Providence’s 5 Essential Steps for Testing Promising Solutions in a Real-World Setting

By Claire Celeste Carnes, partner, Providence Ventures

There’s a great TEDx Talk by entrepreneur and New York Times best-seller Diana Kandler in which she shares the story of a software product launch that turned out to be her “most colossal failure.”

“We executed perfectly on a flawed plan,” she said. “We spent more time planning and building then we did interacting with our customers to figure out if they were actually interested in buying and using our product.”

The moral of the story, she said, is that “the longer you work on your plan in a vacuum, the more likely you are to fail.” The business plan is really just a starting place. It’s the real-world setting that helps you understand whether your product actually addresses the problem you set out to solve and, if not, what adjustments are needed to make it relevant and valuable to your customer. 

 That thinking is similar to Providence’s approach to health care innovation. We have developed a clear step by step process that allows us to partner with entrepreneurs to test promising solutions in the clinical environment so that we can bring innovation more rapidly to the patients, clinicians and consumers who can benefit from them the most.

Step One: Identify the Challenge

We start first with a large problem we have not been able to solve with traditional solutions, whether for our consumers or our clinicians.  The problems we have looked at include:

  • Less than 10 percent of people diagnosed with diabetes are able to take advantage of structured diabetes education classes to help them manage their condition.
  • Many diagnoses have several treatment options, and it can be overwhelming for consumers to figure out their options, the trade-offs, and how these align with their values.
  • Telephone tag with consumers in our care management programs is less efficient for many people than a text; how do we enable secure, HIPAA-compliant texting solutions?

Step Two: Find the Best Options

 Since we’re a large health system, we have often tried or tested solutions and have some initial findings. As well, current vendors may have solutions that meet the needs. Many times, we find a young company that has a dedicated focus in a particular area – or more likely, many of them. We identify the top one or two that has potential to serve the need after completing a market scan.

Step Three: Evaluation with the Business Owner

 We partner with a medical director, clinical administrator or other Providence leader in one of our five states who has a passion for solving this particular problem. Together, we review solutions and outline a pilot program, including the metrics or what we intend to prove with the pilot program. The Providence leader assigns resources to work on the pilot.

Step Four: The Project Begins

 Once approved, the project moves forward with the resources including working with a variety of key departments at Providence – such as our regulatory, compliance, legal security, marketing, communication and IT teams. Even with a Minimally Viable Product (MVP) test, we ensure we are not taking undue risk, whether to the patient or to our enterprise. Part of the value of working with Providence is that we help small companies through our process; if they can clear our security review, they have a very good chance of passing the security reviews of other health systems for example. Once the project is ready, a go/no go is completed and if it’s a go, we’re off.

Step Five: Measure and Evaluate

Even before the project gets under way, the objectives are listed, both operational metrics and the success metrics to achieve the goals of the project. The progress is reported like any other project with weekly or biweekly updates and a monthly meeting which reviews progress including issues and tracking to the stated metrics. Oftentimes our goal is to assess whether the technology should or should not be rolled out to more locations or to manage other conditions.  More details on metrics (what we measure) will be the topic of my next blog post.

 Our approach in piloting new solutions aligns with our approach for investments. We are able to evaluate the ability of the company to deliver the benefits promised, we assess the business model, and identify how to operationalize it in a large health care company. In this way, we also de-risk investments that we make from the venture side.

 We have multiple pilots running concurrently across our 34 hospitals and 517 clinic locations. It’s been exciting to pair our entrepreneurs with the clinical talent at Providence to help them hone and validate their solutions to ensure they work in the real world and help to improve the lives of the patients and consumers we serve.