a pilot can be a pre-requisite to a larger sale, they should not be used as a sales tool. Trials are one-sided: “You have 90 days to try my product before the contract terms kick in. If you’re not 100% satisfied, we can turn it off with no risk.” This is a reasonable sales tool, but it’s not a pilot.

Pilots are mutually beneficial collaborations between you and the customers to show efficacy. If they don’t see themselves getting as much benefit out of a pilot as you do, then they will likely be unwilling to pay or even charge you for the pilot. Yes, some health systems have charged certain startups to execute a pilot, as they see themselves as providing the evidence, something more valuable than the outcome itself.

At Redox, our job to help guide application partners through the process of closing deals with health systems. Our incentives are aligned to get you live and integrated quickly. Sometimes this involves working with groups to get a pilot initiated before a wider rollout. If you think we can help, let us know. We’d love to chat about it.

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