Rules of Clinical Engagement for Healthcare Startups

07/24/21 | 5 MIN READ

How to engage with healthcare providers and gather clinical insights and feedback critical for your startup.

Oftentimes, medtech startups do not know where to start when it comes to clinical engagement. It is a confusing process, but one that must be done right to ensure the proper protocols have been followed. This article aims to provide various rules and tips for engaging with clinicians for studies and other research purposes. Remember, there is no shortcut for this process, but instead the best practice is to ensure all of the protocols have been followed correctly and promptly. 

🔬 Read about Product Development for Life Science Startups.

Innovation in Healthcare

An interesting, yet sad, statistic is that 96% of healthcare innovations fail. This can partially be explained by the knowledge gap between industry innovators and those that are on the front lines of delivering care. Because healthcare is an ever evolving industry, in order to gain that competitive edge (and be a part of the 4%) it is important for companies to innovate continuously and engage with experts in the industry. 

Other data shows that clinicians are frustrated with innovators, and sites that some new companies are setting out to solve problems they might not understand all too well. Clinicians believe that investments in the healthcare sector are not aligned with the needs of current healthcare professionals. Essentially, clinicians want to be a part of the conversations that decide what types of innovations are going to be most useful for the healthcare sector; they feel they are not a part of that conversation as of now.

Responsible Disruption

A common buzz word in the startup world is becoming a disruption in the market. Disruption means shaking up the status quo and replacing it with something better or more innovative. However, some clinicians view this disruption in a negative light. Clinicians may feel that this striving to be a disruption is not in the best interest of their patients, or their own jobs. Healthcare is a unique market sector that requires disruption to be well vetted before implementation. This leads to a small lag between other sectors and similar advancements in healthcare. 

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Despite this lag, clinicians are still eager to engage with new technology in order to improve patient care. Clinicians feel that the care can be improved best if they are involved in the early conversations of these innovative startups. That way, the company has a better understanding of clinical workflows, challenges, and preferences of the audience they intend to serve.

Rules for Engaging Clinicians

Here are some of the best practices when engaging clinicians while attempting to innovate in the healthcare sector:

  • Source diverse perspectives
  • Engage early and often
  • Capture multiple viewpoints
  • Set and manage expectations
  • Build lasting relationships

As a company, adhering to these guidelines will allow you to maximize the benefit of engaging with clinicians for their opinions. Each of these guidelines are explained in more detail below.

Sourcing Diverse Perspectives

Sourcing diverse perspectives is a very important part of engaging clinicians. Sadly, oftentimes in healthcare, new innovations can leave some demographic groups in the dust, and fail to help all of those in need. In order to fix this problem, startups should source perspectives from clinicians with diverse perspectives from the start. This allows the startup to hear and understand the problems of all those affected, not just a few.

Studies show that diversity unlocks innovation, drives growth, stimulates novel thinking, and improves outcomes. In order to tap into this, startups might need to expand their network, beyond those whom they normally associate with. Going outside your network allows you to gain diverse perspectives, whether it be diversity in race, gender, socio-economic status, or even experience.

Engage Early and Often

It is critical for healthcare innovators to involve clinicians and patients early in the development of their products. This allows them to help articulate how they should integrate into clinical practice, function, and impact patient care. Healthcare solutions that are designed and developed with clinician input early on in the process can avoid missteps that arise from a lack of understanding between designer and user.

A common word to use for this strategy is co-designing. Co-designing means that the clinician and the innovator are constantly working together to make the best possible product for their patients. It also means that the clinician is providing input throughout the entire design process, not just the beginning or end.

Capture Multiple Viewpoints

The difference between diverse viewpoints and multiple viewpoints is the volume of responses you may get to a particular question. It is not enough to ask one nurse, one doctor, and one patient’s perspective on a certain idea. Instead, you must engage with multiple types of clinicians and compile that data in order to analyze results. Another group to engage with is the hospital administration. These employees will allow you to gain a better understanding of where the hospital’s priorities lie, specifically when it comes to spending.

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Having a large sample size in healthcare is important because of the variability of the market. Talking to one clinician does not mean you have spoken with them all! Gathering a large sample size allows you to see more perspectives that can lead to a more impactful product.

Set and Manage Expectations

The most successful interactions occur when there are aligned expectations around the problem to be solved, compensation/value, and communication. Clinicians are very busy and their time is very valuable to them. As with any other professional interaction, make sure that you are being respectful of their time.

In addition, if you have the available funds to compensate these clinicians for their time and expertise, you should do it. This shows appreciation for their engagement. If you do not have the funds for this, try to show your appreciation in other ways. For example, you could show the clinician how their individual feedback has helped your product’s development.

🔬Related: Implementing Voice of Customer (VOC) In Your Business

Build Lasting Relationships

Building lasting relationships is essential for a continued positive interaction with these clinicians. Avoid ‘pitching’ yourself or your company. Instead, try to start a conversation about the problem you are trying to solve. Listen to what they have to say and take diligent notes. This way, you get their perspective before they have even heard about your product. Ask questions and engage clinicians on the topics that they seem to be most passionate about. These types of conversations will be more beneficial in the long run compared to one-sided pitches.

After your first interaction, make sure you follow up and update them on your product. They want to hear about these exciting developments, and truly want to help develop a solution to solve these complex problems. Building real relationships with these clinicians also expands your network, and gives you a contact for your other healthcare related ventures. They might also be able to get you some contacts from other institutions, in order to expand your perspectives beyond that of just one hospital/company.


Engaging with clinicians is a vital part of creating a meaningful product in the healthcare sector. Clinicians are on the front lines with patients, and are usually the ones to actually use the products you are designing. In order to avoid designing an obsolete product, startups should engage with clinicians early and often, and in a respectful manner. To get the most out of these interactions, startups should look for clinicians with diverse perspectives and engage with multiple clinicians in order to generate a statistically significant result. Building a lasting relationship with these clinicians is also important for future endeavors or additional questions. 


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This content comes from a webinar featuring Laura Beken (SBDC) and Shelli Pavone (Inlightened) by University Lab Partners in partnership with the SBDC @ UCI Beall Applied Innovation. Watch the full video here.

Laura Beken, SBDC Business Consultant at SBDC @ UCI Beall Applied Innovation, is a healthcare executive and a passionate business creative in the innovation space. She possesses a deeply insightful understanding of the many complicated facets of healthcare, and a vision of how innovative technologies can address them.

Shelli Pavone is the CEO and Co-Founder of Inlightened. Inlightened's mission is to facilitate and advance healthcare innovation by connecting the brightest clinical minds to the boldest innovators. Shelli has nearly 20 years of commercial experience in healthcare, and a history of developing sales strategy and teams from the ground up.

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