Health Tech Startup Secrets: Doctors Know What They Want

Zachary Landman, M.D.

Health tech startup insights on creating new tech tools that can potentially help physicians provide measurable results in a timely fashion and save physicians time.

“I want a secure application that uploads data automatically from my patients’ remote devices [glucometers in this case], allows for files and photos to be attached from any mobile device and delivers it to my EMR and email inbox. That way I can have all the data and respond to it instantly, from anywhere,” said an earnest physician during a recent meeting on customizing our HIPAA secure messaging platform to better fit his practice. Having been in the health 2.0 space for three years, we frequently get requests for new and additional features and in order to stay afloat we need to be able to quickly gauge the utility of each and every one. Not incorporating a key feature could give be an important missed opportunity while investing in a fruitless one could mean months of frustration and wasted resources.

In this case, one needs to look no further than the oligarchy of remote devices to understand that proprietary code, a lack of open APIs, and numerous EMR integrations to scale it nationally make it a very expensive undertaking at the very least. And even if we were able to leverage our team of mobile and data engineers to accomplish this feat, would physicians’ even pay for it? Not likely.

In our experience in working with nearly twelve thousand providers, we’ve found a few areas in health and mobile technology (outside of incentive programs) that the vast majority of physician practices find worthy of investment. Now, to be fair, this list is directed primarily at physician groups as hospitals, HMOs and other large capitated networks have fundamentally different incentive structures within the healthcare marketplace.

To start the list off, I want to list the two areas that physicians know and understand as fundamental to their practice. These areas while highly saturated are also the easiest in which to bridge the technology to a tactile return on investment.

1) Patient Volume (ie, leveraging search engines): The fundamental business structure of any practice is maintaining sufficient volume, day in and day out. Classically, a foot on the ground approach has been the go-to method. Primary care physicians would dedicate weekends to church, community and school functions while specialists would invest significant time getting to know local providers through dinners, talks and various other free seminars. As time has become increasingly scarce, however, these methods have become increasingly difficult to maintain. That’s where Google comes in. Claims of “secret sauce” and “SEO for doctors” often start many of our discussions with physicians frustrated at where their business page fits into the complex nature of search engine ranking.  While the climate is undeniably changing to more centralized (capitated) and ACO style fee-for-value type practices, fee-for-service still predominates in the healthcare landscape. Furthermore, growing conglomerates and networks have forced independent physicians to work harder to maintain the same amount of patient volume. Physicians understand the importance of Google and marketing themselves and are willing to pay if they think it will help improve their practice volume. Develop a technology that leverages physicians’ ability to attract more patients, enter a new demographic, and improve their standing in Google and local search results, docs will happily invest.

2) Reputations. Physicians understand that a reputable brand in the field of healthcare is of the utmost importance. Individual practices, large hospitals and every type of practice in between has relied on word-of-mouth referrals and standing within the community to continually drive new and returning patients long before the creation of the internet. Nowadays, grocery store gossip is the online review and word-of-mouth referrals relate to star ratings, both easily seen and digested within context. However, nearly every physician we talk to hates Yelp. Well…yes…they do admit to using it to find a dinner reservation and used it a while back when they were looking for a new dentist…but overall, they’ve been extremely frustrated at the negative response bias of a few frustrated individuals. The website, Reputation.com, has even made a fortune by its claims largely from those in the healthcare field that it can eliminate negative online reviews. Develop a platform that lets doctors take control of their online reputation, leverage their satisfied and happy patients, and they’ll happy pay.

Now that’s a pretty short list. In my opinion, every other piece of health technology directed at physicians must overcome what I like to call “hand-washing” activation, which is the fact that even though Ignaz Semmelweis first demonstrated the connection between hand hygiene and infection nearly two hundred years ago (and died in an asylum for his beliefs at the age of 47), physicians in some hospitals are still washing less than 50% of the time. Why? Because it is time-consuming and provides no measurable feedback at the individual level. However, when feedback is provided directly through monitoring accompanied by an incentive or punishment system, rates can reach 100%. The point here is to demonstrate that while there are many technologies and new tools that potentially can help physicians keep patients healthier and happier, it must not only be effective, but it must provide measurable results in a timely fashion and save physicians time.

Having convinced them that your technology accomplishes these goals, all you will have to do is teach them how to use it…  Share your experience with implementing or using new healthcare technology below!

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  • MDB

    It’s true, star ratings are the new word-of-mouth referral. Fifteen years ago, a referral was enough to drive a patient to an office. Then the internet came and after the referral, the patient would check out the doctor’s website. NOW, a referral, a website… those aren’t even enough. Reviews, aka third party validation, that is what is going to bring me to your office. Whether I’m getting a referral from my grandmother or my best buddy, for a restaurant, a new dentist, whatever it may be, there is no excuse not to have plenty of compelling 5 star reviews that I can easily find in a Google search. If I can’t find any/enough to validate the referral… guess what? I’m moving on to the next restaurant/dentist!

    Many of the doctors that I consult with put so much stake in their website. No matter how nice your website may look, that will NEVER hold as much juice for prospective patients as a 5 Star rating on Google. Websites were big in 2003… reviews, and plenty of them, are what doctors NEED to be focussing on now.

  • Jamien McCullum

    No doubt physicians have been inundated, overwhelmed, and underwhelmed with technology offerings to date. Most of their experience has been clouded by EMR/EHR platforms, built on legacy Window’s software, that have taken months to install, and even longer to train staff to use-think back to the days when it took a month, and 3 IT representatives to get your email to work. Those days are long gone, technology has become more ubiquitous, but the fear and frustration still remain. The practices that have embraced this new breed of technology (eg. One Medical) have and will continue to thrive. These practices are embracing technology not just to improve their own efficiency, or their own billing practices, but to better server their patients, are the practices that are earning, what we refer to as social currency- positive Yelp reviews, organic Google traction, etc., This all comes down to one simple concept…legacy forms of advertising (your website, banner ads) don’t work nearly as well, as when you earn social currency. Better serve your patients, and they will reward you with social currency.

  • Tom

    All comes down to incentives and results for doctors (great example with the soap). Implementing a new system that doesn’t have any track record can be somewhat of a risk, but, if you truly believe medicine is going mobile..its never a bad thing to embrace the newer technologies and be 10 steps ahead of the doctor who still uses a fax machine for everything. If a doctor is looking for immediate results (more patients, reviews reputation) why not look into the variables that make these results positive. When I search for a Doctor I absolutely look at reviews and one common theme I see among the doctor’s with 50 positive yelp reviews is that they know how to communicate. Not just in the office, they make themselves available electronically post visit (thats when most patients have questions after the visit).

  • Andre S.

    Great read! To address the first point. Patient volume is what doctors think about day in and day out. “Where will my new patients, 2-3 months down the road come from?” It’s a question that every doctor ask themselves. As a patient, doctors need to realize that we love an efficient, up-to-date practice. Mainly because it trickles down to the doctor having more time to engage with the patient to provide optimal care. With the current changes in healthcare around the country, doctors need to figure out ways to be more efficient with patient engagement. Or they will end up finding themselves working harder because their practice isn’t equipped for the 21st century.

  • John Sung Kim

    Amazing to me how many mid-sized (and even large) provider organizations have a two star rating on social media and then discount it as, “That’s not really important to our model.” Meanwhile their co-workers 10 years younger than them are shaking their heads privately.