I speak with digital health companies every day. The conversation is rooted in talks of data integration, but necessarily follows to application workflows and what health systems are coming down their pipeline.
What stands out like a whiplash between conference calls is the vast diversity. Some are seasoned healthcare veterans who speak in HL7 tongues and could begrudgingly build point-to-point interface with their eyes closed. Some are at a purely conceptual phase and are still trying to wrap their heads around just what data they can actually get out of a health system’s EHR, and who they are going to have to convince to take a chance on their product.
At Redox, one of our biggest challenges is how we support this diversity with a single offering. How do we cater to the early stage dreamers and builders (those who we have a very special place in our hearts) when they might not even have a product for another 6 months to a year?
What we’ve realized is that we have to do a much better job sharing what we’ve learned working with healthcare apps and from our time in the cubicle basements that are IT departments. We need to compile libraries where groups can access content targeted at various stages of development–beyond just ranting on our blog. So here is a first stab that what will evolve into one of the core focuses of Redox in 2016: here’s how we qualify customers.
Key Qualification Questions
Do you have a product?
This might sound silly, but talk to a number of CIOs or clinical champions who have finished an hour long pitch meeting excited at the prospect of some new solution improving a critical deficiency only to find they were looking at UI mockups and it will be months until a beta version would be available to start testing. There is a balance between an MVP and a flat out lie. To truly be selling a solution you need to have something that can be piloted.
For Redox, we love early stage developers. Our dev tools are designed with you in mind. You’re able to find available data as well as shoot your self sample data to build out an integrated workflow. When you’re ready, whether in weeks or months, we’ll help you get it hooked up at your first health system customer.
Do you meet all the necessary security requirements?
Cloud, VPN, PHI, HIPAA… this is all very loaded stuff. Going through the necessary security requirements is something whole businesses are devoted to so I won’t dive too much into it here. Be certain to have done your homework and have your house in order! A resource we’d recommend leveraging is this handy spreadsheet put together by the good people at the Cloud Security Alliance. It helps you go through an internal audit of your infrastructure and processes and ensures you won’t be answering these questions for the first time when you are talking to a customer.
On intro calls with us, we’ll ask you if your product is live and storing/exchanging PHI with a health system. This is our way of trying to figure out if you’ve gone through a health system security audit yet. The groups we work with who have are able to move magnitudes faster.
Can your team execute?
This might seem a little “soft” or maybe too much like a VC question–but it is vitally important to us. Who makes up your team and why are you positioned to develop the best solution? Can you sell your product in the gauntlet that is healthcare enterprise sales? Do you have a track record of success in previous ventures in a related space? In general, here are the three key components our successful application partners have on their team:
- Clinical Expert: Someone on your team has intimate knowledge of the problem you are targeting in the provider setting. This way you understand the realities of the current state and can position your product in a way that truly offers value. This also builds tremendous credibility when you’re selling.
- Technical Founder: You are going to need a strong team to execute on your vision. Do you have a strong technical co-founder/ early employee who is invested in the success of your solution? There will be issues, hiccups, and rebuilds. Having a blue chip tech team engaged in your customers’ success is the best way to navigate these waves and come out standing on the other side.
- Business Realist: You can have the best vision and technical product on the market- but is there a business case for it? The unfortunate reality is a lot of groups have “really cool solutions”, but have no realistic business model. We all wish great solutions with the power to help people always got adopted, but at the end of the day, the “who is going to pay for this”, is a real discussion that needs to happen. The current reality in healthcare is selling to the enterprise or finding a clever work around.
Can you sell to a health system?
This is a tough one, and a little unfair to the startups out there, but it needs to be addressed. Selling to a health system enterprise is unlike any other industry. The maze of clinical, IT, compliance, and procurement stakeholders and processes is a beast. Not to mention the reality of personal politics and budget cycles. If you are selling into a system for the first time it is going to be an uphill slog. Some would say it’s like breaking an arm. Having a track record of success is huge as it shows you’ve got through it before and are prepared to answer the tough questions and keep things moving even when unexpected problems arise. We admittedly aren’t experts in this ourselves, our digital health partners are the ones who are the real heroes at this. But, we’ve worked with enough groups to see the benefit of having someone experienced leading the charge.
Do you have staying power?
This is one part team, one part financial position, and a final part strategic partnerships. Ideally you are strong in all three. Healthcare is not a consumer driven industry. Organizations (and individuals) are slow to embrace change so establishing your credibility is key. This can be done based on your history (renowned clinician, successful exits) or by the sign of faith a VC has placed in you by leading an investment round. Finally, if you are working closely with an innovative health system or well known organization, that association can go a long way in proving your legitimacy and getting a group to believe in you. Everyone wants to work with a recognizable name (or at least defend there decision by pointing to them if anything goes wrong). No one got fired for buying IBM (or Epic, as the health care version goes.)
While nothing I write should be taken as gospel- these are some takeaways from my experiences to date. I will continue to work to be more transparent and open with what we are experiencing and learning as we continue with you on this journey.