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Bethany Vick and Amanda DiTrolio

A Guide to Health System Pilots with Bethany Vick (Providence Digital Innovation Group)

April 14, 2023
Topic Analyses

TL;DR: We sat down with Bethany Vick (Senior Strategy Manager, Providence Digital Innovation Group) to discuss best practices and how-tos related to setting up pilots with health systems. We cover a range of topics, from identifying the right stakeholder to pitching your solution to understanding pricing models for pilots. Below is a summary of our conversation. 

Of course, you can view the full discussion in the recording below.

Bethany’s Background

  • Over a decade of experience in healthcare with both payors and providers
  • Guides health system leaders in understanding problems, evaluating technology solutions, and implementing pilots 
  • Leads product strategy for new technologies incubated within Providence Digital Innovation Group

Table of Contents

  • Getting your foot in the door: identifying stakeholders and blockers
  • Pitching your solution: aligning metrics and demonstrating ROI
  • Landing the deal: pricing, budgets, and contracting
  • Launching your pilot & measuring outcomes

Getting your foot in the door

How do you find the right stakeholder in a health system?

Full answer in recording here at 4:35.

1. The gold standard is to connect with someone in the C-suite

  • To be successful in this approach, you need to solve a big enough problem that is of strategic importance to the organization
  • How do you know if it’s strategically important? Ask! For large health organizations, listen to their leaders talk about the problems they’re focused on through their articles, conferences, podcasts, etc. 

2. Clinical champions are really important and can help connect you to the c-suite

3. Innovation teams can help navigate organizational structure and internal politics

4. Ask who makes the purchase decisions and who has the budget in every conversation

How do you anticipate and avoid potential blockers early in the process?

Full answer in recording here at 8:30.

1. Leverage the innovation team as an advocate, rather than viewing them as an obstacle. Here are some do's and don't for making that happen:

  • Don't: Start with a sales pitch through a cold outreach. Innovation teams receive tons of these requests, and you’ll have more success if you can build a relationship before ever pitching. 
  • Do: Ask for feedback on your product or the specific problem you’re trying to solve.

2. Set up a 30 minute conversation to get feedback and input. Use that time to also demonstrate your knowledge of your market, your product, and understanding of health system perspectives.

3. Be clear on your solution’s impact and ROI. Educate your advocates on the clinical, financial, or operational value it provides so they are armed with the information necessary to solicit buy-in for you internally.

4. Frequently ask for feedback and use available resources (advocates) to identify blockers and address them as quickly as possible.

What is the right point in maturity and time to reach out about your solution?

Full answer in recording here at 12:50.

You can reach out at different points of maturity, but the goal of your conversation may be different. 

  • Early product development: As discussed above, asking for feedback is a great way to establish a relationship early on and get your foot in the door as you build your solution.
  • Selling to customers: Health systems take the responsibility of caring for the patients we serve seriously and are less likely to take risks on a product that isn’t fully baked. If your goal is to make a sale, your product should likely be fairly mature unless you can identify a strong clinical champion. 
  • Co-development: Some health systems may be open to co-development opportunities but would likely expect a somewhat mature product. Co-development can allow you to involve end users early in product development to validate use cases. Incentivizing end users to provide feedback and incorporating it into the product helps them become advocates and champions for the product, aiding in change management.

Pitching your solution

What metrics do you look for in the pitch of a solution?

Full answer in recording here at 16:00.

Startups and technology solutions are facing an increasing burden to show ROI and proof points around their solutions in the current financial environment of health systems. It has always been challenging to bring in companies without early proof points and data that they can share, and it is getting even harder. This should be kept in mind when considering what types of healthcare companies to work with health systems, employers, and providers.

Metrics to measure could include financial, operational, clinical, and/or experience:

  • Financial metrics: driving revenue and reducing costs.
  • Operational metrics: impacting workflows and driving efficiencies.
  • Clinical metrics: impacting patient outcomes.
  • Experience metrics: improving user satisfaction (patient and/or clinician).

Your metrics should be tied directly to your value proposition, helping you identify and quantify the value your solution delivers to the health system. To identify metrics, consider:

  • Who you create value for (stakeholders)
  • How your solution solves their pain point
  • What data/metric can be used to prove that value

Below is an example of the identified stakeholders, value proposition, and associated metrics for a digital platform to speed and standardize evidence-based care for people in suicide crisis.

