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Why Enterprise Healthtech Pilots Fail—And How to Fix It

Three healthcare experts on how to drive innovation that scales and make sure your pilot program succeeds.

All too often, healthtech pilots go nowhere. Here are the three steps for building healthtech products that actually work.

Define the problem from the perspective of clinicians and patients. Ask: "Are we solving a real problem for a real person?"

Focus on the metrics that are meaningful to doctors and hospital executives and climb the 'technology staircase' one step at a time.

In healthcare innovation, the road to hell is paved with good intentions—and ill-conceived pilot programs. Why? The rationale behind pilot programs is straightforward, as logical as taking a blood sample: Anything observed and measured in a microcosm should apply to the system at large.

Yet all too often, healthtech pilots go nowhere. Strong results, observed over weeks in a single department, don't impress a hospital's other decision-makers. And so the project ends there.

Blame the cultural mismatch: The tech wizards move fast and dream big, inspired to write state-of-the-art software that delivers maximum impact systemwide. But the clinicians eye the geeks warily—they've been burned before. They know how easily software engineers' dreams can turn into data-management nightmares.

In a panel titled "Death By Pilot: How to Drive Healthcare Innovation that Scales," held at the GDS Healthcare Summit in late March, experts discussed how to bridge the gap between the tech and healthcare worlds and create powerful cross-disciplinary teams.

"I joke that I'm the Chief Translation Officer," said panelist Jessie Beegle. Her job is to introduce big data products to Lifepoint Health, where her title is actually Chief Innovation Officer. "Whether I'm talking to a wonderful technologist or folks that are running hospitals in over 30 states, the challenge is the same: How do you bring them all to the same table, get them speaking the same language, and then paint the art of what's possible?"

Here are the three main points from the healthcare experts on the panel about how to build healthtech products that actually work.

1. Define the problem from the perspective of clinicians and patients

New technologies succeed because they improve clinicians' lives immediately in specific, tangible ways, said Andy Chu, senior vice president of Product & Technology Incubation at Providence. "As technologists, we tend to say, 'Hey, this is great technology. Let's go find a problem to solve.' I think we have to change the outlook and really focus on actually defining the problems from the patient side, from the caregiver side."

It’s essential to adopt a startup founder's mindset when designing a pilot, added Raphael Ouzan, A.Team's co-founder and CEO: "What is the most cost-efficient, quickest way to start demonstrating value and iterate from there?"

Beegle has one question to filter new ideas: "Are we solving a real problem for a real person?"

2. Focus on the metrics that are meaningful to doctors and hospital executives

Empiricism reigns supreme in both tech and healthcare. Yet the two domains collect and analyze evidence very differently most of the time, observed David Schlossman, a clinical oncologist for thirty years before becoming a consultant for Roche Information Solutions.

"Evidence generation for digital tools is a completely different universe than what we're used to for our molecules, our pharmaceuticals, or our medical equipment. Traditional randomized controlled trials really can't be done," said Schlossman.

Technologists shouldn't assume their usual usability studies will mean much to doctors and hospital executives. Instead, they should agree on impactful metrics ahead of time.

"Can you prove that there's a financial value? Can you prove that clinical workflow is improved—that physicians can see more patients in a day?" Schlossman said. "Is this helping us do better medicine?"

3. Climb the 'technology staircase' one step at a time

Beegle offered a thought exercise of a "technology staircase." Start with your lofty vision—the ultimate promise a new technology holds—and work backward, step by step, to the present day's status quo.

"While the technology is at the top of the staircase, where we are—as a system's local hospital, treating patients day in and day out—is at the bottom. How will both halves, technologists and hospitalists, work together and walk up that staircase together?" Figuring out the steps requires each side to have deep empathy for the other's process and recognize potential pitfalls.

"Start small, show incremental wins, and build momentum," Beegle said. "Make champions. The minute I started to show impact in one region, all the other regions started coming to me. It's an empowering way to unlock a lot of ideas that would have stayed inside folks. To help them share things that will change how healthcare is delivered in the U.S."

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