This article first appeared in Entrepreneur in June 2022.
For physicians aspiring to start their own business, the timing is perfect for launching a new career or side hustle.
Graduating with a medical degree no longer guarantees the financial security that it once did. Yet with advancements in digital health and other factors, physicians are discovering new opportunities to start their own businesses and pursue careers outside of traditional clinical pathways.
Why is this development taking place? And how can physicians capitalize on it?
Digital transformation is increasing demand for healthcare domain expertise
Digital transformation, or the digitization of healthcare, began in earnest in the early 2010s with the industry-wide shift from paper-based processes to electronic health records (EHRs). Today, the industry universally serves as the vehicle to meeting modern consumer demands — expecting the same convenience, transparency and experiences provided by large tech companies such as Amazon, Apple and Google.
Health systems have increased their adoption of digital health solutions, and many startups have stepped up to service this demand. Still, these solutions call for specific domain expertise to ensure that technology creates value in the context of patient care and the unique dynamics of the healthcare system. Digital health companies have long relied on physicians for this vital function, recruiting them to serve on advisory boards or join executive teams. Yet with the success of physician-founded or led tech companies such as Doximity, Hippo Health and Collective Health, many physicians are now discovering the advantages of applying this competitive advantage to their own businesses.
Consumer expectations are increasing the value of healthcare credentials
In healthcare, credibility is one of the most important requirements influencing a purchasing decision. Products and services often present life-altering implications, a reason B2C and B2B customers demand the validation of qualified medical experts before buying.
When it comes to medical expertise, physicians stand at a position of great influence. Held to the highest medical standards, their credentials often carry the most weight in the eyes of consumers. Healthcare startups continue to leverage this for their own benefit. In addition to soliciting the domain expertise of practitioners, they commonly recruit physicians simply for marketing value. But once again, aspiring physician entrepreneurs are now beginning to use their marketability for their own startups.
Online resources and communities geared toward physician-entrepreneurs continue to grow
Aspiring physician-entrepreneurs also benefit from an abundant supply of resources. From healthcare incubators to podcasts, LinkedIn groups to professional societies, blogs to online academies, physicians can access the know-how to learn every aspect of launching a business. They can also easily network with peers, mentors and prospective investors.
With demand and supply working in their favor, physicians who aspire to become an entrepreneur shouldn't think twice. But how exactly do they make the leap? Using my own experience as a guide, I believe they should engage in three activities.
Reframe the physician value proposition
As we examined earlier, physicians are playing a variety of roles when it comes to healthcare organizations. To make the leap in starting their own business, they must first reframe how they see their medical training. With the emergence of technology, physicians can now apply and scale their expertise to numerous areas outside of direct patient care, such as medical education, workflow optimization, payor-provider dynamics, physician marketing and so much more.
Physicians should start by making a list of all the problems they face every day and evaluate if those issues represent a viable business opportunity. A colleague started a B2B online marketing agency after struggling to get Google reviews for his practice. As a hand surgeon, I started a medical equipment company simply because I wanted a more sustainable surgical device that I couldn't find in the market. I also purchased and began leading a surgical hospital because I wanted to give surgeons (myself included) more flexibility in controlling the scheduling of procedures.
Hire for complementary knowledge, skills and abilities
For physicians wanting to start a tech-focused company, their first hire should be someone with a strong technical background. In my experience, physicians tend to lack expertise in this area, which remains essential even at the earliest stage. Combining technical know-how with medical expertise produces the perfect formula for creating digital health solutions that deliver value in the healthcare system.
Regardless of the kind of healthcare business, physicians should focus their hiring to build a multifaceted team. The strength of any company depends on diversity in thought, ability and skill. Yet it needs consistency when it comes to the values that drive individual and organizational performance.
Leverage professional networks for insight, credibility and more
No matter what business physicians decide to build, they should lean on their colleagues and connections to help. Recruiting them as early ambassadors, adopters and trusted advisors can strengthen the domain expertise and perceived credibility of a solution (taking a page from the startup playbook). It's a great strategy to rely on your peers and mentors both in influencing your operations (workflows, product efficacy, etc.) and marketing (testimonials, case studies, etc.).
Healthcare has changed dramatically over the past decade, and this evolution only shows signs of accelerating. For physicians, this will inevitably lead to greater opportunity. Technology has already appreciated their value in the healthcare ecosystem by freeing it from the limitations of patient-to-provider interactions.
Once restricted to a patient's room or hospital bedside, physicians can now scale their medical expertise across populations in real-time. They can change the world — but only if they choose to make the leap.
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