What NOT to Do When You Launch Medical Initiatives

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A time of medical reinvention

[By Vicki Rackner MD]

vickiFor many hospitals, clinics and medical practices, this is a time of reinvention.

This episode of Shark Tank offers insights about what NOT to do as you launch new medical initiatives.

A doctor entrepreneur entered the Shark Tank to secure funding to grow his medical device company.  He painted the picture of an ideal investment opportunity, complete with an innovative product, a huge proven market and $10 million in sales.

As I listened, I thought, “He could get a five-Shark deal!”

Things quickly fell apart during Q&A. Here are snippets from the exchange sparked by the Sharks’ inquiries about his sales:

Doctor: “We could be making quite a bit of money if I wanted to.  I’m not all that interested in the money.  It’s a tool I use to hire people.”

Lori Greiner: “You’re not interested in making money?”

Doctor: “It’s not my motivation. Medical training is very important.  It’s a way of saving lives. “

Kevin O’Leary: “What about profits?  Do you care about this?”

Doctor: “I will at some point.”

Kevin: “Not encouraging words to an investor.”

Robert Herjavec: “Why aren’t people beating a path to your door?  

Barbara Corcoran: “He’s missing a business man.  You need a business man to make money. You’re not him.  You cannot build a business unless you’re interested in making a profit. I’m out.”

Doctor: “I don’t agree with your statement that I’m not interested in a profit.  It’s not what I’m interested in right now.” 

Kevin: “Think of how that sounds to an investor.  How will I get my money back?“

Lori: “You don’t have the passion about driving the business.  I understand you’re a scientist.  That’s what drives you.  But for me to invest, I have to feel that you will protect my investment and make it thrive.  I don’t hear that here today, and for that reason, I’m out.”

Robert: “I think you’re onto something.  I think what is missing is an avenue for sales and distribution and marketing.  You seem hesitant about taking advantage of that.”

Doctor: “I’m a scientist. I’m not that guy.”

By the end of the pitch, four Sharks were out.

One Shark decided to invest.

This entrepreneur’s inability to speak the Sharks’ language and see the world through their eyes cost him the buy-in of four Sharks.   That’s what NOT to do.




Here are the Shark Tank lessons to help you successfully launch new medical initiatives.

White Coats are wired differently than Suits.  The painful exchange in the Shark Tank highlights the fundamentally different priorities of business-minded people (let’s call them Suits) and clinicians (let’s call them White Coats).  For a Suit, profits drive and measure success.  A White Coat measures clinical outcomes.

Medicine is a team sport. Successful medical organizations must deliver quality medical care and generate a profit.  Neither Suits nor White Coats accomplish this in isolation; each must cross the cultural divide and meet on collaborative ground.

Identify who is persuading whom. Sometimes the White Coats persuade the Suits to invest in a new diagnostic or therapeutic direction.  That’s the essence of the Shark Tank pitch; the doctor was the seller and the Sharks were the buyers.

White Coats are much more likely to get buy-in for their proposed operating room redesign or purchase of new imaging equipment if they show the Suits how this investment will make the hospital more profitable.

Other times, the Suits want to persuade the White Coats to adopt more cost-effective practices.  In this case the Suits are the sellers and the White Coats are the buyers.  Show the White Coats how the initiative allows them to serve in a bigger way, deliver better care or enrich the doctor-patient relationship.

You are most likely to get buy-in when you speak the language of the buyer.  This is much like World Series in which the use of the designated hitter is determined by the rules of the home team.

Persuade respectfully. The entrepreneur’s dismissive comments about profits—the things Sharks value most— struck me as disrespectful.

Persuade respectfully.

Respect in Latin means “to see someone’s actions and hold them in esteem.”  To enhance your powers of persuasion, see the world through the eyes of the person you are trying to influence.

Test your message. If you were scheduled to go on national TV, wouldn’t you set up a mock Shark Tank and have your mock Sharks throw you every possible objection?

Why did no one on the doctor’s team say, “Look, you can’t tell an investor that you don’t care about profits.  Here’s a better answer.”

Run ideas by members of the group you are trying to persuade.

Patients are wired differently than White Coats and Suits. Perhaps the most profound force driving healthcare transformation is the evolving role of the patient.  More and more of your true buyers, either influencing or driving purchasing choices.

How do you persuade them to seek care at your facility?  If they were in the Shark Tank chairs, what argument would offer?

In truth we have a limited understanding of what drives patients’ choices. What do they want? What do they value?

Clinicians know what questions patients should ask.  The innovators answer the important questions patients really ask.  These are the questions that matter.

Further, patients are not a homogenous group.  Some patients gladly pay concierge fees to have an elite medical experience; others travel internationally to get rock-bottom prices on medical procedures.

Restaurants, airlines and department stores do not try to be all things to all customers; they focus. So can you.  Successful medical organizations identify the patients whom they want to serve, describe the medical transformation they facilitate and deliver a patient-centered experience. Some call this branding; I call this positioning.  You position, and the market’s response is your brand.



Other stakeholders are wired differently than White Coats and Suits 


You manage complex, triangulated relationships with other stakeholders, including:

  • The Payers (the parties who write checks to pay for the care your deliver) The Senders (the parties who refer patients to your organization)
  • The Employers (the party that employees your patients
  • The Family Caregivers (the unpaid member of the healthcare team)
  • The Risk Managers (the organization that assumes the risk of insuring patient populations)
  • Each stakeholder brings in a different perspective and agenda.

Invest in smart marketing. Marketing is nothing more than engaging a buyer in a conversation.  Successful hospitals, clinics and physicians are finding ethical, professional ways to reach their ideal patients and communicate their positioning.

Invest in selling skills to promote better clinical outcomes.  You may think of selling as the act of persuading a buyer to make a purchasing choice.

Let’s reframe selling as the act of inspiring the buyer to take action.

Imagine what would happen if clinicians developed better selling skills.  They could “sell” patients on the idea of taking medication as prescribed, following up at appointed times and adopting healthier lifestyle choices.

Compliance failures are like the disconnect in the Shark Tank; patients hear the doctor’s pitch, and say to themselves, “I’m out.”

Marketing and selling fall outside of most physicians’ comfort zone.  Evaluating a patient fell outside of every medical student’s comfort zone. Skills and knowledge can be acquired.

The key to success.  Collaboration is the key to success.  Get buy-in from stakeholders.  Understand their perspective; this leads you to their “buy button.”  Invest in selling skills and persuade more effectively.  Integrate patient-centered approaches.

These are the keys to help medical organizations make a bigger profit and a bigger impact.


Vicki Rackner MD is an author, speaker and consultant who offers a bridge between the world of medicine and the world of business. She helps businesses acquire physician clients, and she helps physicians run more successful practices. Contact her at (425) 451-3777


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3 Responses

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