Digital Health has suddenly become one the hottest industries in the country as investment dollars flow to the budding sector and top technology companies look to “disrupt” healthcare. However, figuring out where and how to launch a new career in this space can be daunting. Having landed roles with top health tech companies over the last several years (although I still have a lot to learn), I wanted to share some insights that I am hoping will help others on their journey. The more intelligent, passionate people we have working to solve the inherent challenges of healthcare, the more impact we can have together. Here are a few things I think can help you find your place:
#1: Build a Foundation of Health Knowledge
Believe it or not, having a background in healthcare is NOT a prerequisite for many health tech jobs. However, knowing at least the foundation of how the industry works is a great way to set yourself apart. If you can demonstrate this knowledge (with a dash of passion) in your interviews, you will show your future employers that you genuinely care about more than just building a cool app. Some core topics you should understand are:
Business models for Payers, Providers, and Pharma companies (a.k.a How do they make money? What are the revenues and costs? SWOT?) Search for Payer 101, Provider 101, etc. to find some good material
Structure of government healthcare programs (Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, CHIP, VA)
Understand the basics of the ACA (Great article from KFF)
Top Industry Trends (Check out this article from PwC)
#2: Focus Your Attention
“Digital Health” is a dumb phrase - we don’t say digital banking, it’s just banking! Instead, you should think hard about which part of the healthcare industry you want to tackle, and then determine how technology can improve it. This is not an industry where the tech-first concept works - we need to build tools that support or enhance current medical operations rather than (or before we) replace them.
Before you start pursuing your career, think deeply about the causes within the industry you care most about and then learn as much as you possibly can about them. Do you care about reducing physician burnout? Shadow a physician to see what they go through. Want to reduce medical bills? Learn about payment reform. You will not be successful in health tech unless you deeply understand the problems you are trying to solve and all of the stakeholders that are involved. There is no way you can deeply understand everything, so focus on a couple key issues and pursue knowledge like you were the only one meant to solve them.
#3: Read, Read, Read
This should be common sense, but you are going to need to read like you were a student in your first year of law school. Once you have the basics down and you have identified your focus, it becomes increasingly important for you to constantly absorb information surrounding that topic. If you don’t like to read, listen to podcasts on your way to work. You might not need all this information to get the job, but you certainly will when you arrive to the office on the first day. Sources I love can be found at the bottom of this post.
#4: Remember Startups Fail, A LOT
While I truly appreciate the sheer number of entrepreneurs that have chosen to take the leap to build a business in health tech, this also comes with a big caveat: a ton of them are going to fail miserably (I know, this is true for most startups). If you are looking to get in on the ground floor at one of these companies, make sure you use your newfound knowledge of the healthcare industry to determine whether you think the business has a chance to survive. What are the potential regulatory / economic blockers to success? Can the business truly grow fast enough to meet the needs of VC investors (most of the time - the answer is no)? Does the leadership team have the expertise to execute its vision in the complexities of the industry?
This is not an easy thing to do, but I have had too many conversations with founders over the last 2 years who don’t have a clear vision for building a sustainable company. Healthcare’s limitations on scaling (e.g., healthcare is local) will inherently reduce the opportunities for huge, rapid exits as we have seen in startups from other industries. Healthcare is a series of small sprints throughout the length of a marathon. There are hundreds of companies out there lined up to pitch their ideas to “improve physician experience” or “reduce medical costs for [insert condition].” From my perspective, the diamonds in the rough are those that are going beyond the technology. Healthcare is a tech-enabled services business by default, and that is where I believe the impact really lies.
#5: Remember Your “Why”
Working in healthcare is not for the faint of heart, let alone operating at the intersection of health and tech. Many people join healthcare companies to help make an impact in the world, only to leave soon after witnessing the complexity of the industry firsthand. Being relentlessly passionate about fixing the industry is key to landing and staying in the right position. However, that is not always easy.
There are certainly days where I want to say “screw it” and change my focus, but I don’t because I get immense satisfaction from knowing my job is directly impacting the lives of people often in their most vulnerable state. We all have heard the horror stories about patients dealing with the difficulties of receiving and paying for medical care in the US. Some of us may even have experienced it ourselves. There is no greater feeling than knowing the tech I am helping to develop is directly making someone’s life better. Health tech is the anti-facebook. Understanding your impact will help you maintain that passion through the most trying times.
While building a good resume / cover letter and practicing your interviewing skills are paramount to landing the right job anywhere, the above tips can help you to set yourself apart from the competition. Success in any career requires a tremendous amount of effort, but the emotional payoff in healthcare technology is unmatched. I am looking forward to learning from you and others as we tackle this challenge together.
Interesting Reading / Listening Sources
Modern Healthcare (esp. Transformation Hub)
News Aggregators (I like Feedly)
Top Books (so far)
The Innovator’s Prescription
Where Does It Hurt?
America’s Bitter Pill
The Healing of America
The Patient Will See You Now
Four Steps to the Epiphany
Crossing the Chasm
The Digital Doctor