The Secret Sauce of Successful Pilots


Ever wish you could tell the future? Well, you can’t- but a pilot study can certainly help. Pilots are instrumental in helping organizations learn how a technology application might work in practice, or, more specifically, in their practice. By conducting a pilot, you get a chance to test out your technology, predict what might occur when you expand your reach, and most importantly, learn how to tweak your business model to support a large system. Eric Conner, Co-founder & Chief Revenue Officer of Healthify learned that, “Piloting de-risks trying out new technology… and forces both the host and the innovator to be more innovative.” Conner also adds that after piloting, “… you’re ready to implement your technology in a large health system [since] you have the kinks all worked out” and your company is prepared with the tools they need for large-scale growth.

eConsult platform, RubiconMD, is conducting a pilot with host Callen-Lorde Community Health Center and has discovered critical lessons about piloting in health tech. The pilot has helped Callen-Lorde create better care plans, and improve patient experiences and RubiconMD expand partnerships with specialists. COO & Co-founder, Carlos Reines says that there were some things he wishes he had known before diving into the pilot, such as the importance of the leadership support to drive effective practice transformation. RubiconMD is a participant of the Digital Health Marketplace, an initiative led by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) in partnership with Catalyst @ Health 2.0, to connect startups with healthcare organizations in NYC to conduct pilots. We asked Carlos to share insights and advice from his experience.

Catalyst @ Health 2.0: For starters, Carlos, will you tell us a bit about RubiconMD?

Carlos: The platform’s goal is to address the lack of proper access to specialist care. Up to 40% of visits to specialists are avoidable, and many populations, especially the underserved, don’t have adequate access because of wait times, or for other financial concerns. So, we wanted to create a model that would democratize access to medical expertise. The RubiconMD platform connects primary care providers with specialists for consultations. When a provider has a case that they’re stuck on, we assign the case to a specialist in our panel who can answer their questions. The panel now includes over 100 top specialties and specialists who get a stipend for their participation.

Catalyst @ Health 2.0: How did you form your partnership with Callen-Lorde?

Carlos: It wasn’t too hard for RubiconMD to convince Callen-Lorde that the pilot would benefit both patients and providers, and improve quality of care. The Health 2.0 curated matchmaking sessions really get you in front of relevant groups and give you an opportunity to see if there’s a good fit between you and the host before you apply to pilot together. Primary care clinics like our host typically have limited resources and the cost of trying new technology can be a hurdle to drive adoption. In this case, it would have been hard to commit to a pilot without the support of Digital Health Marketplace. The program came in with support to get us over that hump.

Catalyst @ Health 2.0: What advice would you give a startup getting ready for a pilot?

Carlos: The key component in a successful pilot is leadership buy-in. The Chief Medical Officer, VP of Clinical, or Medical Director needs to be fully behind it. So my advice here is, in designing your pilot make sure you’re really taking the providers into account and understanding their workflow. If you can provide any additional compensation for their time – do it. You need to make sure you’re giving THEM the resources to be able to dedicate enough to make the pilot successful. It requires an investment from their end – bear that in mind.

Catalyst @ Health 2.0: What was an indicator for you that the pilot is successful?

Carlos: The pilot has been highly successful as shown by the high adoption among providers and the high number of care plans improved and patient wait days avoided through the use of eConsults. Furthermore, our partnership has evolved to include Callen-Lorde providers into our Specialist panel. Callen-Lorde is a national leader in transgender health. Any given PCP has a few trans-patients, and from now on, any PCP on RubiconMD can tap into Callen-Lorde’s knowledge and expertise regarding trans-health.

The very word “pilot” speaks for itself expressing that it is a test, and may or may not produce the results you originally expected. That said, Carlos felt that it’s a surefire way to learn what works or doesn’t. Here are some of our main takeaways from his advice for a company looking to pilot:

  • Find a way to offset costs in order to get buy-in from hosts
  • Secure a wide range of stakeholder support for multi-sector collaboration
  • Know how the host will respond to the changes that may be needed along the way
  • Set metrics for success upfront for seamless conversion from pilot to commercial agreement (get it baked into the contract)
  • Make sure you help the host show the impact they’re achieving working with you
  • Focus on the pilot- don’t get stuck with too much overhead

Start-ups looking to grow their business in the healthcare industry face many roadblocks and obstacles which can be avoided or anticipated with the help of a pilot study. For healthcare organizations, pilots provide a unique opportunity to explore the potential of innovative tech to improve care delivery. RubiconMD, Healthify, Callen-Lorde and dozens of others have been able to take their companies to the next level as a result of Catalyst @ Health 2.0 pilot programs, such as the Digital Health Marketplace. This program brings together health care organizations and innovative companies through funding awards and facilitated matchmaking to conduct pilot studies, and ensures that the pilot pairs have what they need in order to conduct successful programs. Carlos was thankful to the program as it helped his team avoid wasted time on overhead, and allowed them to focus on important things, like identifying the host’s needs. RubiconMD is now forming additional partnerships as a result of their success with Callen-Lorde.

Learn about this program and others by visiting Catalyst @ Health 2.0.

Chelsea Polaniecki is a Program Manager at Catalyst @ Health 2.0.

*Disclaimer: Interview has been condensed for the purpose of this post.

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