Healthcare Technology Featured Article

October 13, 2016

Why Healthcare Startups Need to Run a Military-like Operation

The healthcare industry presents really daunting challenges for even the smartest startup. There are the usual challenges in financing, staffing, competition and partnerships. But, it’s in the competitive nature of startups to disrupt the status quo, so the many industry-specific compliance issues create a maze you may not have expected.

Keep it simple: healthcare startups need to a run military-like operation.


1. Healthcare regulations seem to multiply and ultimately never go away. You may confront the FDA, HIPAA, Affordable Care Act, OCR, HHS, and many more hurdles from state to state and from one branch of healthcare to another.

Healthcare tech startups get no break from requirements and attendant penalties. The best you can say is that the entrepreneur who knows how to navigate and fulfill the rules will have a competitive advantage.

2. The startup mindset can be its own worst enemy if it thinks it can end-run compliance problems. Compliance with bureaucratic demands process, and process takes time.

Healthcare needs what your startup can do, but it is also ruled by sometimes monolithic leaders in hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical providers, and regulatory authorities. So, the startup needs to temper attempts to shortcut the process.

3. Innovation must serve customer felt needs. So, you have to listen. Healthcare customers are looking for satisfactory, cost-efficient, and immediate solutions – not technology. If tech gets them there, that’s fine, but technology is not on their mind. For example, patients have generally resisted the bedside manner of roving robots, even though robots provide a tremendously practical service.

Still, the complex nature of healthcare presents unlimited opportunity to satisfy the same public’s need for instantaneous response. Startups might even offer technologies to address the barriers customers find in regulation: securing privacy, facilitating mobile care, archiving and sharing records, and so on.

What’s a startup to do?

Success in healthcare applications is doable and potentially very lucrative. It takes a different energy and lots more patience with the market. Now, it is true that hi-tech healthcare operates faster than some regulators, but regulators have the upper hand.

What your startup needs is experienced legal advice in compliance with state, federal, and industry regulators. And, even lawyers have to be alert to changes in regulatory direction and new interests by entities like the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission, and the political party in power. According to Deloitte Consulting, “You need people with experience in the same clinical and administrative disciplines you’re supporting and you need compliance to work hand in hand with your business strategy and operations.”

In short, as an entrepreneur, you have yet another hat to wear. After all, protocol governs the practice of healthcare. Practitioners train to comply with practices without question. If healthcare is to do no harm, it relies heavily on the tried and true. And, every nurse and orderly in the business tells stories about the penalties suffered for violation of protocol.

Your new hat makes you the navigator. You can only move your startup forward after you have acknowledged what’s in your way. In fact, it’s to your advantage to embrace the challenge for what it is.

Remember, some aspects of healthcare are underserved and may present less of a threat. Baby Boomers will need advanced and long-term geriatric care with a number of sub-markets like hospice care, in-home care, closed pharmacies, and assisted living. Linking their communities, care, and records provides opportunities. Other communities looking for solutions include:

  • the poor and distant in regions like Appalachia or First Peoples’ Reserves
  • offshore workers, miners, and migrant workers
  • And, third-world needs in under-developed nations

They all crave healthcare service and the technology that can deliver it.

Or, you can take advice from Apple, an open-sourced framework with four modules.

  • Care Card tracks plans, care, and therapies and interacts with your iPhone and Apple Watch.
  • Symptom and Measurement Tracker lets patients track own progress with infections, pain, and recovery.
  • Insight Dashboard displays symptoms against therapies to show what is working and coach the patient.
  • Connect shares information with caregivers, doctors, and family members.

Apple’s project may be informative in a number of ways. Startups might create additional or better modules. You might target what Apple did not do or adapt it for other platforms. And, you might examine Apple’s route to product development to study how they dealt with compliance issues.


If you know why healthcare startups need to run a military-like operation, you can take some comfort in knowing that neither technology nor healthcare operate in vacuums. The slightest move in either field is felt across the industry. So, your startup is free to pursue the potential synergies between the two.

Edited by Alicia Young

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