Events, Health IT, Hospitals

Know your stuff: Advice to digital health startups looking for hospital customers

How can digital health companies capture hospitals’ interest? Three panelists at MedCity INVEST proffered a few suggestions.

From left: Karen Griffith Gryga, chief investment officer, DreamIt; Dr. Carolyn Jasik, medical director, Omada Health; Dr. Lyle Berkowitz, director of innovation, Northwestern Medicine; and Tom Sudow, director of development, Cleveland Clinic Innovations

From left: Moderator Karen Griffith Gryga, chief investment officer, DreamIt; Dr. Carolyn Jasik, medical director, Omada Health; Dr. Lyle Berkowitz, director of innovation, Northwestern Medicine; and Tom Sudow, director of business development, Cleveland Clinic Innovations

It’s no easy feat for a digital health startup to approach a hospital for a pilot. The company can come forward with zeal and excitement, but ultimately it comes down to what the hospital’s team thinks.

So what can a startup do to catch the attention of potential health system customers?

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During a panel at MedCity INVEST on May 18, three directors offered a few nuggets of advice.

The first step is to know the hospital you’re pitching to. Consider whether there’s “a market need in the health system for that solution,” said Dr. Carolyn Jasik, medical director of Omada Health.

For example, Dr. Lyle Berkowitz, director of innovation for Northwestern Medicine, said his organization focuses on four areas in innovation: telehealth, value-based care, workflow efficiency and the digital patient experience.

Tom Sudow, Cleveland Clinic Innovations’ director of business development, looks for something a bit different. CCI wants a startup that’s based on science, clinically relevant and commercially viable. “What’s the business model look like?” he asked during the panel.

The question brings to light another key point: Remember the business side, both analytically and fiscally.

Many entrepreneurs only consider their startup from the consumer perspective and “forget that healthcare is a business,” Jasik said. “Offer a solution that doesn’t just make clinical sense, but makes business sense as well.”

Sudow advised startups to contemplate what the hospital is thinking: “How is this going to get paid for?”

Yet because they’re working in the healthcare bubble, digital health companies can’t solely focus on the business aspect — they also need to zero in on the clinical side. “When a company comes to me and there’s no doctor involved, that’s a red flag,” Berkowitz said. “Having some clinical input on a regular basis is important.”

Fruitful input doesn’t only come from clinicians, though. Jasik suggested bringing in consultants. “Building money into your budgets for your consultants is important,” she noted.

Berkowitz also proposed developing relationships with EHR vendors. Getting their buy-in is not only useful, but it can also be a crucial stepping stone on the path toward a hospital partnership. “Over time, that can open up a lot of doors,” Berkowitz said. “What you don’t want is any EMR vendor to say, ‘We don’t know these guys. We don’t trust them.'”

Startups have to possess the proper clinical, technical and business acumen to succeed, and they must understand a hospital’s needs before approaching executives.

But deep down, they also need to convey what makes them unique. “Have a compelling argument about how what you do is different and better,” Berkowitz said.

Photo: Nohemi Moran, MedCity News