Top 5 Tips for Digital Health Startups to Go Global

“There must be a better way.”

Everyday those were the words that went through my mind as I paced up and down the hospital corridors seeing my patients during the long weekends on-call.

“Surely, we can do things faster, more efficiently, more effectively… and at a better price?”

I was convinced that technology had a part to play in making things better but where would I find the tools and solutions I needed? I went to Google first (obviously) and I found so many companies, and especially startups, offering great, tested innovations. Problem. They weren’t in the UK and they didn’t know how to get here either. So, when I set up my firm I promised that as soon as I could I would start working with companies large and small to bring their solutions where they would be most needed without allowing geography to become a barrier. Today, I’m going to share with you the top 5 steps I share with my clients when they look to go global.

1. More of the Same

The first shift you need to make is in your mind. Healthcare is part of a global agenda and the problems you see at home are often the same abroad. Let’s break things down to their simplest. What are the two big questions you need to answer when you have a healthcare product? – 1. Does it improve clinical outcomes? & 2. Does it save on costs?

Let’s take it to a more granular level. Billing, inventory, human resources, diagnostics, communication, multidisciplinary care, scheduling, monitoring and data management are problem areas all over the world. Wherever you go healthcare faces the same challenges and it’s just a matter of identifying where the pain points and bottlenecks are. The systems may be different but the principles are the same.

2. Speak the Language

As much as we are similar, systems will always have different names and pieces of jargon associated with them. In the US you have Attending Physicians, in the UK we have Consultants. You have ACOs and we have CCGs. Our coding systems vary too. It can be daunting to unravel the word salad of a new healthcare system but it only takes a little bit of research and you’ll soon be on your way to understanding both the similarities and differences of your new market.

3. Find a Local Partner

As I’ve extended my relationships beyond Europe and into Africa, South America and the Middle East it’s become clear to me that speaking the language isn’t enough. It is essential to get a feel of the culture of a new market both in the clinical setting but especially when it comes to doing business. There will be shady characters out there and you can get caught out contractually so finding a local partner can be essential. A partner may be a government trade organisation but I tend to prefer to partner companies with other complementary firms. Doing so aligns incentives and ensures there’s bilateral market access potential. Everyone wins. Other options include setting up a local subsidiary with local employees or partnering with a local investor.

4. Do NOT Neglect Your Home Market

Remember how you got here. I’ve seen organisations squander market share and opportunity at home because they got caught up trying to conquer a market abroad. Consolidate! Make sure your house is in order with a firm business development plan and solid leadership in place before looking to new pastures. Ultimately, your existing customers are going to bankroll your next ventures and so you have to make sure you are continuing to deliver them exceptional service. Your competition will be surveying your every move so do not let expansion stretch you too thin and create chinks in your armor.

5. Be Flexible

New markets, new negotiations and new expectations. Your goal will still be to pilot to procure but you need to be able to adapt to the regulations, guidelines and priorities of local stakeholders. Beyond fitting in, your business model might need to change to fit reimbursement plans and protocols that vary between locations. All of this takes time but you need to present a package that makes it easy for your potential end-users to buy into. The smoother you make the process for your customers the easier they’ll make life for you.

So those are my top 5 steps when crafting a global market strategy for my clients. I spend an increasing amount of my time working with US companies looking to expand abroad. Whether they want to come to the UK or Chile I’ve found that these principles have always applied. So? What are you waiting for? Go get ’em!

Got a question or comment? Tweet me @Saif_Abed or e-mail me

Dr Saif Abed
Founding Partner
AbedGraham Healthcare Strategies Ltd