As if building the next big thing in healthcare technology wasn’t enough, simply getting an innovation in front of hospital leaders or other decision makers is a monumental task for entrepreneurs. With limited resources and the life of their companies at stake, it’s little surprise that vendors spam providers with countess messages in hopes that one will make it through the barricades of spam filters and message chains.
Then again, it’s also unsurprising that such approaches are universally reviled among hospital executives.
“I constantly am still surprised, as good as our spam filters are, [by] the individuals who go to our website and email the entire list of leadership with the exact same email. Like, do you not realize we’re on the same floor and talk to each other?” Winjie Tang Miao, EVP and chief experience officer at Texas Health Resources, said during a provider panel this week at Health 2.0. “That can’t give you a great return, right?”
“It actually, statistically, does give you a pretty nice return, which is why it’s actually often practiced,” Shahid Shah, publisher of health IT blog Netspective Media and the panel’s mpderator, responded. “Let’s say you send it out to 20 leaders and this happens fairly regularly, out of those 20 one of them is going to say, ‘Oh, this is interesting. My friend Neil or my friend Sara told me about this problem, so let me forward it to them.’ So it does work in that capacity, but it’s definitely a lazy ass way to go.”
But even if this kind of high-volume strategy occasionally yields a result, the panelists agreed that impersonal emails are hardly the best way to open a relationship between a provider organization and a health tech innovator. Rather, they said that vendors looking to make a more meaningful first impression have more luck if they ask their existing business partners to make the first move on their behalf.
“The first [piece of advice] is an introduction from another healthcare leader that I respect — so, [fellow panelist Neil Gomes] says, ‘We’re using this at Thomas Jefferson, you should really consider this,’” Miao said. “If people love your product, they will have no problem making an introduction to people that they respect because everybody’s trying to solve the same problem, and a good solution is a good solution.”
Then again, not every vendor already has a foot in the door. In these cases, the panel advised vendors to do a bit of legwork by researching whatever they can about the systems of the organization they’re engaging. In many cases, Miao said, communicating how a product will easily fit into the organization’s existing infrastructure will make the pitch stand out.
“Everyone has a phenomenal point solution, and everyone can go through their pitch and it sounds great, whatever it is," Miao said. "Then the next step is always, well, how does it integrate with my systems? And while we don’t have problems.texashealth.org for you to figure out what our problems are, it’s not hard to know what [EHR] system is Texas Health on, what ERP system is Texas Health on, what does our contact center use.”
Part of this homework is being able to not just offer a solution, but to understand and directly address a problem, the panelists noted. Sara Vaezy, chief digital strategy officer at Providence St. Joseph Health, said organizations like hers are happy to let entrepreneurs spend hands-on time in an organization to better understand their challenges. These opportunities not only allow vendors to craft better tools, but can also serve as the opening word of a new business relationship.
“I’ll do my research, I’ll know what platforms they’re operating on, but then find someone and, like, shadow them so you can see what our operations are like before you fully engage us,” she said.
Miao agreed with Vaezy and doubled down on the value of hands-on experience to a vendor’s product and pitch.
“Walk a mile in those shoes to understand … what problem you’re trying to solve, and in service of what do you have this great solution?” Miao said. “If you can’t articulate that well, and you have the solution and you haven’t spent 100 hours in the contact center understanding how that business works, for example, then usually that is not the right solution for us.”
But again, for many vendors making that first point of contact is no easy feat. Gomes — who serves as chief digital officer and EVP for tech innovation and consumer experience at Jefferson Health — said that he’s heard frustrations from vendors and investors alike regarding the differing structures of each hospital’s leadership team, and how those differences can complicate the pitching process. Vaezy sympathized with this sentiment and acknowledged that organizations like hers are beginning to take steps to make their needs more clear to potential partners.
“We as providers make it extraordinarily difficult, and we are very opaque. ... I do think a lot of it is sort of a legacy we carry with us, a complicated work structure that is very reactive to the regulatory environments we grew up in,” she said. "So I say this acknowledging that we’re very difficult to work with — Providence is notoriously difficult to work with — and so we are actually going to start publishing our problems. … We’re going to make that public, some very large number [of problems].”