Lessons Learned as a Healthcare Entrepreneur

Samanta Shi is a rising senior at NYU Shanghai, majoring in Interactive Media Arts and minoring in Chinese Language. She was born in the US, but spent most of her life moving around from England, Sweden, Kuwait, Florida, Qatar, Shanghai to New York.

Samanta has always been passionate about finding creative ways to improve life through new technologies with thoughtful design. This led her to co-found MediVis with her classmate, Sean Kelly. The MediVis product is an augmented reality headset that helps surgeons in the OR by displaying 3D patient radiology data in real-time to increase time efficiency and outcome quality.

This post is part of the NYU Summer Launchpad blog series featuring NYU entrepreneurs’ first-hand accounts of challenges faced in starting a business and the lessons learned along the way. Learn more about the NYU Summer Launchpad 2016 participants here.

Lessons I Learned as a Budding Healthcare Entrepreneur: 

The MediVis project started last fall, when Sean and I met with NYU Langone Medical Center residents who discussed their desire for technological innovation in the healthcare industry. Since being selected into the NYU Summer Launchpad, we have spent the past few weeks understanding our customers and their unique needs. Half way into the accelerator, here are some of my key learnings:

Leverage connections when entering the healthcare industry. Get used to waking up at 6AM!

After only one week of conducting customer interviews, in our case–speaking with surgeons, I realized that successfully scheduling interviews was going to be one of my biggest challenges.

To delve into a field as complex as the healthcare industry one requires a lot of persistent effort, especially when your end user is John, a surgeon. John is likely doing one of the following things: 1) planning a surgery, 2) reviewing a patient case, 3) preparing for surgery, 3) in the operating room performing the surgery, 4) speaking with patient family, 5) paperwork, 6) attending meetings and/or conferences, 7) doing research, 8) meeting a new patient, 9) executive committee work, 10) eating, 11) sleeping, or 12) with family (the latter half in no particular order). The less likely thing that John is doing is: 13) taking 15 - 30 minutes to speak with me, the curious student and aspiring entrepreneur.

Safe to say that I have truly learned the value of a surgeon’s time. Nonetheless, I have managed to speak with dozens of surgeons, who all provided unforgettable knowledge and feedback.

Thanks to the coaching team at the NYU Summer Launchpad, and a special thanks to Frank Rimalovski, I managed to meet with Dr. Zuckerman, Chair of the Department of Orthopaedics at NYU Langone Medical Center, on a Friday morning at 7AM.

Although I was a bit intimidated, I first thanked him for his time, introduced myself, and then started asking away. My strategy included to ask a handful of questions related to his surgical interests, as noted by his research and most common cases he encountered, as well as questions about the nature of the ecosystem itself and how the Orthopaedic Department at NYU Langone approaches the purchasing of new equipment.

Most importantly, I never forget to ask the ‘magic wand’ question: If you had a magic wand that could solve any problem intraoperatively, what would that problem be and why? This question gives me the most useful insights on what kind of surgeon I am speaking with, what their priorities are, and what their true pain point is.

You don't have to be an expert but do your research before customer interviews. Just bring your 'A' game! 

MediVisA huge lesson learned is to always enter an interview with as much knowledge as you can about the interviewee, the procedures they specialize in, the research they have done, and the papers they have written because that is when you will get 150% more useful answers from the interview. The opportunity to understand what a surgeon does and learn more about his/her perspective on tools, technology, and medical procedures is a rare one that must be taken seriously. If the interview goes well, the surgeon might even invite you to observe a surgery, which undoubtedly would be the most valuable way of truly understanding the challenges of a surgeon.

Understanding the difference between different surgical procedures has allowed me to better understand the challenges that specialized surgeons face and how MediVis may tackle these problems. So, doing your research and focusing your questions prior to entering a customer interview is unequivocally beneficial to finding product-market fit.

Another lesson learned is to always ask how and why. For example, I have often asked surgeons to expand upon their answers that include terms like “technical solution” and “pre-op information”, which has led to much more specific terms like “mobile or tablet technology with software made by X” or “the alignment and placement of the screws.”

The first few weeks of SLP have been very exhausting but so incredibly rewarding. Through my interviews, I have begun to better understand my customer ecosystem, though I still have so much to learn.

Hospital procurement systems are extremely complicated. Brace yourself!

While most of the people are approaching urgent care Queens blvd to seek emergency health treatment. Just few weeks into our interviews, we learned that while surgeons influence the purchasing decisions, they rely on separate departments and committees to research vendors and sign contracts. We are planning to interview employees who deal with the hospital procurement processes. 

If a new medical device is to be purchased and put into use, there are executive committees, steering committees, and new products committees that are made up of surgeons and OR staff who influence hospital purchasing decisions. Furthermore, each department within the hospital has their own committees and oftentimes their own, unique needs. However, depending on the kind of hospital, these decision making committees vary in nature. Additionally, there are separate individuals, outside of the committees, who are involved in the negotiation and signing of the deal.

There is a very complicated chain of opinions and approvals to get through before a medical device, especially a capital budget item, makes its way into the hands of the end user, John. Before this medical device is even considered, however, its cost must be balanced with benefits. If this item is adding cost, then it must improve outcome quality and/or efficiency, and it must absolutely have a seamless integration process. I now understand why technological advances lag in the healthcare industry, as there is an exceeding amount of hoops to jump through. My takeaway – if the product works, then it is worth all the effort.

Healthcare Regulations and Reimbursement Models are complex. Don't stop learning! 

The healthcare space is a complex and heavily regulated one. As part of getting to know my customer, I am also learning the importance of understanding the regulations and structures that MediVis will come across, both in the short and long-term.

I have also learned that within a few years, the US government will implement a value-based payment system, which will impact how surgeons and other health practitioners are paid. To evaluate patient outcomes, I learned that several quality-check systems, such as the Physician Quality Reporting System, are used to uphold healthcare regulations and standards across the US. Learning about the healthcare legal agenda has provided me with a greater understanding of the factors that may affect the future of MediVis, our financial prospects, as well as the dynamics of our customer network.

So far, Summer Launchpad has been a great resource--providing knowledgeable mentors, with great connections, as well as a guide towards approaching customer interviews. As SLP emphasizes, getting out of the building is so undoubtedly important in surfacing your true product-market fit. I have only just begun to understand who my early adopters are and their true pain points.