Howard Rosen; inventor, HealthIT innovator, film/TV producer, engagement strategist, Founder (LifeWIRE Corp) (not neccesarily in that order)
A couple years ago, while sitting at a restaurant near my cottage, I found myself marveling not at the nature around me but at a television screen showing the Formula One race. To be honest, I am not an F1 aficionado, but one of my sons is, and he pointed out that something a little unusual was going on.
In short, and to avoid getting into the weeds on this, there is apparently a major strategy involved when cars come out of the starting pits — something to do with no one wanting to go first or last as my son explained to me. And there is a time clock associated with this. In this case, the announcers, and my son, were getting more and more anxious as the clock was winding down and none of the cars were moving. It was obvious how everyone was watching the others. As the clock counted down, everyone was expecting someone to move, otherwise, they would all be penalized.
Ultimately, no one moved, the clock ran out and they were all penalized (granted the racing authority did have to confer as to what, since this had not happened before). All of this is a rather long way to say, this situation is very analogous to what I continue to see in the innovation and health IT space.
After working with payers and providers in health IT, I have noticed reluctance to lead health innovation. There is no question Covid-19 helped to spark great interest and use of telehealth-related solutions due to a practical need of serving a population remotely. But that was a demand pull on the part of patients, not a demand push on the part of payers/providers wanting to provide patients with these tools. My experience is that some health IT companies are much more open to following, sussing out the competition and playing catch-up as opposed to leading. This means they are letting opportunities, innovation and insight slip away.
Having been in the innovation space for over 15 years and looking at things from my prospective clients’ perspectives, I understand the reluctance. I think some reasons for this hesitancy include being burned in the past by solutions that came across as the “next” best thing and were far from it — thinking clinicians/providers/care coordinators don’t want new tools to add to their day; having no budget today to pay for implementing the innovation; having no government payment code covering the cost of the solution; and simply not wanting to take risks with a secure job.
These are all valid excuses in the vein of the customer is always right, and they likely come from past experiences, but in my view, all they are is an excuse not to do something nevertheless. Waiting for the other guy to do something first in many cases can and has resulted in no one doing anything for long periods of time, and in health IT, the brunt of that is felt not by the payer, provider, clinician or social worker, but by the patients.
Telehealth is a perfect example. One of the major reasons for the limited take-up before Covid-19 was not that patients did not want to connect remotely by using a variety of platforms and means of communication; the reluctance was in many cases from the provider/payer side — making the unilateral determination that patients did not want this type of solution or that the providers did not want to communicate this way. Look how telehealth took off when used, and it is very likely it will become part of the new normal as a service and revenue stream.
It is time to start innovating. When it comes to being more innovative and overcoming hesitancy, I suggest looking at a number of approaches:
1. Though perhaps obvious to many, I cannot overemphasize the need to have a senior, decision-maker champion within the client organization so they can become an internal trusted reference. Equally as important, they can help you understand not just the need for innovation but the politics as well, as they do not always mesh.
2. Deal with hesitancy straight on and acknowledge that it exists. Demonstrate how your solution can help your client get ahead of the competitors (and help your internal champion with their career growth within the organization).
3. I have observed that many entrepreneurs can fall into “pilot” hell (where pilot programs are done for little or no money and then nothing happens). Reposition your approach as a prototype whereby you should be able to get more funding based on the pitch that when you demonstrate the value, the solution is ready to scale. Overall, I have found when speaking with prospective clients, one of the first things you would likely hear is that they have heard of or tried and failed using a solution “just like yours.” So when you are going into these meetings, prepare for this response with an action or demonstration so you are not just talking but showing. I have found a positive demo is worth a thousand rejections.
In short, though it can be comfortable, innovation stasis for any company — in healthcare or otherwise — should not be a strategy that is embraced when there are so many opportunities to lead and get ahead of the pack, benefiting the company and its constituents.