How can digital health innovators successfully sell to health systems?

How can digital health innovators successfully sell to health systems?

Ron Rerko

Meet Ron Rerko, head of clinical solutions at Soteria Precision Medicine Foundation and executive director of genomics at Family Care Path.

podcast available

With over 20 years of experience in cancer research—and 13 years at the Cleveland Clinic as director of genomics in the Genomic Medicine Institute—Ron has developed and implemented programs in medical genetics, genomic medicine, pharmacogenomics, and telehealth, as well as extensive business development efforts.

Digital health startups don’t always take the optimal approach when it comes to engaging health systems. Ron shares his advice for best practices with the MDisrupt community.

Healthcare today

MDisrupt: Can you describe the state of the healthcare system?

Ron Rerko: Health systems of today mostly practice sick care, not well care. Within this system, costs are rising faster than annual incomes and this is not sustainable. The cost of insurance premiums is outpacing the ability to pay. Family costs have increased by 180% since 2000. And 45% of people in the US say they would have difficulty paying an unexpected $500 medical bill. We have a tenuous, fragile system that desperately needs help and innovation. And, unfortunately, the cost of care does not always equate with good care. The healthcare ecosystem, which is like a cottage industry of a lot of different parts, is trying to figure out what the future holds given immense financial constraints, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and multiple disruptors moving into the market.

How to pitch to health systems

MDisrupt: How should digital health entrepreneurs pitch their products to health system executives?

Ron Rerko: Pitch a product that opens up new revenue sources and/or saves money, and that provides positive outcomes for their patients. Hospital systems are dealing with millions of dollars of losses, especially due to the pandemic, and are up against fundamental performance measure changes with implementation of insurance reimbursement in a value-based care model.

The first thing you have to do is understand your business champion—an executive, physician, nurse, or researcher—and know what’s important to them and how you can help solve their problems. Leave the sales mentality at home. Be their partner and understand their pain points and show how you’re going to help them instead of just selling to them.

Avoid these rookie mistakes

MDisrupt: What are mistakes digital health companies make in selling to health systems?

Ron Rerko: Let me focus on things you should not do and then we’ll figure out how to craft the best value prop. The thing you should not do is go into systems cold. You’ve got to understand the system and the culture. You need to understand the type of individuals you are talking to and the challenges they are dealing with.

They have jobs that they’re trying to do, stresses that they have to deal with. So you need to connect with them as a person. It is best to have a “Sherpa” or someone along with you to navigate the system, because if you try to go in cold it usually doesn’t work.

And one thing to remember is, you cannot make a strategic mistake. Once you go into a system and make a blunder, that usually gets around. Hospitals have very long term memories about companies and people. So if you make a mistake or two in a system, you probably won’t even be able to come back for a while. You want to educate yourself and make sure that you’re approaching the opportunity the best way possible.
Also hospitals are ecosystems, not single entity units. You’ve got to figure out the best way to enter the system and what’s the value prop for that specific entity.

The future of genomics in healthcare

MDisrupt: What will it take for genomics to be standard practice within the healthcare ecosystem?

Ron Rerko: The standard practice of genomics is not going to be an “if”—it’s a “when.” It’s already in practice in a lot of places. Cleveland Clinic, for example, has a very advanced genomic medicine institute. Genomics is used in cancer treatment, pharmacogenomics, hereditary cancer identification, cardiovascular care, and non-invasive prenatal testing.

The problem is that it’s very complicated and a rapidly moving field. A lot of this information has really come out only in the last decade or so. Physicians who were in medical school even just 10 years ago may not have had a lot of this information. The generation of new information and the integration of this into clinical care are moving at a rapid rate.

We’re finding new and informative things every day and using sequencing to look at your DNA, to determine what drugs you metabolize, what foods may be good for you, and what diseases you are at risk for. Physicians are expected to see more patients, incorporate more info into care and at a faster rate. They don’t have a lot of time to incorporate this complex information into their clinical workflow—for example, how to understand the reports and make sure it’s the best thing for their patients. Physicians are just struggling to keep up with the demands of their normal practices, let alone start to integrate these advanced products.

Soteria Precision Medicine Foundation is utilizing genomic medicine to help people dealing with cancer and acting as an advocate for the patient and supporting them with their oncologist. It is a slow process because all the pieces need to integrate into a clinical workflow. It is happening, but will be difficult continuously integrating advancements over the next couple of years.

Why listening is essential

MDisrupt: What advice would you give digital health innovators as they are developing products and pitching to health systems?

Ron Rerko: There have been times during a meeting where I’ve talked for two minutes and thought, “This is going to work much better if I listen and learn about their problems.” I’ve had to pivot and understand more about what they are going through, what they need help with, and then understand how my offering could or could not benefit them. We end up developing a rapport and a connection because we’ve listened to each other.

