This sponsored post is produced in association with Texas Medical Center. Texas Medical Center’s new accelerator program, TMCx, is accepting applications from digital health startups until January 31st. Companies accepted into the program gain access to physicians, scientists, and business experts on the Houston-based TMC campus, which is home to 21 hospitals and serves more than 7.2 million patients annually.

With the surge in digital health tech, entrepreneurs who dream of developing the next killer healthcare app have plenty of reason to be optimistic. 2014 was a record-breaking year with over $4.1B in venture funding for digital health companies, more than the previous three years combined, according to Mercom Capital Group. The future of healthcare technology includes wearables that monitor vitals, apps that facilitate outpatient care, CRM systems that allow physicians to forge better relationships with patients, and more.

All too often, entrepreneurs in this market overlook major factors essential to success. Few know this better than Craig Joseph, who assesses digital health solutions for Texas Children’s Hospital. With a background in clinical informatics (Epic), he serves as EHR Physician Adviser and regularly gives tough love to startups. As you think through your healthcare innovation, you’ll want to consider the following insights he shared with VB.

1. Simplify providers’ workflow

Whatever health solution you think you’re building, if you create a workflow problem for providers, you’re probably not solving anything. You may have a beautiful app with intelligent data, Joseph says, “but if you can’t incorporate it into what I do every day as a physician, I’m not going to use it.”

Workflow simplification is paramount for healthcare providers. If you’re unable to integrate with existing processes and systems, you’re creating additional work. Doctors and nurses don’t want to be logging out and logging in. “Nobody wants to duplicate information,” says Joseph, “even hitting Alt + Tab — I don’t want to do that, it’s not seamless enough.”

EHR is king in the modern world of healthcare workflow. Unfortunately, this presents a classic chicken-and-egg challenge for new companies. “Integration with EHR is one of the main roadblocks preventing startups from taking their work to the next level,” Joseph says. According to him, EHR vendors aren’t incentivized to connect with new companies, especially unproven ones, but EHR integration is almost a necessity for signing providers on. EHRs will start listening once you have a major hospital or two on board.

Build apps that can simplify doctors’ lives — that’s how you’ll convince hospitals to run pilots and how you’ll get EHRs to give you a key to the kingdom.

2. Usher in the pay-for-performance era

Apps that allow providers to treat and diagnose patients more cost-effectively are in high demand. A key driver for that is the emerging pay-for-performance healthcare model.

In the past, providers were paid based on the services they rendered. If a physician ordered an MRI or saw a patient in the office, he or she was paid directly for those services or events. Now, insurance companies are rewarding providers based on performance measures for quality and efficiency, and outcomes.

Joseph gives a simple example: “Let’s say a patient has a rash. With pay for performance, it’s expensive if they come into the office. Instead, they could just take a picture and send it to the doctor.”

Or considering an entirely different health problem, he explains, “In the psychiatric world, I want to identify patients who are declining so that I can get them into the office before they go to the emergency room. The ER is expensive. So if I am paid a set amount of money, I really want to keep patients out of the ER.”

According to Joseph, it’s a fundamental shift. Now payers offer a fixed amount to keep a patient healthy — how to keep them healthy and how to use that money is up to the provider. As a result, providers are looking for help from emerging technologies to reach their performance targets more efficiently: i.e, with fewer office visits, and most definitely, without trips to the ER.

3. Help doctors by empowering the entire care team

Outcome-based payment also encourages providers to pursue team-based approaches to treatment. With fixed reimbursement, doctors become the hospital’s most expensive resource. Providers are actively seeking ways to empower PAs, nurses, and technicians. By doing so, doctors can focus on the most critical cases and hospitals save money.

“If someone on my team, such as a nurse, can act as a physician,” says Joseph, “and I can train them, and use them to the top of their scope of practice, I win.” This opens the door for a new crop of diagnostic apps, Joseph points out.

These apps might monitor vitals, assess disease risk, or allow mobile diagnoses, but the bottom line, again, is: useful innovations will help providers produce better clinical results at lower cost. The more you enable the whole team to accomplish more, and perform better — rather than developing apps intended only for doctors — the better position you’ll be in.

4. Don’t create lists; create actions

Providers are heaped with demands. With a growing emphasis on population health, those demands are only increasing. Insurance companies now incent providers to manage large groups of people. For example, physicians may be responsible for reducing flu deaths or breast cancer rates for 500 patients at a time.

Naturally, apps that help providers complete those tasks are desirable. Joseph warns, however, that additional lists and spreadsheets are not a solution. The information has to be actionable. In other words, apps need to do some of the work!

In the flu example, don’t stop at identifying patients in need of vaccination. Notify the patients, and schedule their appointments. As an added bonus, send text reminders and follow up with older patients via traditional mail or a phone call.

“If your app makes is easier for me to order a flu shot for all my patients in one fell swoop, I’m more likely to use it,” says Joseph. “I see a lot of vendors who come up with cool things, but I need the final step, so I don’t have to do all the work.”

“And, if someone next door to you has found a way to take action with the information you’re giving me, I’ll choose them over you every time, even if their interface isn’t as pretty.”

5. Build relationships between providers and patients

Due to higher deductibles, patients are becoming more responsible for paying for health care, and as this happens, they’re becoming more aware of how much their physicians cost and are evaluating the care they receive. Joseph says helping patients with this evaluation is a major opportunity for tech companies.

This patient involvement creates more incentive for doctors to compete on a relational level. “Patients typically use the ‘Do I like this guy?’ method, so help doctors know how to be likeable.” It goes beyond delivery of medical services. “We all know we like it when the doctor asks about my brother-in-law because he was sick last time I came in,” says Joseph. “Or if the nurse calls two days after I brought my kid in to see how she is doing.”

Customer relationship management (CRM) apps take on that job, doing everything from sending appointment reminders, to automating follow-up phone calls. Apps should help provide that warm, fuzzy feeling that makes you like your doctor. And, according to Joseph, it may make the difference in patients staying with their doctor even if costs them a bit more.

So, are you ready to take your health tech startup to the next level? The Texas Medical Center is taking applications for its TMCx digital health accelerator program. Companies accepted into the program gain access to physicians, scientists and business experts on the Houston-based TMC campus, which is home to 21 hospitals and serves more than 7.2 million patients annually.

The six-month program kicks off March 9. The application deadline is January 31st.


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