Jodi Amendola walked out of college and right into a world she knew nothing about. That’s a pretty common story — most people bounce around, trying one thing, learning on the job and then moving on to something else as their career progresses. For Jodi, fresh out of school with a communications degree, that first job, at a public relations agency focused on healthcare IT, became everything. But she had to learn fast.
“I hit the ground running the first week,” Amendola says, remembering the first client the agency assigned her to, a healthcare vendor called NEIC that was eventually bought by WebMD. “Trying to understand things like payer side, provider side, because [NEIC] was the electronic switch between the two.” One of her new colleagues got an easier gig, planning hospital events and parties. “I remember being so jealous, like, oh my gosh, she’s planning parties, and here I am doing claims processing!” But during that stressful first week, she landed a placement for her client. “I was super excited,” she says. The editor was a “tough cookie,” but she’d made it work. And then the work itself started to click. “I became passionate about it, and I learned that technology has a big place in healthcare to improve quality of care, to improve lives, and I just immersed myself in it.”
Now, immersed is an understatement. Amendola runs her own company, Amendola Communications, which she co-founded in 2004. The company specializes in representing healthcare organizations and healthcare IT companies, which means Amendola has seen everything the industry can throw at a company and been forced to respond in kind.
“Healthcare is not like other industries,” Amendola notes. “Healthcare is vulnerable, it’s competitive, it’s one of the most regulated industries in the world. You have to keep a pulse on what’s going on. You can’t get complacent.”
One of the biggest traps she sees is companies that don’t understand the pace at which the healthcare industry runs.
“I’ve seen lots of CEOs, especially startups, coming from other industries where they’re super passionate and want to go at a fast pace like Silicon Valley, Amendola says. “That doesn’t really work in healthcare. You really have to understand the needs of the patient and the needs of the target audience that you’re trying to serve.”
Understanding those needs is key, and Amendola says nailing down exactly how your company will help a hospital in a succinct elevator pitch is invaluable. But no matter how good an idea is, Amendola says it’s a major red flag if a prospective client — a new HIT company — doesn’t have some kind of customer base already. “It’s really difficult to promote a client’s product or service if they haven’t launched their product yet,” she adds. “Hospitals want to hear what other hospitals are doing. If you’re hanging your hat on one client, it’s not enough.”
The best way to build that base, Amendola says, is to identify a “competitive differentiator” — an advantage — and pursue it. “People tend to clamor on the latest buzzwords,” Amendola says. “We always recommend that they start by addressing one specific problem for one specific provider segment and then expand to more segments, more problems and go on from there.” In other words, don’t try to do too much too soon.
The culture of entrepreneurship often rewards thinking outside of the box, but in healthcare IT, Amendola says it’s a better move to pick your box and stay inside it. Top industry analysts like Gartner tend to group companies and services into those specific boxes, Amendola says, making it a mistake to try to break that mold unless there’s a really compelling reason to do so. If not, you risk offering a service that creates as many problems as it solves, an issue anyone who has struggled with an electronic health record (EHR) system will understand.
Once you’ve got a product and picked your box, the challenge is implementing it in a hospital. Amendola says she’s learned from her healthcare consulting clients that it’s absolutely vital to take a holistic, system-wide approach to implementation. Take an EHR system, for example. A working hospital has dozens of different units and teams working inside it. If the implementation of your project doesn’t involve representatives for each of those groups, “you can end up with a system that looks a lot like the system that everybody complained about and wanted to replace.”
Even if the billing department understand and loves a new piece of software, it’s not going to help the hospital unless the nurses and other teams it affects understand the tech and its benefits, too. That doesn’t mean roll it out all at once — Amendola recommends testing new products in smaller teams and environments first but making sure that everyone is eventually brought on board. On top of that, she says, you’ve got to have plans in place for when something breaks.
Through all of this, Amendola says, the focus has to be on the patient and how an efficient HIT product can get the doctors, nurses and administrators more time with the people they care for.
“At the end of the day, the technology is supposed to help us care for our patients better,” Amendola says. “The technology should be used to supplement care, not replace care.”
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