From Pilot to Partnership: Building Successful Relationships within Healthcare

“Staying ahead” in healthcare requires not only embracing innovation but also forging strong partnerships within the industry. This is true for both emerging startups and large, entrenched healthcare organizations. But with healthcare changing faster than ever, how do we avoid piloting our way into oblivion and build successful partnerships with tangible results?

Our founder and managing partner Lynne Chou O’Keefe joined leaders from Blue Shield of California and Adventist Health at the recent ViVE conference, sharing their perspectives, lessons learned, and success stories on this topic.

Here are their takeaways, valuable for any entrepreneur focused on developing longstanding partnerships with large health systems and payers:

1) Consider taking the word “pilot” out of your vocabulary. Instead, approach opportunities with payers or providers as a true partnership that’s in the early days of implementation. This will put you and your team in the right mindset and demonstrate to your counterparts that you’re thinking about their long-term success.

2) Establishing what “good” looks like is fundamental to any successful partnership. Establishing clear KPIs for relevant metrics like enrollment or engagement should be established early on. This provides a clear roadmap for progress and ensures alignment between the partners. Krishna Ramachandran from Blue Shield of California explained that one way to approach this is to establish what the ideal end state looks like — including milestones and outcomes — and then work backwards from there. Just as important is to establish how you’ll approach regular reporting and evaluation, providing partners with clear opportunities to pivot or continue moving forward before fully scaling.

3) It’s just as critical to understand who will be in the room and around the table with you. This will help your team ensure the partnership is aligned with broader organizational goals and implementation strategies — along with a more holistic understanding of the partnership’s potential impact. As Jennifer Stemmler from Adventist Health explained, her organization views any pilot through the perspective of whether it will have a clear and defined return on investment that will truly change how they deliver care.

4) As part of this, ensure your counterpart can articulate their strategy about where and how they can drive innovation. Not every organization is ready to be a first-mover in their P&L unit. It’s critical to articulate a clear strategy that identifies where and how innovation can be strategically driven within the organization. If they’re having trouble doing this, it may be too challenging to align the partnership’s strategy with overall business goals and ensuring key stakeholders are on board with the vision.

5) Also knowing who holds the purse strings — and where the financial decision-making power lies — is essential for streamlining the approval process and allocating resources effectively. Engaging with the relevant budget holders early in the process is critical to build a financial strategy that aligns with organizational priorities.

If entrepreneurs can address these last four points — while approaching the opportunity with a long-term perspective — they’ll have a much more clear path to success in building a valuable partnership. Just as importantly, it will help their counterparts separate the signal from the noise and establish clearly aligned incentives.

This is the kind of work we love to do at Define Ventures, going beyond making connections across our network and helping our founders build strong relationships — and our partner companies’ success speaks for themselves. Story Health recently announced their partnership with health system Christiana Care is driving better outcomes for heart failure patients, including improving medication adherence with Black patients. Laudio also recently shared how they helped Nebraska Medicine cut their nurse turnover in half and expanded their partnership with Northwell Health across all site locations. By shifting the focus from short-term trials to long-term relationships, we can ensure innovation leads to lasting impact.

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