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What can established healthtech companies learn from startups?

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In recent years, the healthtech sector in the UK and Ireland has continued to grow, becoming the second biggest sub-set of the tech sector after fintech. Within this, the healthtech startup scene has been at the forefront of new developments and innovations, some of which have played a crucial role during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by helping to provide new digital tools to connect patients with clinical staff. However, despite this, established technology enterprises and startups within the healthcare sector are both facing a distinct set of challenges.

Established healthtech companies are finding increasing numbers of developers attracted to the excitement and pace of working with innovative startups – leaving these established organizations with a growing skills gap. Startups tend to have the energy and vision to attract young professionals, but not the same experience of healthcare culture, data, and standards. However, even if they are succeeding in attracting the right talent, when considering NHS procurement processes it is unsurprising that 90% of healthtech startup organizations fail in their first five years. Therefore, to ensure sustained momentum in the healthtech sector, established businesses and startups need to recognize what they can learn from one another, and apply these learnings to their own organizations.

With software, data, and interoperability of immeasurable importance to healthtech, forming the backbone of analytics, connected devices, and digital therapeutics, it is essential that both types of business have the talent and understanding needed to develop these innovative healthtech solutions.

Why are digital skills so in demand within healthcare?

The healthcare sector has lagged behind most other industries in adopting digital strategies, which means it is now in need of increasing numbers of professionals with digital skills to drive innovation and enable it to catch up technologically. Currently, healthcare providers are undergoing a massive digital transformation from a healthcare system-centric model to a patient-centric model. As a result, they are relying on healthtech companies to provide innovative new solutions that will allow them to deliver improved patient outcomes and reduced costs, while optimizing the healthcare professional’s work.

To deliver on this expectation, healthtech solutions need to be built specifically with healthcare organizations in mind, and this requires developers to have an intimate understanding of healthcare systems, interoperability, and regulatory compliance. For example, all healthtech companies need to understand both legacy interoperability standards and FHIR. However, whilst longer-standing organizations tend to understand these legacy standards, they may be unused to the newer RESTful API approach of FHIR. In contrast, healthtech startups tend to underestimate the importance of being able to work with legacy standards, incorrectly viewing them as outdated and unnecessary. Therefore, both would benefit from stepping out of their comfort zones and ensuring they familiarize themselves with the full spectrum of interoperability standards to guarantee that their healthtech solutions and applications are competitive and can be integrated within healthcare environments, both now and in the future. Only this approach will ensure their longevity and wide-reaching appeal. 

Learning from healthtech startups to overcome the skills gap

As established healthtech companies look to attract new talent, it’s important that they find ways to entice more young people to consider a career with them. To better compete with healthtech startups for this talent, established technology companies within the healthcare sector should embrace the elements of startups that young professionals find so appealing, namely their culture. Creating a culture of transparency and building human connection is key to this.

Furthermore, for many developers the attraction to healthtech startups often lies in their creative, agile environments. This allows them to test a concept, put it into practice and if it doesn’t work, ‘fail fast’ and try something else with no hard feelings. Consequently, established healthtech companies need to promote this culture of encouraging innovation and failing fast to ensure that developers don’t feel constrained by set processes and preconceived ideas of what success looks like. This will not only help them to attract a wider talent pool, but it will also help them to retain existing employees.

What can established healthtech companies teach startups?

While established healthtech companies have a lot to learn from their younger counterparts to attract and retain talent, healthtech startups stand to gain a great deal by looking to the big players. For example, startups often don’t possess a rich knowledge of data governance, whereas larger organizations will have dedicated people or even teams in place responsible for ensuring information governance and compliance with both privacy regulations and healthcare ethics.

Thus, healthtech startups need to prioritize establishing a robust governance framework around access to data. Failing to work in this way could be a barrier further down the line, particularly at a time when the ideas of trust and ethics are growing in importance and poor data governance could be the downfall of an organization. Furthermore, not considering interoperability and the data compliance implications at an early stage could also see healthtech startups left out in the cold when looking to encourage organizations like the NHS to integrate their solutions within their current infrastructure.

The best of both worlds

It’s clear that established healthtech companies need to take inspiration from their startup counterparts when it comes to nurturing a culture which will attract the digital talent they need to keep them at the forefront of innovation. Embracing agility and a ‘fail fast’ mentality will help. Whereas for healthtech startups, the challenge is in attracting the right kind of talent and acknowledging the need for developers who have not only the technical skills but also the understanding and experience of interoperability and regulatory compliance. Ultimately, for healthtech companies of all sizes, considerations such as robust governance frameworks will offer developers the best of both worlds: an innovative working environment in which they can make a real difference but in a way that is proven to be ethical, secure and scalable for future success.

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