One of the things I would tell a founder of a company is, don’t bring your ego into the room. Just leave it at the door and say, “I’m here to help and I’m trying to work with you.” And another piece of advice is not being afraid to fail. If something didn’t work, I’ll step back and say, “Why didn’t it work and how can I adjust in the future?” I’m even appreciative when a potential customer will tell me why it’s not working and what they saw, because that allows me to learn more and make my pitches better. It’s being able to accept those criticisms. That’s part of the process.

At MDisrupt we believe the most impactful health products should make it to market quickly. We connect digital health innovators to the healthcare industry experts and scientists they need to responsibly accelerate product development, commercialization, adoption, and scale.

Our expert consultants span the healthcare continuum and can assist with all stages of health product development: This includes regulatory, clinical studies and evidence generation, payor strategies, commercialization, and channel strategies. If you are building a health product, MDisrupt can help. Talk to us.

The Awesome Women Scientist-Founders Transforming Digital Health

The Awesome Women Scientist-Founders Transforming Digital Health

For Women’s History Month, we wanted to celebrate the accomplishments of female scientists who have founded digital health companies. Women scientists have started some amazing companies—but until now it hasn’t been easy to find information about many of them in one place. (It’s similar to what we discovered when we created our list of female physicians who are digital health founders.)

From gene editing to therapeutics to femtech to preventive care, check out some of the exciting ways that female scientist-founded companies are innovating in digital health.

We know that there are lots more of these companies out there! If you’re a female scientist founder, and would like to be included in this list, you can add yourself by clicking the button below:


Jennifer Doudna, PhD

Company: Scribe Therapeutics
Scribe is focused on the engineering, delivery, and development of next-generation CRISPR molecules to rewrite and repair the underlying cause of genetic disorders.

LinkedIn: Jennifer Doudna, PhD

Rupal Patel, MHSc, PhD

Company: VocaliD
We make digital voice personal. Whether you’re a brand or individual, we have the synthetic voice solution for you.

Twitter: @TweetRupal
LinkedIn: Rupal Patel

Meesha Dogon, PhD

Company: Cardio Diagnostics
At Cardio Diagnostics we are transforming heart disease prevention through ML/AI and DNA-based solutions.

LinkedIn: Meesha Dogan, PhD

Janice Chen, PhD

Company: Mammoth Biosciences
At Mammoth, we discover novel CRISPR systems that enable new possibilities for expanding biology.

Twitter: @janiceschen
LinkedIn: Janice Chen

Elina Berglund Scherwitzl, PhD

Company: Natural Cycles
The only FDA cleared birth control app puts the power in the palm of your hand. Skip the pharmacy, no prescription needed.

Twitter: @EScherwitzl
LinkedIn: Elina Berglund Scherwitzl

Kate Rosenbluth, PhD

Company: Cala Health
Cala Health is a bioelectronic medicine company transforming the standard of care for chronic disease.

Twitter: @KateRosenbluth
LinkedIn: Kate Rosenbluth, PhD

Marina Pavlovic Rivas, MS

Company: Eli.Health
Eli enables women to take control of their health across their lives, by providing them with their daily hormone profile.

Twitter: @data_marina
LinkedIn: Marina Pavlovic Rivas

Áine Behan, MSc, PhD

Company: Cortechs
At Cortechs, we use brain powered play and brainwaves as a tool to improve behaviours such as attention in easily distracted children that want to improve their focus.

Twitter: @cortechs_ab
LinkedIn: Áine Behan

Darlene Higbee Clarkin, RHN

Company: KORE Digital Health Therapeutics
KORE Digital Health Therapeutics is optimizing digestive health outcomes through behaviour change, progressive nutritional education and evidence-based digital therapeutics.

LinkedIn: Darlene Higbee Clarkin, RHN

Raeanne Moore, PhD

Company: KeyWise AI
KeyWise AI develops AI software that tracks brain function, objectively & precisely.

Twitter: @raeannephd
LinkedIn: Raeanne Moore, PhD

Kate Wolin, ScD

Company: Coeus Health
Coeus Health unlocks the tools to provide health and wellness programs that work.

Twitter: @DrKateWolin
LinkedIn: Kate Wolin

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, PhD

Company: Biocon
An innovation-led fully integrated biopharmaceutical company that develops affordable biosimilars, novel biologics & complex APIs

Twitter: @KiranShaw
LinkedIn: Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, PhD

Jane Wang, BSc

Company: Optimity
Optimity makes a gamified health rewards platform that applies nudge science to support a proactive approach to holistic healthy living.

Twitter: @JaneJwang
LinkedIn: Jane Wang

Maggie Bergeron, MSc

Company: Embodia
Online continuing education for physiotherapists plus digital home exercise and patient engagement software.

