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Healthcare Consulting – Demonstrating Value

You would think that a multimillion dollar healthcare startup would be aware of their knowledge gaps, but that’s not often the case. Few have even a single physician in executive positions which means that there is excess computing capabilities but little clinical perspective.

This post is for those interested in doing consulting work. You can’t attend a school to learn how to consult so it’s a trial and error thing. I have 2 clients for whom I do consulting work as a physician and in this post I want to talk about demonstrating value to our clients in order to get more paid consulting hours with them and in order to improve our skills as healthcare consultants.

  • How do you, as a clinical consultant, demonstrate value to your client in order to have them realize that you are worth their investment?
  • Why should they pay you $100-200/hour just to talk to you or have you look over some documents when they could look up that information for themselves?

The purpose of this post is to help you – the physician or other medical professional – demonstrate value to your client and hopefully gain more consulting hours.


Demonstrating value

I want to demonstrate my value to my consulting clients because I want to work more hours for them.

I also want the to use me more so that I have more opportunities to learn.

My goal is to be included in multiple projects. The more projects I am involved in, the better my resume will look.

I have clinical knowledge as a family medicine physician with 10 years experience in the urgent care and some leadership experience. But I don’t have consulting skills – that’s what I am here to learn and master.

1. Get involved

The more members of the team you interact with, the higher the chance that some knowledge gap will be uncovered. The design engineer’s job might become so much easier after hearing your take on a topic.

Getting involved means that you’ll expand your reach. If there is a team meeting, ask to be placed on it. If there is an onboarding session with a new recruit, ask the company to include you.

Getting involved means marketing yourself. The CEO might have a sense of the value you bring but may not realize your full potential on their own. Then you talk to the lead interface designer and that person becomes your advocate.

When you get involved, you bring valuable clinical information to the table which makes the job of the team members easier. You’re marketing yourself. You’re showing them that if they just learn to ask, they’ll have to do a lot fewer future revisions.

2. Say you don’t know

The other day my consulting client asked me to comment on something clinical – a particular lab test and what it’s predictive value was for a particular disease – I had no fucking idea. I knew it was used for disease staging but didn’t have any idea of its diagnostic value. I said I don’t know but that I’d get back to them.

There is nothing wrong with saying that you don’t know as long as you are responsible enough to follow up. In fact, you don’t ever have to have a 100% accurate answer. You are the consultant, after all.

As a consultant, the company is basing their decisions only partly on your knowledge. A smart healthcare startup will consult various sources and bring in the right consultant at different stages of the business.

In rare circumstances there is a time crunch. The team needs an answer right away. This is when you give your best educated guess. You’re not responsible for the success of the business, you are filling in clinical knowledge gaps for this company.

3. Communicate

Speak your mind and talk out your reasoning. The more explanation you offer your client, the better questions they can ask you.

Whenever we are at a progress standstill and the team is pressing me for answers which I can’t provide, I tell them that they aren’t asking the right questions. Sure enough, when they ask a different question, we start moving forward and make progress.

I’m a tool for a healthcare startup, if they don’t know how to use me, I’ll never be able to offer them value.

It’s just as important to explain your answer as it is to give your answer. You and the team might come to the same conclusion but by taking completely different paths.

One of my client teams needed me to answer a particular question which they didn’t have time to explain to me: “Do patients with disease-x present with symptom-y?” I kept pushing to get some context as to why this question was being asked but the team was too pressed for time to offer an explanation. 

I answered the question as it was posed and offered a quick blurb that this particular symptom would never be relevant because it would have already been confirmed by an imaging study…. then there was a silence. The team then asked me to explain and they understood why they were potentially going down the wrong path. 

It takes patience to communicate but you don’t have to do all that much more work. Sharing your thought process will help the team members realize how much detail goes into your answers and trains them to ask better questions.

4. Clinical thought process

We forget that as physicians we don’t just diagnose someone with a particular disease because of what we see but also because of what we don’t see.

The clinical thought process isn’t linear. You can’t create a flowchart as many hospitals have tried. Our thought process is circular and repetitive which is why it’s so hard for a computer software – even with machine learning – to duplicate.

As a clinician I know which answers my patients will likely give me based on the kind of patient I’m interacting with. I find this information out by cross referencing this patient with the thousands of other patients I’ve seen in my career.

If your consulting client is working on disease prediction, as many startups in 2018 are, it’s important that they fully understand how your clinical mind works so that they can design a better model.

5. Meet with members of your team

One good trick I’ve found is to ask to meet with each member of the team. The company I’m consulting for is small, fewer than 10 people.

I’ve met with the CEO and asked him what he is working on, what current problems he’s trying to solve.

I’ve met with the CFO and asked what issues he’s dealing with and what his biggest obstacle was. 

I’ve met with the lead backend engineer and we’ve discussed the challenges of programming artificial intelligence in clinical medicine when there are so many unique variables to consider. 

And I met with the user interface engineer and asked her what she was working on and if she could show me what her normal workflow and routine is like. 

These individuals are working on disease prediction models based on facts found in clinical databases, books, and software algorithms. They are trying to reinvent the wheel when medicine has already mastered the process of data gathering, probability calculations, and diseases management.

6. Expanding scope

I hope this is self-explanatory but my reason for wanting to demonstrate my value to the team is that I want more work coming my way. The secondary reason is that I want to become better at what I do.

The team maybe brought me on because of my clinical knowledge but they soon realized that I also have a lot of connections in healthcare which both them and I weren’t aware of at first.

They also realized that it’s far better for an MD to communicate with a large medical group than just a startup CEO. So now I am getting pulled into more meetings.

I don’t mind spending my time listening to a conversation and chiming in on occasion even if I don’t get paid for it. But I am demonstrating value which is something my client will become accustomed to.

7. Checking in

Another pattern which I have noticed is that the team often gets tunnel vision and starts working on a deadlined project without keeping me in the loop. I recognize this because I stop hearing from them for days.

Now, remember, I’m still getting paid because I have a base contract so that I get my minimum hours. So there is no direct compensation incentive for me to reach out to them but I do it for other reasons.

By checking in I am able to see where the team is at. What problems are they working. What is taking up all of their time and efforts. They might not see any role for me to play during this phase of their work but because I checked in, because I offered some insight, because I talked it through with them, they might realize that, oh shit, why don’t we have Dr. Mo do x so that we can focus on y.

There is a fine line between interrupting and checking in. Don’t question things which you don’t understand or don’t have any background knowledge of – you’ll just take up valuable time and frustrate the team members.

Be the oil on their water, adapt to whatever mold you’re getting poured into. If a question pops up which a team member asks then you’ll have answer. If something blatantly stands out then you can offer an unsolicited comment and leave it at that.


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