Are you aware of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SOPE)? I was not. The CEO of SOPE, Dr. Arlen D. Meyers, a practicing ENT surgeon, says that doctors are not trained in business while in medical school or residency. That has certainly been my experience.
While many physicians have an entrepreneurial mindset, only a few I’ve met and worked with have business skills that would enable them to start and/or run a company. Some are just natural entrepreneurs although I think there are far more who believe they have business acumen but don’t have any or don’t have much business savvy. Those doctors are the toughest to work with as a medical device commercialization executive.
To address part of the problem, Dr. Meyers has created a certificate program in bioinnovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado. The program is intended for postdoctoral students not interested in a career in academia.
Dr. Meyers also said, “most innovation in healthcare and medicine leaves out doctors and patients, particularly in the lucrative fields of drug and medical device development.” I’m not sure exactly what he’s driving at here. Most device companies, startups included, are happy to work with innovators or key opinion leader physicians to help create, develop, refine, and commercialize new products. They are well-compensated for commercial successes, much less so for market flops, of course. And patients are a necessary part of the process.
Medical device commercialization is not for amateurs and it’s not a part-time gig. Most physicians are incredibly busy people. It seems to me their natural role in a startup or on a new product development project in a larger company is to serve as a clinical/healthcare system resource, product endorser, and source of referrals. Of course, they are free to try their hand at business and create their own startups.
Dr. Meyers also points out that the burgeoning digital health segment is underrepresented by physicians. That may be because the technology, networking, and systems interoperability dimensions of digital health solutions and products tend to be far outside most physicians’ areas of expertise. However, there are multiple opportunities for doctors to innovate. For example, their detailed knowledge of the healthcare delivery system may have given them specific ideas about how to improve patient care delivery with apps. He also believes that non-face to face care using telehealth or digital health products and apps is going to be a substantial opportunity for entrepreneurs, whether physician or layman. Any of those ideas could be the basis of a digital health startup.
Takeaways: Medical device and digital health startups, even with their high failure rates, are attractive to at least some physicians – those with entrepreneurial mindsets. Startup founders and CEOs should identify and recruit like-minded doctors for their executive teams, boards of directors and advisory boards. If you are a digital health startup CEO with a tech/IT background, you can minimize the risk of making bad or just uninformed product decisions and enhance your commercial products by finding and engaging with an entrepreneurial physician.