Twitter: @maggiebpt
LinkedIn: Maggie Bergeron

Cecile Real

Company: Endodiag
We develop new endometriosis diagnostic solutions to contribute to a better endometriosis diagnosis, a more personalized patient management, more efficient treatment options and fertility strategy.

LinkedIn: Cecile Real

Isabel Van De Keere, PhD

Company: Immersive Rehab
Immersive Rehab creates personalised digital therapeutics neurorehabilitation programmes in virtual reality with the aim to improve patient recovery.

Twitter: @ScienceRoadie
LinkedIn: Isabel Van De Keere, PhD

Elizabeth Iorns, PhD

Company: Science Exchange
Science Exchange, the R&D Services Management company, empowers research organizations to accelerate science and drive innovation success.

Twitter: @elizabethiorns
LinkedIn:Elizabeth Iorns, PhD

Alicia Jackson, PhD

Company: Evernow
Preventive primary care, powered by technology

LinkedIn: Alicia Jackson

Jennifer Doudna, PhD

Company: Mammoth Biosciences
At Mammoth, we discover novel CRISPR systems that enable new possibilities for expanding biology.

LinkedIn: Jennifer Doudna, PhD

Kate Wolin, ScD

Company: Circea
Circea guides clients in threading the needle between evidence and commercial need in health behavior change.

Twitter: @DrKateWolin
LinkedIn: Kate Wolin

Amanda French, BSE

Company: Emme
Emme is a healthcare technology company with a mission to put women’s health in women’s hands, starting with birth control.

LinkedIn:Amanda French

Claire Novorol, PhD

Company: Ada
Ada’s core system connects medical knowledge with intelligent technology to help all people actively manage their health and medical professionals to deliver effective care.

Twitter: @clairenovorol
LinkedIn: Claire Novorol

Geetha Manjunath, PhD

Company: Niramai
Niramai Health Analytix is a non-contact privacy-aware breast cancer screening solution that detects early stage breast abnormalities.

Twitter: @geethamhp
LinkedIn: Geetha Manjunath

Nabiha Saklayen, PhD

Company: Cellino
Cellino Biotech develops intracellular delivery lasers and nanotechnology for gene editing applications.

Twitter: @nabsicle
LinkedIn: Nabiha Saklayen, PhD

Parastoo Khoshakhlagh, Ph.D

Company: GC Therapeutics, Inc
GC Therapeutics Inc. (GCTx) uses synthetic biology to program patient-derived stem cells into any cell type with best-in-class efficiency (up to 10X), speed (up to 100X) and scalability.

Twitter: @Parastoo__KH
LinkedIn: Parastoo Khoshakhlagh, Ph.D

Mona Schreiber

Mona Schreiber, VP of Marketing, MDisrupt

Mona is a marketing leader with over 15 years b2b experience developing new healthcare markets. Prior to joining MDisrupt, she was an early marketing lead at Invitae Inc, where she helped scale the company from small startup to market leader in the nascent genetic testing industry. She brings with her a deep understanding of global markets from her international marketing work at Invitae and Affymetrix.

At MDisrupt we believe that the most impactful health products should make it to market quickly. We help make this happen by connecting digital health innovators to the healthcare industry experts and scientists they need to responsibly accelerate product development, commercialization, adoption, and scale. Our expert consultants span the healthcare continuum and can assist with all stages of health product development: This includes regulatory, clinical studies and evidence generation, payor strategies, commercialization, and channel strategies. If you are building a health product, talk to us.

How Health Economists Add Value to Digital Health

How Health Economists Add Value to Digital Health

Ragan Hart

Ragan Hart, MS (public health genetics), PhD (health economics), is a co-founder of MDisrupt and its director of operations. Previously, she served as entrepreneur-in-residence at F-Prime Capital. Ragan recently celebrated her one-year anniversary with MDisrupt, and sat down for an interview to talk about the career path that brought her from science to startup.

Bringing innovation to the clinic

MDisrupt: Why did you choose to study health economics?

Ragan Hart: I was an exercise science major doing lab work in the genetics of diabetes, and I wanted to better understand genomics tools and sequencing. That led to an interdisciplinary graduate program in public health genetics. I was very interested in biostatistics and how to get these technologies to the clinic.

With colleagues who were physicians, research scientists, genetic counselors and others in an academic medical center focused on genetic testing, I kept hearing, “Payers don’t want to pay for this.” And so I asked, “What type of evidence do the payers need? Are we having conversations with payers?” And the response was, “No, we haven’t been engaging payers.”

That was pivotal. I said, I need to train in applied health economics to understand payer decision making. Economics and business are two things I wish had been introduced to sooner.

MDisrupt: What did you envision for yourself in terms of a career?  

