Partnerships For Emerging Healthcare Startups: How To Find The Right Fit
CEO and Co-Founder of Alio — working to improve the lives of those with chronic conditions through non-invasive wearables
The winning formula for many entrepreneurs is to “disrupt” archaic industries with dated technological infrastructure. It worked in industries such as transportation, SaaS, e-commerce, etc., but it is rarely the fruitful path in healthcare. Most healthcare technology fails because it does not integrate into existing workflows. With many existing friction points for patients and clinicians, you have to meet the consumer where they are, understand the systems in which they live and work, and then adapt your technology to solve an unmet need.
To ensure technology aligns the interests of the four Ps — patient, physician, provider and payer — ask the following:
• Does it solve a compelling need for each?
• Does the implementation seamlessly integrate into everyone’s workflows?
• Does it create value over whatever already exists for all four Ps?
The best way to answer these questions and create a successful business model is through strategic partnerships.
Who are you looking for?
In the early days, this will mean fewer, more tailored partnerships. Rather than creating a minimally viable product and selling it to the biggest name knocking on your door, pursue smaller scale partnerships, allowing deeper connections and insights into the patient population you are serving. Resist the urge to move fast and break things; instead, be the solution patients, clinicians and payers(!) are looking for.
The following is a checklist to help you find the right partnerships.
Align on the problem.
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Potential partners, particularly health systems, get pitched by vendors all the time. There is no shortage of point solutions available for them to choose from. How do you differentiate? First, take as much time to listen as you do to pitch. Understand what your partners have tried in the past, their current solution set and their version of “ideal” in terms of serving their patient; understand their context better than they do. Sometimes, the biggest barriers are not “does the technology work?” or “is it easy to train our people on?” but rather, “can or how do we bill for this?”
Usability and well-designed technology are the tip of the iceberg; it’s the challenges like billing, training/onboarding, politics and patient engagement that make or break partnerships. Develop a deep and nuanced understanding of the problem before attempting to sell the solution.
Find common ground.
Often, the best partnerships are not those where great technology is put in the hands of those who need it. They come from aligning two like-minded organizations. Today, mission-driven organizations have the biggest impact and attract top talent. Even if you align on the problem, if you do not have the same vision on how healthcare should work, then you will not be able to make much progress. It is important to have a firm grasp on your company values before pursuing partnerships. Knowing what is important to your organization makes it easier to identify and forge strong relationships. Some examples of these types of partnerships include two or more organizations aligned on the following:
• Patient centricity: Above all else, we want the patient to have a seamless experience (meaning great in-clinic services as well as UX). We are equally focused on improving health outcomes.
• Increased transparency: Healthcare is a notoriously data-rich industry but is also known for being extremely siloed. Some organizations lean into the idea of a mutually beneficial relationship, founded on principles of data sharing and transparency, as the best way to deliver improved care. If we pool our data, we will create a clearer picture of an individual’s care journey. This is particularly important for any organizations leveraging AI or ML applications within their product.
• Aligned on vision for the future: The people involved in crafting the original vision will eventually leave their side of the partnership. While the groundwork is laid in the early years of the partnership, overcoming challenges and scaling the partnership will happen in the middle years. This is when partnerships can become fragile and newly recruited personnel disillusioned. It is important to have a shared north star, frequently referenced.
Adapt to learnings.
Early-stage organizations need to be highly flexible. This means being willing to adapt your product or add custom integrations/features. In the early days, you can accommodate these types of requests from partners, and while it is not a scalable practice, it is a practice that offers insight into how your product can and should evolve in some cases. Deploying healthcare technology is by no means subject to the “crockpot mentality” of set it and forget it. It requires flexible, agile athleticism. The challenges and patient needs are not going to change; your solution has to adapt to best address them.
This may seem daunting in the early days of product development, but it gives you the opportunity to set up the process for how you address these requests internally. Building this muscle makes it easier to accommodate future requests from partners so you are not recreating the wheel every time you launch with a new partner.
Expand use cases.
Is the first partnership the hardest? No, but it can make subsequent partnerships easier. Once you understand how your technology fits into a space — its differentiators, its value — it can be applied to other spaces. For example, if you have a wearable technology capable of detecting a variety of biometric data points, could it be applied to other chronic conditions? Could it be leveraged where the body experiences higher levels of stress? With each partnership, your technology becomes more effective and refined.
Ultimately, the best part of any partnership is the people. Work with people who are willing to bet on you. Many entrants in digital health look for a big brand to buy them, enabling an expeditious exit. Those who are looking to make lasting change in healthcare develop deep relationships to create more than cool technology. Rather, they build solutions aligning the four Ps and creating impact where it matters most: in the lives of patients and the people who care for them.