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.

Once thought of as a no-man’s land for innovation because it was so impenetrable, health care technology is now fertile ground for startups. Due to recent regulatory changes and the adoption of risk-based payment systems, providers are now actively scouting new ways to tackle runaway health spending — expected to reach $4.8T by 2021, according to CMS — and direct patients to more cost effective services.

As a result, startups are jumping on the healthcare IT bandwagon and taking advantage of a huge influx of venture capital — $4.8B last year, more than double that of the previous year, according to Mercom Capital. But as many soon learn, launching an app in health care takes a lot more oomph than simply developing a really cool product. Significant barriers stand in the way to getting your idea off the ground.

A regulated culture of ‘no’

To begin with, health care is a highly-regulated field where public safety and privacy are paramount. The kinds of regulations in place to serve those interests also serve to make many in health care skittish (to say the least) at the idea of innovation. HIPPA and the FDA, for starters, tend to dampen a willingness to go up against the powers that be in the name of innovation. You may have a killer idea, but just getting past a culture of knee-jerk reluctance to entertain ‘new’ can stop you in your tracks before you even get going.

Time-stretched means no time for you

At some point, you’ll need to enlist the help of physicians and specialists who understand the system and can give you essential feedback. But that can be a problem. With so many things competing for their time, physicians are notoriously difficult to get a hold of. Even if you get past the gatekeepers, even the most well-intentioned doctors are quick to apologize for having no time and brush you off because of the 1,000 other things facing them down.

Inability to sync with established systems

Workflow is another barrier to entry. Providers are loath to make any changes to their tried-and-true way of doing things. Even minute adjustments to workflow can create giant disruptions amongst staff during the initial adoption period. Also, to avoid redundancy of information, new apps must link to a provider’s EHR platform, which can require a massive integration effort. If you don’t have an insider’s view of the systems and platforms in place, you may lose serious cred with those you want to market to.

Proof of concept needs real patients – and pilots

While some health tech startups may have luck finding smaller clinics willing to adopt their technology, getting into the big leagues is an entirely different ball game. Large institutions are heavily bureaucratic. And they will insist on a track record of proven benefits.

Just gaining access to patients to informally try out a new product — even something very simple — can be deadly difficult. There’s no ‘let’s just try it out’ mentality that gives you a quick way in.

But, of course, the best way to build that needed track record is through a pilot program with a mature organization. A pilot program will give you access to a real hospital setting where you can test and refine your technology. Mind you, every step of the development process will involve multiple stakeholders, committees, constant feedback from staff, and an ongoing refinement of your solution until you work out all of the kinks.

Landing a pilot program can be onerous, however. Plan on devoting a substantial amount of time courting companies and convincing physicians and administrators that your ideas are worth investing in. A chicken and egg scenario will likely ensue. You will be told you can’t get into a pilot without proof your technology works in the real world. But then, the only way to get that proof is through a pilot program, landing you back at square one.

Accelerators offer a better solution

If that all sounds daunting, there are ways to penetrate that ‘wall of no’. A better road to gaining entry into a pilot program and navigating the complex waters of the health care system is through an accelerator program — preferably one linked to a large provider network. An accelerator program will give you the mentorship and funding your business needs to get to the next level. And if your product holds enough promise, an accelerator program can also become an onramp to a pilot program with real commitment from all stakeholders.

The Houston-based Texas Medical Center (TMC) is a good case in point. It’s just launched an exiting new accelerator program dubbed TMCx, and is actively looking for startups to come on board. The six-month program provides a gateway to the TMC facilities, resources and network of the world’s largest medical center. TMC has 21 campuses and sees more than 7.2 million patients a year. It may be the make-or-break link in your promising digital health care innovation.

The deadline for application submission is January 31st. The program begins March 9.

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