Saturday, June 4, 2011

Where the doctors are: reaching the medical demographic as a startup

Many startups in Silicon Valley come from a decidedly B2C orientation. We expect to release a product online, drum up attention with online social media, and voila! the users will realize the genius inherent in the product and flock to you. Well it's not so easy when striving to reach a professional audience, especially a demographic that does not necessarily spend an inordinate amount of spare time online.

As I have built HealthOnDeck, I have encountered firsthand what it takes to reach doctors and dentists. Friend of friend referrals can be leveraged, but how can that be scaled to the next level? I'm still coming up with the answers as I expand HealthOnDeck, but there are a few things I've already learned along the way.

When I first began my quest online to connect with doctors, I discovered the existence of social networks dedicated exclusively to MDs, including Sermo and Doximity. I realized that I wouldn't be able to join as a member of the community, but my initial hunch was that there should be the ability to advertise on these networks - something similar to Facebook Ads. Not so. Sermo allows for surveys, and this pay option mainly caters to pharmaceutical companies. Doximity is currently growing its doctor-user base without facilitating monetization. Doximity is mainly a way for specialists to reach primary care providers and vice versa, according to the HSS blog post "Doximity is not the new LinkedIn" Therefore, neither wound up proving a conduit to doctors and overall there seems to be no central places online to advertise - a bit of a discomfiting discovery coming from the B2C startup space.

However, there is one shining beacon for app developers striving to reach doctors and it comes in the form of an iPad. There are plentiful solutions for EMRs, patient communication, and practice management and they vary from practice to practice, but the growing prevalence of iPads in clinical settings is one clear unifying trend. iPads are so ubiquitous that doctors are taking them into the operating room. According to a recent Manhatten Research study, 30% of doctors are using iPads during treatment and an additional 28% are hoping to buy an iPad within the next six months. Even medical students are getting iPads, in some cases for free as part of the program at Stanford University of Medicine. Startups like drchrono, which offers a free iPad EMR, are banking on distribution through iPad.

So it seems fairly clear that if you are developing for doctors, try to work in an iPad strategy. Of course there are other offline avenues, such as resellers and partnerships, but the iPad is a recent windfall that lowers the barrier to entry for startups.

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