Ragan Hart: I definitely knew I wanted to work in industry. I didn’t know the term commercialization at that point, but I was absolutely trying to find my way into commercialization. I knew I had an understanding of startups in the genomics diagnostics space. So I started following the market of early stage venture capital into a set of these companies. I really started to understand the different levers at play for health tech adoption.

MDisrupt: Why did you decide to join MDisrupt?  

Ragan Hart: Because I absolutely understood the mission that MDisrupt was founded to serve—getting the most impactful health products to market faster and more responsibly—and I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to have a role in connecting scientists and health experts to digital health founders. I pride myself on being able to appreciate new ideas; I value a lot of lessons learned from the tech sector and I want to be part of figuring out how we can bring this into health care.

How health economists add value 

MDisrupt: How do you see health economists as helpful to digital health companies?

Ragan Hart: Health economists can help digital health companies by identifying:

  • Who are the stakeholders?
  • What are their economic incentives?
  • How do we build a product that can meet those incentives?
  • What evidence do we need to generate?
  • How do we assess how well the product performs in a clinical setting?
  • What’s the added value? For example, is this improving quality of life? Are cost savings being generated?

From a value proposition perspective, the digital health companies may have a really awesome product. But it’s also critical to their success to be able to articulate why their product should displace standard of care. Applied health economists can support economic evaluation for cost effectiveness studies—evaluating the new health technology against whatever is currently being used and comparing cost effectiveness.

Often, costs are going to be increased by investing in new health technology. But we’re getting this gain in the quality outcome or the health outcomes. The next step of data that needs to be generated is, can the purchaser who’s evaluating this technology afford it?

And so applied health economists can generate budget impact data, honing in on the financial consequences for adopting the new health technology. These are things that a health system needs to know, and in an ideal world, maybe the health system would do that kind of analysis. But they don’t necessarily put resources into doing it, so it really has to be done by the digital health company themselves. However, in the healthcare industry’s transition to value-based care, we may start to see more health systems identifying gaps from a cost-benefit perspective.

Integrity as the North Star

MDisrupt: Can you describe a challenge you’ve faced that’s been formative to the way you work now? 

Ragan Hart: In the academic space, something came up where a senior individual was operating without scientific integrity. The challenge was a dilemma for whether or not to say, yes, we’re willing to accept your lack of scientific integrity. There would have been limited consequences for everyone involved. I was really fortunate that my advisor said, look, here are the two options. And this one—to accept the lack of scientific integrity—is not an option. And that forever changed my ability to be able to navigate situations from that perspective. 

MDisrupt: Can you say more about that? 

Ragan Hart: It allowed me to anchor myself in thinking through the competing incentives, and, going back to my economic roots, that everything is about tradeoffs. It was a valuable lesson in what’s the North Star, and, when are we allowing ourselves to veer away from that? At what cost?

Health startups need scientists

MDisrupt: What advice would you give other scientists who might be thinking about working with a health startup?

Ragan Hart: Do it! Startups building health products need individuals who have critical thinking skills and subject matter expertise. They also need to generate data and evidence that their products work and are safe, effective and clinically useful.

Oftentimes, scientists are conflicted and wonder, Well, am I still going to be in an environment that maintains the academic rigor, intellectual curiosity, and stimulation of the academic environment? The answer is yes, tenfold in a startup environment. Because you’re also getting to cultivate new skills on top of contributing domain expertise you already have. It’s incredibly enriching.

Fresh ways to work

MDisrupt: What have you discovered in your role at MDisrupt that’s been fresh and surprising for you? 

Ragan Hart: I’ve been exposed to the value of marketing. And building trust with colleagues and working in a team. Previous environments have been quite siloed and building that bridge and rapport hasn’t been valued as much. It’s so valuable, because we’re trying to build and execute on the same mission. And I’ve learned that it’s OK to depend on others. Necessary, in fact.

MDisrupt: Can you say more about that? 

Ragan Hart: Building off of that trust piece, there are too many critical things that need to be completed to meet the goal, and not one of us can complete them on our own.

MDisrupt: What would you say to scientists who might be interested in joining MDisrupt?

Ragan Hart: It’s an easy way to work with digital health innovators. It’s about being able to apply your scientific skills in a new environment. And the energy and pace are invigorating! You are able to contribute to getting your science placed in the hands of patients or providers or health systems or whoever the intended user is, faster and more responsibly with data. Scientists don’t often have that opportunity.

At MDisrupt we believe that the most impactful health products should make it to market quickly. We help make this happen by connecting digital health innovators to the healthcare industry experts and scientists they need to responsibly accelerate product development, commercialization, adoption, and scale.

Our expert consultants span the healthcare continuum and can assist with all stages of health product development. This includes regulatory, clinical studies and evidence generation, payor strategies, commercialization, and channel strategies. If you are building a health product, talk to us.