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4 Dos and Don’ts for Health IT Start-ups Entering Pilots

by Mandira Singh, Senior Manager, Business Development and More Disruption Please

At the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference this past spring, the athenahealth More Disruption Please (MDP) team attended Hacking Medicine’s “Pain Points to Pilot” workshop, where health care aficionados split up into teams and explore the innovation process, from need-finding to prototype. Following the teams’ prototype presentations, I was asked to speak briefly about athenahealth’s perspective on the next step – the pilot. Our Marketplace now features products and services from more than 25 MDP partners, so our team has gleaned some insights on what works and what doesn’t when companies approach a pilot period.

Here are the top four dos and don’ts I shared during the SXSW session, and continue to share with potential MDP partners. I highly recommend that innovators in all industries keep these in mind as they prepare to take their ideas and products to the public for the first time.

  1. Pilot your product, no matter how big (or small) you are.

    A lot of companies hoping to be part of the athenahealth Marketplace think they are too mature for a pilot. Yet, once we help them understand that it’s a crucial learning experience – and a mandatory component of the MDP program – they begin to see the value and growth they derive from seeing their solution used with ours. As a company, you are never too mature to learn and grow and this is exactly what a pilot enables you to do.
  2. Be realistic.

    This is the biggest bottleneck for potential MDP partners during their beta period, and the situation is understandable. When we begin exploring a partnership, start-ups that have a lot to gain from access to our network of health care providers are usually bursting with enthusiasm… which is fantastic until it leads to unrealistic expectations. Often, the MDP team will encounter companies who promise timelines and resources they’re unable to deliver, leading to delays and lost momentum. The key to successfully launching a beta period is setting realistic expectations up front.
  3. Remember that bigger isn’t always better.

    Large medical groups and enterprise clients are big wins for start-up health IT companies—but that doesn’t necessarily make them good beta candidates. In fact, pilots with large clients often lead to custom solutions, longer timelines, and fewer touch points for feedback, none of which help a company reach a standard, scalable offering. Our advice: Master your solution for small and medium-sized groups first. The enterprise clients will follow.
  4. Question your assumptions.

    This may seem obvious, but the whole point of a pilot is to learn whether your solution is being used, if it’s working, and what you can do to improve it. You have a huge opportunity to question your assumptions about your product or services. Companies that do this learn and adapt well during the pilot period – within our Marketplace, we’ve seen companies change their pricing model, messaging and even their user interface as a result of provider feedback.

As the MDP program adds more partners to enhance our athenahealth offerings, and learn from distinct solutions, our insights and intelligence expands as well. And with athenahealth services, we practice what we preach, continuing to pilot and applying the dos and don’ts to the process.

If you’re a health IT company looking to change the status quo in health care through openness and connectivity, we encourage you to join the MDP movement.

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