If you are an earlier stage company without specific proof points/results, communicate a plan for how you would measure impact across all of those metrics.

How should a startup think about demonstrating potential ROI to a health system?

Take it upon yourself to build a first cut of a model to quantify the ROI of a project using publicly available data:

  • It's okay to have assumptions within it that may not exactly line up with the realities of that specific health system. These assumptions can be adjusted accordingly later on.
  • Cite and credit all of your data sources within the model.
  • Make it easy for the health system to update the model with their own data to calculate the specific ROI for that system. You are arming your champions and advocates with the information necessary for them to make a case for your solution for you through internal conversations.

For companies that are looking to address workforce shortages and costs, and in particular, training, reducing cost of hiring, how would you think about those companies pitching health systems on the revenue vs. cost side of things?

1. Reducing turnover and driving efficiency are important in supporting health system workforces. These may be harder to prove but some examples could include:

  • Demonstrating how your solution reduces time spent on administrative tasks for clinicians (e.g. AI medical scribing tools).
  • Demonstrating how the solution helps clinical staff practice at the top of their license (e.g. upskilling, etc.).

2. Identifying clinical champions who are excited about your product is key.

Landing the deal: pricing, budgets, contracting

How should startups think about pricing models for pilots?

Full answer in recording here at 26:06.

It is important to understand the health system's unique budget structure and associated costs to ensure you can appropriately bake those into your pricing model. Here are a few things to consider:

1. Be flexible: Adjust pricing model based on the structure of a health system.

2. Budget structure: Work with your stakeholder to understand the health system's unique budget structure and how that will impact your pricing.

  • Example: Providence often manages budgets at a regional level, not at an enterprise level. While many companies want to offer a single enterprise pricing structure, this can be challenging to get approved, because each region has to buy into the solution to pay for their share. 

3. Additional costs: Consider additional costs such as implementation, integration, maintenance, and marketing services that the health system may be required to fund internally.

How can you cut down on a typical 12-18 month sales cycle?

Full answer in recording here at 34:30.

1. Partner with smaller, innovative health systems that are often able to move faster.

  • Anecdotal example: Many startups try to target the largest health systems, but a virtual telehealth platform has found recent success selling into smaller and rural hospitals, which often need to integrate telehealth options in order to maintain economic viability. 

2. Be proactive in scheduling meetings - getting time with executives can be difficult

3. Use the health system's templates for various deal documents, such as contracts, NDAs, and business associate agreements instead of your own. Redlining from that version will help expedite reviews with their legal teams.

4. Package up all materials and assessments for the health system that may be needed for contract reviews, security assessments, IT reviews, etc., so they are ready to go. Sending everything over together at once instead of waiting to be asked can save significant time in back and forth communications.

Launching your pilot & measuring outcomes

How do you balance building for your first health system customer, without over customizing?

Full answer in recording here at 50:54.

1. Know your market and get feedback early and often. Are you targeting health systems, payors, employers, etc.? Big health systems, rural health systems, SNFs, etc.? Once you identify your market, get input during product development to ensure your solution lines up with standard operational workflows within those specific types of organizations. 

2. Communicate a path to and the value of scalability.

  • Example: Show the frontline workers that you understand their current workflows and how your solution will impact them. Then, communicate why it might not be important to customize in specific ways.

3. Charge for customization if necessary.  In the case that a health system requires a certain customization, charge them for it. In some cases, this may discourage unnecessary customization but could also carry some risks. 

How do you avoid pilot purgatory?

Full answer in recording here at 55:56.

1. Develop a specific plan (before launching!) alongside your decision makers to determine clear answers to the following questions:

  • What data do you need to quantify outcomes related to your value proposition?
  • How do you obtain that data?
  • What can you provide the health system to get the data and vice versa?
  • What happens if they don't give you the data?
  • What data and evaluation tools can you provide to the health system to help support that?

2. Develop the business case or model for the health system, so they can plug in the numbers to calculate their specific ROI.

3. Provide a high level of continuous customer service after you launch the pilot. Communicate progress and big wins with both your end users and executive stakeholders. This can be really helpful for contract renewals as well. Keep your solution top of mind and show them why they can’t live without it.