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How Incumbents and Unencumbered Challengers are Writing Today’s Healthcare Success Story

Matthew Briggs

It’s hard to find an industry today unaffected by transformation, whether driven by increased competition, shifting social norms, business innovation or by technology itself. Entrepreneurs are benefiting from the increased ability to use the power of emerging technology and a bullish market to disrupt business as we know it, and quickly.

The same forces of financial capital, willingness-to-change and technology advancement that have combined to shake up other industries are now causing upheaval for healthcare at even greater rates. This inertia has been on full display across the digital health conference circuit for years, but only recently has it fully materialized at national shows such as HIMSS18 and the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, and at the regional level with events such as Cornell Tech @ Bloomberg or the Connected Health Conference.

The demand for thinking differently and a general openness toward pursuing digital solutions that can solve challenges of care delivery, costs and quality are converging at a time of increased attention on improving the healthcare experience. The Connected Health Conference, in particular, shined a light on the groundbreaking work digital health disruptors are doing to solve the interoperability challenges that plague our care delivery systems and fix the connectivity breakdowns at the core of siloed care experiences.


Source: used under CC license.

The Incumbent vs. the Unencumbered Challenger

Companies driving change in the healthcare industry find themselves at various growth stages and trajectories, each requiring a unique marketing strategy to achieve their goals of elevating brand awareness, securing funding, establishing partnerships or validating proof-of-concept. Most players may not feel prepared to reach these milestones by pulling the same levers but, what they may not realize, is that they have a competitive advantage as the unencumbered challenger.

Many would agree that most traditional players – regardless of industry – are less prepared and equipped to answer the call of innovation. Backward mindsets, regulation, duplicative processes and outdated technology are burdens that can often hold incumbents back. This has traditionally been referred to as the “Industrialist’s Dilemma” and more recently, as the “Innovator’s Dilemma,” whereby the systems and processes that once led to success are now the very cause of an organization’s gridlock. 

New forms of healthcare disruption are taking shape by the day, placing upward pressure on the existing infrastructure and the wider industrial complex to respond meaningfully to the challenges presented by unencumbered challengers. Take the auto industry. It’s one thing for a car company to innovate when a competitor introduces greater fuel efficiency or safety standards. It’s another thing to understand how to pivot from the movement away from car ownership as we know it.

Likewise, across healthcare, the established players are looking closely at their core competencies to figure out how their next move will keep them relevant at a time when all stakeholders – from insurers to providers to sponsors and employees – are demanding faster access to care and frictionless service models that don’t fit in the constructs of our traditional delivery systems.

Technology + Partnerships = Success

Today’s healthcare consumers want to be more knowledgeable citizens when it comes to understanding their health. They want accurate and easy health monitoring. Likewise, providers want faster and more reliable decision support that can identify risk thresholds, track utilization and monitor compliance with health regiments. Payers want more deeply integrated clinical data to better benchmark and stratify member-patient journeys. Understanding a user base and removing workflow disruptions are part of championing solutions to underlying symptoms threatening care delivery today. As newer care models play out and move toward value-based care, creating forums for incumbents and challengers to connect the silos will all be in an effort to answer the interoperability question. Interoperability, after all, is where providers, health systems and consumers live.

This concept of a champion is important, but it takes more than a commitment to “going digital” and socializing value points to create change. What’s more, we have to assess our collective readiness for innovation. In this connected world with data at our fingertips, the odds are in favor of the unencumbered challenger to move the ball down the field and deliver on the triple aim. However, the next chapter of healthcare’s success story sits at the nexus of established players working with visionary challengers to optimize the next phase of innovation. 

At the core of this partnership model are technologies – IoT, AI, machine learning – creating new market categories, driving the shift from products to solutions and placing a referendum on past approaches. Entrepreneurs are motivated by the challenge of solving pain points along the care continuum using these technologies, given the access to data sets and corresponding insights. As AI is increasingly embedded into most software of the future, these technologies will only become ubiquitous with the standardization of care. Yet, these same visionaries may find themselves at a disadvantage when trying to find an audience to explain their solution succinctly and influence change.

For example, it’s not enough to describe how a technology framework for improving communication between hospitals and medical device companies can create new efficiencies. Or, when it comes to the latest in clinical decision support or home health monitoring tools, how are these innovations defining the brand and the company’s position within the market? The next step is demonstrating proof of concept through use cases that defend the solution and, then, marketing those success stories by moving engaging content across the right channels.

Seeding Innovation Through the Incumbent-Challenger Paradigm

As established players look to innovate, some will opt to acquire their way into a market by incorporating disruptors’ innovations into their core business. Startups on the acquired end of these deals face the challenge of retaining the talent and DNA of what made them stand out in the first place to continue innovating the long game. All these decisions will be for not if incumbents and challengers fail to embrace and implement the right communications effort that can demonstrate cohesion, promote differentiation and catalyze a bigger movement.

The encouraging news is that there are examples of the incumbent-challenger paradigm taking shape. Biogen is using precision medicine tools to transform how it conducts clinical trials. Eli Lilly and Company continue to talk about how the promise of technology within precision medicine to get the right medicines to the right patients. Academic institutions such as MIT are doing next-gen work with “invisible” wearables. Government agencies such as the FCC are working to bridge the broadband health connectivity gap in rural areas so that cancer patients can leverage telehealth tools. And initiatives such as the ICAREdata™ project marks a unique collaboration between the MITRE Corporation, the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to enable clinical oncology research by prospectively gathering high-quality, real-world data.

Healthcare constituents will become less and less tolerant of friction in the care delivery experience, particularly as challengers – unencumbered by politics and red tape – establish new norms for what we can and should expect out of our healthcare. At the same time, where organizations – established or emerging market – identify themselves on their growth marketing journey and how they respond with a strategic communication plan will, in large part, dictate their level of success in being heard, discovered and adopted.

The key to success? Improving outcomes through partnership. Healthcare’s real success story, however, will only be written if those disrupting long-held beliefs about care delivery and management – the challengers – can be heard, and if the incumbents decide to embrace new paths for improving outcomes. The glue that will hold all of this together is the collective will to disrupt and the right strategy to let the world know about it.

Connect with us so we can show you how the right PR and integrated marketing strategy can move ideas for your healthcare brand. Looking to modernize your public relations strategy? Download our latest eBook, “Keeping Pace with Digital Health Transformation Through Integrated Marketing & PR.”




Topics: Healthcare Industry Expertise

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