“The number one lesson learned from the early days of talking to health systems is that you really have to convince them that you are solving a problem they are having today,” he said. “Startups often try to do too much at the beginning and fail to convey the problem they are trying to solve.”
While Berkowitz and Baran had the idea of an automation platform for clinics, they began with a very narrow niche — prescription refill requests. A tight focus allowed the company to attract customers that were looking to solve that specific issue, which happened to be a common pain point at clinics across the board.
Once they captured the attention of system leaders, the crucial next step became identifying the stakeholders or executive sponsors willing to take a chance on an innovative product. Internal cheerleaders played an important role in taking Healthfinch's technology from pilot project to system-wide rollout.
“Probably the most important aspect of pilot structure that ensures success is getting appropriate stakeholder buy-in and making sure they stay engaged through the life of the project,” said Baran. “It's all about finding those early adopters and innovators that have such a burning problem that they adopt the technology.”
Implementation of Healthfinch's platform required a multistep process that eased staff into the new processes of working with automation software, including the creation of standardized protocols and a centralized team to ensure adherence. When encountering bumps in the road — such as resistance from staff or bugs in the technology — stakeholder engagement can mean the difference between success and failure.
Though a start-up, Healthfinch benefited from Berkowitz and Baran's decision to locate in Madison, Wis. Epic, the nation's largest electronic health record software company, is headquartered nearby and has created a pipeline for new talent from the University of Wisconsin, enabling the start-up to recruit talented developers both from the university and the high-caliber health systems nearby.
Lastly, Baran says new entrepreneurs in the healthcare technology space should under-promise and over-deliver. “Make sure that when you're selling, sell what you have confidence in and can execute on — even if you think you can do more,” he said.
Vic Arnold, managing director at Huron Consulting Group, also advises health tech startups to work closely not just with executives but the physicians and nurses on the front line.
“Take the time to actually work with more than one or two physicians, and have them really step you through a given workflow process,” said Arnold. “You'll have a much better product, and the adoption of that product will be much faster.”
Meeri Kim is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.