Creating our New Normal Through the Lens of a Healthcare Startup

Superficially, the parallels between a regular venture capital startup and a hospital amid a pandemic seem pretty minimal. One has to do with launching a product, and the other is about keeping people alive. But when you dig a little deeper, you soon find some striking similarities between the two.


For instance, startups often face challenges that push their people to the limits of their skills and knowledge, having to take on new problems they have not encountered before. When COVID-19 hit, hospital staff experienced something similar, with many taking on new roles.


Newly founded businesses also have to find ways to help people deal with profound uncertainty. Employees don’t know how things will pan out. Something similar happened to staff working in hospitals. Practitioners had no idea how long chaotic conditions would last.


Thirdly, startups have to deal with the issue of burnout, keeping people propped up and productive until the job is done. The coronavirus pandemic forced long-hours, leading to similar worker exhaustion problems for medical practices.


Even when you look at the trajectory of startups and compare them to what hospitals experienced as the pandemic struck, you find remarkable similarities. Like startups, hospitals had first to experience the chaos and overwork of dealing with the new problems posed by COVID-19. Then they had to claw their way towards a more sustainable model of operation where they could deal with both coronavirus patients and everyone else who needed health care. And now, they need to adapt to the “new normal” while providing all patients with the services they need. It’s been a long road for medical institutions and is strikingly similar to what new companies go through on their way to success.


Creating a New Normal by Viewing Clinical Practice Through the Lens of a Startup


Before the pandemic began to accelerate, healthcare professionals predicted that it would have severe ramifications for the industry. Now we are coming down from the case peak, and the landscape is becoming more evident. Healthcare has changed – and possibly for the better.


Necessity is often the mother of invention, and that’s certainly been the case during this crisis. COVID-19 forced medical establishments to rethink their practices and move over to more advanced methods, like healthcare artificial intelligence, to manage resources better. Like startups, they experienced pure chaos first-hand.


The analogy, however, breaks down in one crucial way: surgeons and other healthcare practitioners can’t just throw in the towel when things get tough. They have to fight their way out the other side, finding ways to improve their offering in whatever capacity they can while simultaneously managing the crisis. In that sense, war is perhaps a better analogy.


Creating a new normal through the lens of a healthcare startup is vital for organizational survival. Hospitals and clinics will have to invest substantially in new technologies, such as AI-enabled healthcare analytics for surgery cost reduction and physician engagement. And they need to adjust their organizational practices to find ways to use clinical data analytics and make real changes on the ground.


Clinical variation in surgery is an issue that’s been on the table for some time but is now of critical importance due to the pandemic. There’s no reason why the same surgery carried out by the same physician in the same facility should cost different amounts or have variable outcomes. Yet, this is a common occurrence in clinical settings. One patient, for whatever reason, winds up costing the hospital far more than another.


Issues like this are organizational and usually come down to one of the following:


  • Lack of standardization
  • Failure to use the right available technology
  • Resistance to change; lack of adaptability


Healthcare startups would never accept organizational issues like these. Their goal would be to figure out what was causing the difference in cost and then address it. But many hospitals see this kind of thing as normal.


Evidence Of Change


However, there is evidence that clinical practices are changing their operations and learning to deal with the realities of COVID-19. In the process, they look a lot more like startups.


For instance, many doctors’ offices have moved over to telehealth, providing patients with care via video link in their homes. Others are using clinical technology analytics that makes use of artificial intelligence. For example, hospitals are using AI-powered telephone switching services to forward patients to the right clinical practitioners or even chatbots to save money. We also see the emergence of cross-organizational bodies to prevent wasteful reinvention of techniques to mitigate COVID-19.


Ideally, hospitals need to create a standard system that they can replicate. Driving down costs will help them survive financially and heal from COVID-related impacts.



Hear more of what we have learned at Empiric Health

Watch our recent webinar featuring two healthcare startup CEOs, Rick Adam from Empiric Health and Frank Ricotta from BurstIQ.  Rick and Frank discuss actions and strategies that healthcare startups (and hospitals!) must take in order to weather the storm and return to growth in a COVID-19 world. Also hear a personalized discussion about how our own company’s mission and values must drive our business through challenges.




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