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February 27, 2024
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3 min read

Beyond the logo: The healthcare executive’s guide to creating genuine healthcare technology partnerships

Discover key strategies for healthcare executives to forge successful tech partnerships. From building trust and aligning on problems to ensuring ROI and seamless integration, this guide covers essential tips for enhancing collaboration and achieving mutual success.

Dr. Aaron Neinstein
Beyond the logo: The healthcare executive’s guide to creating genuine healthcare technology partnerships

After more than 15 years of being a buyer and customer of healthcare technology companies, I now find myself on the other side of the table – as a builder and a seller. This dual perspective has enriched my understanding of vendor-customer dynamics, revealing the essence of successful partnerships. I’ve navigated all kinds of vendor - customer relationships: those built on trust and those lacking it; those that have succeeded, and those that haven’t; those with focused goals and those with grand ambitions; those that are aligned, and those that are not; those that meet expectations, and those that fall short. Drawing from these diverse experiences, I want to share my observations and lessons learned about how both parties can achieve their strategic goals, maximize success, minimize frustration, and, the best part, find true joy in their work.  

Watch out for the customer logo slide. It’s a crucial yet often misleading indicator of a vendor’s experience. I often joke that it was a full-time job at UCSF to chase down companies that put the UCSF logo on their website when they had one physician using their software in one clinic in one part of UCSF. A customer logo might signify an enterprise customer, or it could mean one user conducting a small pilot. Clarification is key. Seek vendors with a track record of deploying and supporting software at enterprise scale across multiple large organizations. A single large-scale deployment might indicate over-customization and a lack of scalable solutions. 

Embrace the mantra: fall in love with the problem, not the solution. When selecting a vendor, you are not just purchasing a product, you are seeking a solution to a specific issue. The specific needs and details of that solution will evolve. However, starting with alignment on the problem and the desired outcomes allows partners to weather these shifts. Otherwise, you may diverge in needs and priorities. A vendor may focus their resources building in a different direction than you are hoping for as a healthcare organization. Vendors will create new features, new products, and new services. The more aligned you are on the problem space, the more likely that their investments will be exciting and useful for a customer.

Trust is the foundation of any successful partnership. Opt for partners whose values align with yours, establishing a basis of trust. This doesn’t matter much when everything is going right, but there will always be challenges, and there may even be a crisis, and in these moments, you want to be looking across the table at people and a company you trust to work in your best interests and collaboratively problem-solve. 

Buy the partner, not just the product. Be careful not to view a purchase as transactional or purchasing a widget. Products evolve, as will your needs and strategies. While you want to make sure that your first project or implementation together is a great one, make sure you are aligned with the vendor on the long-term vision. What is the company’s mission? What problem space do they spend all day thinking about? What trajectory are they on? As time moves on and things evolve, you will want a partner with whom you align around vision, problem space, and target outcomes so that you can grow together.  

And buy the process. It is a product too. Ensure your partner has a robust, proven, battle-tested methodology for deployment. In health tech, implementation, change management, and adoption are everything. They are as critical as the software itself. Make sure you have partners who have been there and done that. Make sure they have experience deploying at organizations that look like yours, and talented deployment staff who have the skills, experience, and creativity to troubleshoot and problem-solve. This will make the difference between success and failure. 

Align on the pricing model, not just the price. It is easy to look at the dollar total on the proposed contract. But more important is alignment on the model underlying the price. The best pricing models create win-win situations. As a healthcare organization derives value from the software, the price is connected to that increased unit of value. This is preferable to pricing models that feel arbitrary or that create perverse incentives. Use pricing to incentivize the outcomes that create a shared win for both parties. 

Have a clear business case. I couldn’t possibly mention price without talking about ROI. Does the company have a clear and compelling business case? Better yet, do they understand the business case that you, as a buyer of health IT, are going to have to create internally to get buy-in from across your organization? As a buyer, I used this as a screening question. I asked companies how they would advise me to build a business case for their technology for my CFO. Some companies were able to answer, and others tilted their head sideways and looked at me funny. Then they went back to talking about all of the cool features their software had. Those calls ended quickly and those companies never got a second call with me. A company must understand the needs of its customers well enough to create ROI models, not just try to sell you “Here are cool tech features.”

Workflow integration is non-negotiable. Too many healthcare technology companies naively believe that their software lives in a vacuum. They imagine users migrating to use just one piece of software. Enterprise software never comes into a blank slate. Enterprise users always have existing workflow tools and use multiple pieces of software throughout their day. It is mandatory to be aware of a healthcare organization’s existing vendors, architecture, and user workflows, in addition to the key data integrations required. Successful software must seamlessly integrate into users’ existing workflows, processes and information technology architecture.

Prioritize technological sustainability. Healthcare technologies tend to stick around and be used by healthcare organizations for many years. This means you need a technology stack that is built to last, with an architecture that makes sense for your organization, and capabilities that will grow and evolve with your organization.

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