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How COVID-19 Has Affected Hiring in Digital Health

Posted by Lauren Kendall on April 7, 2020
Originally published on LinkedIn by Josh Gottlieb (Managing Director, Digital Health at The Bowdoin Group).

Like many of us, I’m a people person. Literally, my career is all about people and connections.

I’ve spent the last few weeks hunkering down in my 1100 sq. foot apartment in Boston. When my wife and I aren’t working, we’re chasing our 17-month old son around the house. We are safe and healthy—and I’m certainly grateful for that—but this hasn’t been easy for us. We’re figuring it out as we go.

Many of the Digital Health leaders I’ve talked to about their business strategies and their hiring priorities are also figuring it out as they go—basing their next moves on the information they have at the moment, and as we all know, that’s changing fast. A decision made on Monday is overturned on Thursday. (Shout out to the decisive leaders who are out there pivoting and being as agile as possible right now. We’re all rooting for you.)

Take, for example, a conversation I had recently with the CEO of a data-driven marketing company in Digital Health. COVID-19 had just gone from zero to sixty, and within 24 hours, he went from flying a candidate out for a final meeting (exciting!) to transitioning his entire workforce online (completely uncharted territory!). 

We are all making hard decisions right now. Every one of us. These decisions are helping companies seize upon short-term opportunities and avert long-term risk. I feel strongly that great leaders are more important now than ever, especially in Digital Health.  

Digital Health: This is your moment.

As the Managing Director of Digital Health at an executive search firm, I am quite literally at the edge of my seat. For all the funding, hype, and hope that’s been poured into this industry, this crisis is about to catapult this industry forward.

What’s happening in Digital Health reminds me of a rollercoaster. For years now, companies have been climbing their way up a steep incline, slowed by strict regulations and complex sales cycles. When COVID-19 hit, the mindset became, “Just go do it, we’ll figure it out later.” Virtually overnight, Digital Health companies had crested that peak.  We moved from “nice to have” to “we need it right now.” Rarely does this shift in urgency happen so rapidly.  

And the whole world is along for the ride. Professionally, I’m feeling very fortunate to be helping these companies find leaders who can guide them through these times. Personally, I’m loving that I may not have to go in-person to the pediatrician’s office for yet another ear infection down the line.

Getting people the help they need instantaneously

Here’s what all of this means for us right now:

Are you concerned that you may have COVID-19? Log onto Buoy Health to check your symptoms and determine the best care plan for yourself or a loved one.

Feeling anxious or depressed and unable to see a therapist? Use AbleTo and chat with one remotely.  

Have physical therapy and can no longer go in person? Use RecoveryOne. Just login and start exercising from wherever you are.  

Need dialysis and can’t risk going to a treatment center? Use Cricket Health to schedule in-home dialysis. 

These companies and so many others like them have been around for years, but now we have to use them. In fact, we are being encouraged by health plans, providers, and the government to do so. What I’m hearing loud and clear is that this is the catalyst for change that we’ve all been waiting for. This new, massive opportunity for Digital Health companies is not just for now, it’s forever.

In essence, this is the new status quo.

What does all of this mean for hiring in Digital Health?

Despite the positive outlook, there is so much happening in Digital Health that most leaders are focused on right now. The areas that need the most help—providers, payers, pharmacies, etc. (those who purchase the products and services of Digital Health companies)—are so consumed with fighting COVID-19 they may not have time to adopt new and innovative solutions at this moment. Digital Health companies would benefit from determining exactly how their solutions can make an impact NOW to help alleviate the stress on the healthcare system.

The prioritization of business needs and risk is affecting hiring. Here are the themes we’re seeing: 

  • Some searches are still full speed ahead, while others are being put on hold. Some of this is dependent on whether the business serves COVID-19 directly or indirectly, but there are certainly some companies that are moving forward without a direct correlation (they may have just been funded, for example, or they have to hire to hit their goals for 2020). Companies that serve COVID-19 and that are helping patients, payers, providers, and pharma companies navigate this crisis seem to be in one of two camps: 1) They are hiring as quickly as possible to keep pace; or 2) They are putting searches on hold because they simply don’t have the bandwidth to onboard right now.  
  • Generally, if a position impacts the top or bottom line and is a “must-have” hire vs. a “nice-to-have” hire, it’s still moving forward. If not, it’s paused with the mindset that it will be reassessed once this is all behind us.  
  • Some searches that were put on hold when the virus first hit (which seems like a decade ago now) are now moving forward. Companies have been able to get a better understanding of how this affects their business and can now confidently begin the process. 

All that is to say that hiring at the executive level is heavily dependent on what’s happening in each individual business. It is up to every leader to determine how hiring can impact their business now. 

While there will inevitably be more ups and downs on the Digital Health rollercoaster, we are witnessing the rebirth of healthcare. I am looking forward to working with, supporting, and seeing how the brightest minds in Digital Health will shape this revolution.