Guest Column | May 20, 2019

Innovate Like A Start-Up

By Paige Goodhew, Redox

Innovation Lab Names Dell Services As Founding Partner For Incubator

Health IT is moving into an era that is focused on small-scale niche technologies designed to meet a clearly delineated patient or clinical care need. Need an app to track your glucose levels? Glooko has you covered. Looking for a way to track maternal care remotely? Check out Babyscripts. These products provide innovative, user-friendly solutions because they have the freedom of focusing on a very specific use case instead of having to create something that works for everyone. They are representative of the wave of digital health that healthcare organizations are trying to get their hands around at a time where it’s becoming more critical than ever to provide the technology patients and providers expect.

As healthcare moves from major structural technology implementations, like server networking and EHRs, that cost millions and take months or years to complete to more specialized projects, there needs to be a change in how the industry thinks about technology implementations. Here are a few ideas embraced by many technology startups that know what it’s like to balance priorities and execute flawlessly with a small team.

Fail Fast, Iterate Often

In the world of healthcare, the idea of doing something that has the potential to fail is difficult to wrap our heads around. It cannot be emphasized enough that patient care should be prioritized above everything else. However, many startups have learned how to find failures early and at a small scale to prevent larger, more damaging failures down the road.

“Fail fast” is a mantra that many tech companies across all industries have adopted. It traces back to iterative software development cycles where the goal is to be able to test small batches of your code with a high frequency so that it’s easier to identify where your failure points are.

Equally important to this idea is the second part – “iterate often.”  The spirit of this idea is to move into the process of testing and fixing as quickly as possible. No matter how much time you spend planning and preparing to launch something new, there will always be something that you don’t catch until you start using it live.

The good news about this next wave of healthcare technology is that you’re less likely to be implementing a system that is so core and integral that you have no choice but to do everything at once – think networking in the 80s or the recent decade of EHR implementations. This introduces more flexibility for innovation teams to do smaller pilots and for IT teams to plan for more controlled rollouts.

Starting with a small scope based on users or product features is a way to make it easier to “fail fast.” 

Rolling out a new patient education mobile app? Only use it for smoking cessation or make it applicable to smokers that meet a certain criteria. Reduce the variables and breadth to make it easier to assess the effectiveness of the product and to learn how to implement it better for the next wave.

“Should This Product Be Built?”

This is the ultimate start-up question and one will inform companies of their first product offerings. My experience facilitating and attending many EHR design sessions at healthcare organizations around the country indicates that the majority of questions users have about a technology revolve around whether or not it “can” do something. Here’s the thing with computer-based technology: it can do anything that you code it to. The real question you need to be focusing on when selecting and implementing is whether or not it “should” be doing what’s being asked.

This question is the most important one for an innovation team to answer before greenlighting a project. Doing that will help you define for other stakeholders, such as IT or the project management office, on why you’re asking for resources for your project. Being able to provide that information will give you more specificity about your ask while making it easier for others to wrap their heads around what you need from them.

Define Your MVP

In this case, an MVP is a “minimum viable product” and represents the basest level of what you need a product to do to be able to determine if it’s meeting your organization’s needs and expectations. When MVP criteria is met, you have a proactively identified the moment where you stop adding variables and evaluate if what you’ve purchased is doing what you expect it to.

Having this defined means that it will be easier to put those questions about whether or not something “can” be done into a bucket to review at a later time. After all, if you’re implementing a product for televisits and patients can’t initiate visits, does it matter if the product “can” support customizable templates for individual physicians? You can always add more later but you want to stay focused on making sure the core need is met.

When presented with new technology, it’s easy to want to have all the bells and whistles right away. The more time that you spend discussing, planning, designing and customizing something, the harder it will be to objectively tell if it’s actually the best product. It’s important to not let yourself or your organization overvalue the product because of the time, effort and money already invested.

In the next article, we’ll offer more ideas for companies to innovate like a start-up.

About The Author

Paige is a self-professed healthcare nerd in an IT world. She began using EMRs as an employee at Elkhart General Hospital in 2002 and found the healthcare industry so fascinating that she completed her BA in Health Administration at Indiana University. Paige was introduced to the world of EMRs during her time at Seattle Children's where she was a subject matter expert and superuser for their Epic implementation. Upon moving back to the Midwest, Paige took a job at Epic where she helped implement software and train physicians for over 10 different health systems around the United States.

Since starting at Redox in 2016, Paige completed over 50 integration projects for a variety of software vendors and healthcare organizations. She currently focuses on product marketing and program management with a focus on making interoperability easy to understand. Her experience as a user, implementer, and integrator of EMRs brings a unique and balanced perspective to the challenges faced along the way to smooth and secure data exchange.