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Shelli Pavone: “If you’ve talked to one doctor, you’ve talked to one doctor”

What makes healthcare so incredibly difficult is its diversity — of patients, conditions, settings (both geographic and urban vs. rural), specialties. There’s a saying in healthcare: “If you’ve talked to one doctor, you’ve talked to one doctor.” So, when an innovator comes along and wants to develop a solution to a problem, and seeks insight/input from 1–2 […]

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What makes healthcare so incredibly difficult is its diversity — of patients, conditions, settings (both geographic and urban vs. rural), specialties. There’s a saying in healthcare: “If you’ve talked to one doctor, you’ve talked to one doctor.” So, when an innovator comes along and wants to develop a solution to a problem, and seeks insight/input from 1–2 doctors — which is quite typical of the process — that innovation is still very likely to miss the mark, and subsequently fail. Consider the healthcare innovation rate… it’s as high as 96%!


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shelli Pavone.

As CEO and co-founder of Inlightened, Shelli Pavone brings nearly 20 years of commercial experience in healthcare, and a history of developing sales strategy and teams from the ground up. Having spent her entire career focused on healthcare, she understands the unique challenges that come with disrupting an incredibly complex market, and founded Inlightened to help innovators do so responsibly (because moving fast and breaking things isn’t always best). She believes strongly that connecting — and fostering collaboration between — clinicians and innovators will help shape the future of healthcare.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Originally, my plan was to get a Ph.D. in Psychology, but I was lured into pharmaceutical sales out of college. It turned out to be the right move for me, as I quickly learned how exciting the clinical side of medicine could be. I loved everything about my job at the time — from the intense and immersive training to hands-on time with patients and clinicians.

Over time, I started to work with hospital administration and gained insight into how decisions are made. I began to see so many disparities in innovation (and lack thereof). I lost count of the times clinicians were left out of the product development process, even if it was being built for their use — to address their perceived challenges. That just didn’t make sense to me; that we could design and develop a product to be used by a physician, without their firsthand knowledge. Consequently, innovations miss the mark far more frequently than they meet it, and that failure can sometimes be enough to end a new company or product before they even launch.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

It’s not easy to change a process that’s embedded in the healthcare “system,” which can be seen in the old school way innovators work with clinical experts; the process has been around and largely unquestioned for decades. For example, a healthcare startup in need of clinical expertise might reach out to its community of investors, colleagues, and mentors to source a couple of experts. No commitment to diversity of thought, experience, or specialty.

But what makes healthcare so incredibly difficult is its diversity — of patients, conditions, settings (both geographic and urban vs. rural), specialties. There’s a saying in healthcare: “If you’ve talked to one doctor, you’ve talked to one doctor.” So, when an innovator comes along and wants to develop a solution to a problem, and seeks insight/input from 1–2 doctors — which is quite typical of the process — that innovation is still very likely to miss the mark, and subsequently fail. Consider the healthcare innovation rate… it’s as high as 96%!

We seek to responsibly disrupt the process. So, rather than “move fast and break things,” we are enabling healthcare innovators to move fast(ish) by facilitating quick and easy access to the clinical expertise that can lead to successful innovation. All of this is supported by a tech platform through which companies can create projects, peruse experts, schedule engagements, and automate payment. We set out to address the pain points so commonly associated with healthcare consulting and expert networks by introducing an unprecedented level of transparency, and access to a community of invitation-only, vetted, and curated expertise.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m not sure I’d call it a mistake, but more of a “lesson learned over time.” When you’re a highly vigilant individual, it’s easy to not only notice but take very personally, when people don’t get back to you. And, when you’re starting a company — particularly one built around a network — the silence can be deafening and have a real impact on your psyche.

Whether it’s driven by imposter syndrome, being a female (particularly in a male-dominated industry), both, or something else entirely, I had to quickly learn how to overcome that.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Kevin Ban, Chief Medical Officer at Walgreens, has been both a personal mentor and champion for Inlightened. Early on in the process of vetting the idea for Inlightened, Kevin provided some incredibly valuable insight: “Ideas are a dime a dozen; the real proof is in the execution.” While he loved the idea, he was clear that just because it had merit — and could make an impact — it would only do so with the right team, attention, commitment, mission and execution.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

We emphasize “responsible disruption,” especially in healthcare. Not everything needs to be disrupted. The field we’re entering did. So, we took a very focused approach to designing Inlightened, zeroing in on what others in the field were missing, and building our values on those gaps. We don’t want to break anything, but rather improve the process and system, which we anticipate will have a positive impact on healthcare innovation — or disruption — as a whole.

Disruption for disruption’s sake isn’t always a positive thing. In an industry like healthcare, people’s lives are at stake, so we need to be even more responsible with the innovation we undertake.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  • Seek out diversity of opinion. If we continue to talk to the same experts from the same institutions, treating the same patient populations, we get the same perspective, over and over. Diversity of thought, experience, background, culture, race, gender — these are all necessary if we want to ensure healthcare works for everyone.
  • Push through — don’t give up. Throughout the Inlightened journey, we’ve had several people encourage us to push through the lulls, doubts, and disappointments that inevitably come with starting a new company. We used that encouragement to fall back on our mission and stay the course.
  • Connecting people is valuable and worthwhile. At Inlightened, we live by the Golden Rule. We are focused on helping people and make a difference where we can, and even do our best to make connections and support collaboration that may not happen through our network. We don’t want to lose sight of that mission, so it’s really valuable to know it resonates.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We want to take Inlightened from a platform to a community, to leverage the collective power of the network we’re building. Our forward focus is creating a sense of community where there is a free flow of knowledge and ideas, and members feel empowered to proactively share their specialized perspectives — all with the ultimate intent of advancing innovation in healthcare.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

A favorite book of mine will always be The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz.

There was also something during a webinar with Sarah Knight & Erica Williams Simon that resonated, especially since the pandemic upended life as we knew it, and focusing on our mission became just as important as learning what not to pursue:

“Be honest with yourself about what you want and don’t want, express that honestly and politely, and say ‘no’ to things that don’t serve that.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Do unto others.” I grew up in the Midwest, hearing often about the importance of treating people as I would like to be treated. That has stayed with me throughout my life, and is a value with which I designed and launched Inlightened. The way we treat our partners — both on the innovator and clinical expert sides — comes down to this. Respect, transparency, honesty, kindness — these are things we prioritize above all else.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I truly believe if we can inspire diversity of thought in healthcare — having diverse perspectives shared across the industry — everyone could embrace it. I’d be honored to inspire that movement.

How can our readers follow you online?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shelli-pavone-a729b2/

Twitter: @GetInlightened

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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