November 6, 2017: Oscar Health’s “Women in Health Tech” panel of female leaders share perspectives on how technology is transforming healthcare.
From left to right: Ainsley Harris, Valery Ayala, Tej Toor, Katy Sadowski, Radhika Sen, and Miriam Makhlouf.
In the past few years, we’ve only just begun to witness the integration of incredible new technologies into all elements of healthcare. It is a very exciting time to see healthtech startups leading this charge, using cloud-based infrastructure, machine learning, marketplace technology, and multitudes of new innovations that aim to positively impact the lives of many.
On November 6th, Nomad Health’s Vice President of Marketing, Radhika Sen, had the pleasure of being invited to join Oscar Health’s first 2017 Women in Health Tech Panel discussion alongside inspiring female leaders from New York-based healthtech startups: Flatiron Health, Spreemo Health, Oscar Health, and Blink Health. The panel provided great insight into the unique opportunities and challenges that the healthcare technology industry faces as a whole.
Hosted by Women in Tech @ Oscar Health, and moderated by Ainsley Harris, Staff Writer at Fast Company, the event drew a crowd of over 200 attendees and featured a powerful discussion about how health tech is being changed by technology. The panel speakers were:
- Radhika Sen: Vice President, Marketing at Nomad Health
- Valery Ayala: Software Engineering Manager at Oscar Health
- Katy Sadowski: Clinical Data Manager at Flatiron Health
- Miriam Makhlouf: Director of Informatics at Spreemo Health
- Tej Toor: Senior Product Manager at Blink Health
For anyone interested in learning from these female leaders bringing healthcare into the digital age, read on!
Here is an excerpt of the panel discussion and Q&A with all speakers:
Can you tell us about your journey to your role today and your motivations for getting into health tech?
Radhika from Nomad: For me, I was new to healthcare when I joined Nomad Health. I studied marketing in college, and after graduation, I worked at American Express. I reached a point in my career where I had learned a tremendous amount about digital strategy and marketing in a large organization, and I was eager to apply my learnings in a smaller environment. I also wanted to challenge myself in a new industry and I found interesting parallels between healthcare and financial services. The more I learned about healthtech, the more excited I became, and I focused on finding an opportunity that combined my passion for marketing with a deeply fulfilling experience in healthcare. I think healthtech is a fantastic space to be in not only because are we helping to drive digital innovation, but also our work strives to help others live healthy lives.
Katy from Flatiron: I came to healthtech from the healthcare side. Prior to joining Flatiron, I was working at the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group running clinical trials. My background there in oncology and clinical trials led me to Flatiron. What I experienced at ECOG was a lot of the inefficiencies that exist in the clinical research world so I was really motivated to find somewhere where I could make a difference improving those inefficiencies and I’ve found that at Flatiron.
Tej from Blink: My first experience with healthcare was right after graduation. I was doing strategy consulting and I ended up doing a lot of consulting in the pharmaceutical space. I think the last project I worked on while I was there was working with a large pharmaceutical company on a pipeline Alzheimer’s drug. This company had realized that the drug was no better than the other competitors on the market but was still pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars to get it into market. This was my first exposure to the crazy inefficiencies in the healthcare system. I knew I wanted to go into tech and fortunately tech is all about creating efficiency so I found my way into the part of the industry that was helping to solve some of the problems that healthcare is facing.
Valery at Oscar: My experience stemmed from a personal interest in health; I didn’t actually have any healthcare experience before Oscar. My first introduction to healthcare was when I was pregnant and I wanted to find ways to make sure both my baby and myself were healthy. A new book came out at the time called “Your Best Birth” which was my first introduction to how healthcare in America isn’t necessarily optimized for making sure patients get the most out of the system. Over time, I learned more and more about healthcare by just having a child and caring for my family, I chose to come to Oscar after watching a documentary about healthcare called “Escape Fire” which really dug into the root issues in the healthcare system when it comes to the types of misaligned incentives and poor outcomes that can be avoided. I wanted to be a part of fixing this system.
