Read This Before You Sponsor Another Hackathon
By Niko Skievaski
Innovation is undoubtedly a hot topic right now in healthcare. For good reason: it’s said that one-third of spend is waste and payment models are shifting in an attempt to drive efficiency.
Technology is the obvious place to look for efficiency gains and health systems around the country are getting creative with ways to better utilize it. We see rampant partnerships with startup accelerator programs, direct early stage investments, innovation teams, and the advent of the “chief innovation officer” whose primary goals seems to be a gating mechanism for the army of entrepreneurs trying to make an impact.
We’ve directly participated in a dozen flavors of enterprise innovation programs over the past two years. With this experience, I’d like to ask health systems to try a different sort of program: just try our products.
That’s a lot easier said than done. Your organizations weren’t designed to adopt new technology. Over the past decades, data centers were constructed to house your intranet, EHR, ERP, LIS, MIS, and a slew of other acronyms. IT departments were invented to manage the onslaught of hardware and software subsequently installed on their machines. The systems are weaved together in a web of interfaces managed by graying whizzes from their cubicles.
Each new piece of technology requires budget, a new install project to be prioritized, FTE to be allocated, and expertise to be acquired. Why would any IT head want to shake up their delicate game of Jenga with new software? Especially software from an unproven startup. Especially software in the cloud.
This is poles apart from the modern, tech-savvy organization. Other industries felt market pressures and profit motives to become agile and modernize incrementally. Meanwhile, health systems felt little market pressure as costs inched up year over year.
Pressure later came from well-meaning government subsidies to adopt adequate electronic health record software, however exacerbating rather than toppling the Jenga tower. While health systems upgraded their hardware, the rest of the world moved to SaaS-based tools that eliminated the need for designated IT departments to show you where to click.
The mounting inefficiencies observed in everyday healthcare interactions could cause any millennial to quit her job and start a digital health startup attempting to bring a modern Web experience and level of service to an industry worth saving. This is the core of my request. We don’t need help starting more startups. We don’t need accelerators. We don’t need strategic investments. We need feedback.
I’m not referring to conference panels of CIOs or experienced entrepreneurs tearing startups apart. The feedback required to build an effective product comes at the front lines in the real world. It needs to get all the way into the hands of the doctors, nurses, support staff, and patients.
The technology crisis in healthcare is rooted in the lack of adoption of technology, not in the lack of technology. Similarly, your innovation won’t be in the tech you help to create — it will be in your ability to more rapidly adopt the tech that already exists.
Focus enterprise innovation efforts on decentralizing technology adoption. Figure out ways to let departments choose how to manage their work. Decentralize new technology budgets to get that decision-making process as close to the front line as possible.
The vendors will figure out ways to make it cheap enough by eliminating upfront capital and installation projects. IT should invest in infrastructure technology that allows modern technology to work within your facilities: fast Wi-Fi, modern browsers and devices, API layers, make SSO easy, etc.
Don’t partner with accelerators unless you plan allowing them to outsource your technology selection process. The primary reason those companies participate is to sell to you. And don’t invest in digital health companies unless you’ve used the product. Put your money where your mouth is. Otherwise, your investment is not strategic, it’s just money.
This will also force the business development teams to work closely with clinical teams for product validation. You’re all on the same team — align incentives. You don’t need to depend on accelerators and suits with MBAs to help you figure out if a startup’s product will improve care or increase efficiency at your hospital. The front line will tell you in 10 minutes if you let them use the product.
Niko Skievaski is co-founder of Redox.