It was a summer day seven years ago. We had closed our first U.S. hospital customer for my digital health company, which enables health systems to deliver digital care journeys for patients (e.g., surgery, oncology, chronic care, etc.).
I was ecstatic! Unfortunately, our excitement was short-lived.
We “implemented” our solution, but patient enrollment was going poorly. When we went on-site to investigate, we learned that surgeons were pushing back against patients getting access to the platform.
We were confused: Why would the hospital buy our solution if they didn’t want to use it?
Speaking to surgeons, we learned they were upset about not being included in the evaluation and implementation process. At this hospital, our platform was being used to guide patients pre and post-surgery – including educating the patients on how to prepare, how to manage recovery issues, etc. Certainly, this included delivering instructions and workflows the surgeons wanted to be aligned on.
So we reflected on what happened until that point.
First, the sales process – how did that transpire? A quality leader learned about our solution, and she got hospital executives to buy-in to the solution – but no front-line clinicians were consulted.
Second, the implementation – what happened there? We compounded the problem by implementing the solution with the quality team and other clinicians – but without any surgeon champions.
Although we tried very hard to collaborate with the surgeons going forward, it was too late – the bridge had been burned. Unsurprisingly, patient enrollment continued to be poor, and the customer didn’t renew.
The partnership must be set up for success even before the sale
We learned a really big lesson that transformed how we sold and implemented our solution going forward.
We learned to build into the buying process a requirement that all key stakeholders – especially key clinician champions whose teams are often most impacted by a digital health solution – are engaged and bought-in.
And those same key clinical stakeholders must be part of the implementation – informing how clinical content protocols are incorporated or clinician workflows are impacted.
Clinician buy-in → patient buy-in
There are also second-order benefits to engaging clinicians early on. When they are involved from day 1, clinicians feel a greater sense of ownership for the initiative. This makes them far more likely to care about the initiative’s success and promote it to patients.
This is critical because a patient’s engagement with Digital Health is highly dependent on the trust their own clinicians place in it. When clinicians are bought-in, their patients are too!
Executive buy-in matters less than clinician buy-in.
I often tell people: “It doesn’t matter if the CEO of a health system wants to buy a solution. It won’t be successful unless there are true clinical champions bought-in.”
Sure you might close a deal, but we’ll have wasted everyone’s time when the implementation inevitably fails.
When it comes to digital health transformation, both the health system and company want the initiative to succeed. Health care has long, complex sales cycles – there’s little benefit to either party to close a deal and set it up for failure.
So don’t skip this step. Clinicians must be at the heart of any digital health transformation. The success of digital health depends on it.
Joshua Liu is a physician and health care entrepreneur.
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