What kinds of technology are your companies using that have not traditionally been a part of healthcare?
Valery at Oscar: I think about this in a couple of different ways. First, being a health insurance startup, we have to move very very quickly. Most startups outside of the healthcare space have been able to take advantage of things like AWS for a much longer time and scale up services quickly without putting in the capital and time investments to build up servers and have their own infrastructure teams. It’s only been recently that the healthcare world has been able to take advantage of the same. One of the things that we do at Oscar is make use AWS, cluster-building, and software that allow us to move much more quickly that we would be able to otherwise. This translates to being able to expand and offer our members the products and features that we want to offer. We want to invest in the things that add value rather than the reinventing the wheel when it comes to the infrastructure. Other things we focus on are making health insurance simpler for all of our users, which means investing in design and really accessible tools — such as mobile apps, Doctor on Call, chats with our concierge team — these are just some of the things we’re focused on.
Tej from Blink: At Blink and a lot of the companies here, what’s interesting is that the technology isn’t the super sexy thing that we’re doing, we kind of think of technology as a means to an end. I think the most interesting technology that we’re using is e-commerce, which a lot of healthcare companies haven’t taken advantage of. What Blink does, is we actually display drug prices online. When you think about it, drugs are the only sector that haven’t been brought online. You can’t go on eBay and buy drugs, but you can go on eBay and buy pretty much everything else. It’s been a bit outlandish to think that you often show up at the pharmacy with almost no idea what price you’re going to pay for your prescription medication. We’re taking the basic e-commerce principles that so many industries have tried and applying that to our platform that people can see what they’re going to pay before they show up at the pharmacy.
Miriam from Spreemo: At Spreemo, we are providing payers with high performance networks. One of the main innovations that we provide is that we build structured data sets that we use with machine learning algorithms to measure and define clinical care quality. Our priority is to understand the impact of this data on downstream patient outcomes and patient costs. When we first entered into this space, the data sets that were made publicly available didn’t provide nearly enough of the information we needed to address these fundamental and very difficult questions. So we dove deep into the clinical weeds with our clinical partners to really understand and uncover the important information that had typically been kept in the dark. By doing that we’re able to generate useful data sets. We’re able to use machine learning tools. And we’re able to create meaningful insights. It’s important to note that with all the excitement around machine learning and artificial intelligence, that at the end of the day a lot of the machine learning is only as good as the data that comes into it so, collecting and structuring that data is essential and actually really difficult.
Katy from Flatiron: As I mentioned, I came from a clinical research world where the process of collecting and processing data can be really inefficient. We were doing most of our studies on paper. I would go to the mailroom every day to pick up my files for my clinical trials. When I came to Flatiron, my mind was blown about the way that we process data. We have a process called Technology Enabled Abstraction which is our way of turning unstructured medical data into structured data that you can use for research. We’re combining the power of technology with the power of the human mind to process and interpret medical data. We currently have 700 oncology experts combing through medical charts and picking out the important data points for our research projects. We use several different technologies to help our abstractors do their jobs more efficiently. For example, we use OCR and natural language processing to categorize documents and make them searchable to help abstractors find important information more easily. At Flatiron we value the human element and the technology element and we’re working to find the perfect balance between those two.
Have you seen improvements in the industry overall, in terms of quality or standardization of data? Are there signs of promise?
Valery at Oscar: I can definitely see some hope, and part of it comes from choosing the right systems to partner with, who are also going to align with the philosophy that strong data is critical. One of our more recent partners, Cleveland Clinic, is partnering with us precisely because of the technological edge that we offer. They understand that being more integrated with their payers adds value to their members, they’re willing to partner with us and put in the effort that’s required to help us integrate things like clinical data, direct appointment scheduling, and eventually get to a point where we’re getting Event Driven Notifications coming directly from their systems into ours. It’s not going to be easy by any means, and it’s not going to happen overnight, but we do see signs that hospital systems we’re talking to would like to move in that direction.
