Hospitals, Startups

The pluses and pain points of healthcare partnerships

A healthcare collaboration makes life easier for the entities involved … right? Well, not always. The road to a partnership can be full of stumbling blocks.

For health systems and medical startups alike, the word “partnership” can sound so alluring. Teaming up can bring benefits to both parties, and within the healthcare space, a collaboration can potentially benefit a broad swath of patients. On the whole, a deal makes life easier for the entities involved … right?

Well, not always.

While partnerships can be wildly successful, they’re not without their pitfalls. There can be numerous snags along the way that prevent an ideal relationship from blossoming. One such issue is the length of time it takes for a partnership to actually launch.

During a panel discussion at HLTH in Las Vegas, Quartet Chief Science Officer David Wennberg said finding point people within a potential partner could be helpful. Finding these individuals can make getting to a “yes” or “no” answer simpler.

Bridget Duffy, CMO of Vocera Communications, agreed. One strategy is to search for a physician or nurse stakeholder who can advocate for your company and push the collaboration forward.

But these tactics don’t work all the time. Sometimes the agreement process can drag on and on.

Gil Addo, cofounder and CEO of RubiconMD, shared a personal example of how tedious it can be. His New York City-based company provides an eConsult platform so primary care physicians can connect with specialists.

In mid-2015, the startup was working with a client that was excited about rolling out the eConsult solution. But RubiconMD didn’t get the signed contract from the customer until the beginning of 2017.

“Mind you, these people were thrilled about this,” Addo said. Though the deal eventually worked out, the process was certainly lengthy. “If you’re selling into a market and that market is moving slowly, you will die,” he added.

Hospitals can be particularly challenging partners purely because of all the red tape an entity has to cut through to get the thumbs up.

Even Bob Garrett, co-CEO of a health system — Hackensack Meridian Health in Edison, New Jersey — acknowledged the issue. “As health systems have grown, … there is an inherent bureaucracy” that has developed, he said, noting that hospitals have to streamline their decision-making processes.

Despite these challenges, there are benefits of initiating a partnership. Garrett touched on how his system has collaborated with IBM Watson Health and Cota to improve cancer care.

By happenstance, the panel discussion ended on a fitting note: Duffy said she had never heard of Addo’s startup, but that there could be opportunities for their organizations to team up in the future.

Photo: mediaphotos, Getty Images