Radhika from Nomad: For healthtech startups, being rigorously data-driven and tech-driven directly enables us to create better products and services. At Nomad, we’re the first to bring complete data transparency to both clinicians and medical employers for the healthcare jobs market and we’re making that data easily accessible. Traditionally in healthcare staffing, agency recruiters are the private keepers of job data. If you are a doctor or nurse working with an agency recruiter, it’s hard to know the full range of job opportunities that are actually available, and you may not learn key job details – like pay rates – until you’re farther along in the hiring process. On the flip side, for medical employers, agency recruiters present a limited number of candidate options to hire and there is no transparency as to whether you’re actually hiring the best doctor or nurse available. Nomad is completely transforming this by sharing all job data upfront and directly connecting clinicians with medical employers online.
Tej from Blink: At Blink we have it pretty lucky because most of our data is kept internal, so we’re just now starting to deal with the struggles of sharing different case data with partners. I was actually listening to a podcast this weekend about the fax machine and how it’s been able to survive in the healthcare system for so long — it unpacked the history of it and talked about how companies have all this data and have the ability to share data with other EMRs, but they don’t because it’s their data and they want providers and clinics to be using their EMRs. I think it’s very interesting to think about how we have all this data and now companies are working to bridge that gap and get people more comfortable with actually sharing it. This leads to better health outcomes in the end.
Miriam from Spreemo: I do think there is a lot of hope, mainly because we don’t have another choice. We all know that we have to move away from a fee-for-service model towards a value-based care model. A real struggle with that is not so much that we don’t have data — now more than ever we have insane amounts of data — but rather how we can structure it and package it up into meaningful ways that we can generate useful and actionable information from.
What do you look for when growing your teams? What qualities, culture fit, or skill sets do you focus on?
Tej from Blink: At Blink, our core audience is people who can’t afford their medication. Many of them are uninsured and this makes things interesting because when you’re building products for people, you really have to understand them. Fortunately, everyone at Blink has great insurance and we’ve never had to choose between paying for groceries for the week or picking up our life saving medicine. This is unfortunately the story that so many of our patients share. What we look for is empathy, which is something that is consistent across the entire company. It’s pretty self-filtering because people who join Blink always come for the mission. It’s a hard mission to deny. It’s nice that we’re all connected by that.
Katy from Flatiron: Similar to Blink, Flatiron is a mission-driven company and I think anyone living today can relate to the mission of wanting to cure cancer. It’s a great way to draw motivated people towards our team. There really is a diversity of background within the team — we’ll have engineers, quantitative scientists, research oncologists, and clinical researchers all working together to solve one problem. It’s been fascinating to watch an engineer and an oncologist in the same room talking through the best way to plot a data point or design a data collection form. We really learn a lot from each other there. It’s a really interesting dynamic and brings up questions that often you wouldn’t think of if you weren’t working with such a range of people.
Radhika from Nomad: When hiring, I look for two key traits. First, are you an ambitious go-getter? It is important for me to get a sense that a person is proactive and can jump right in because they are internally motivated to do so. These are the types of people who tend to thrive in startup environments, where often you’re wearing multiple hats, learning fast, and adapting challenges very quickly. Second, I look for enthusiasm and passion for the product or service, which I think is something that’s very important to all early stage startups. All of us at Nomad Health feel strongly about our mission to make it easier for clinicians to get to patient bedsides. If we make it easier to hire great clinicians, patients in need ultimately benefit. If in an interview it comes through that this person is not as interested in our service, I tend to feel that maybe they’re not the best culture-fit. It’s extremely important to show a genuine level of great interest.
Miriam from Spreemo: What I look for is someone who has the relevant skill sets for the work at hand, and that they’re logical and rational but also have a creative ability to solve problems. It’s ultimately about the mission, so I really look for people who are genuinely passionate about improving patient care. Spreemo Health has been in the business for a while, we started seven years ago in the referral management business and now we’re exclusively focused on healthcare quality analytics. We’ve done different things, but the real mission behind it is that we need to — and we’re doing everything we can to — improve patient care. So if that comes across for anyone that wants to work with us, that’s super important.
This post is also shared on Oscar Health’s Tech blog here.
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