Getting Physicians Involved in Digital Health

Getting Physicians Involved in Digital Health

Ben Schwartz, MD

Meet Ben Schwartz, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who’s dived into digital health.

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Dr. Schwartz is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in surgical and non-surgical treatment of hip and knee arthritis. He has extensive experience in digital health and serves as a chief innovation officer for Healent, an early-stage healthcare technology company. He also holds mentorship positions with incubators and accelerators, as well as advisory roles. He’s a prominent voice on LinkedIn and other social media platforms.

The Promise of Technology

MDisrupt: What got you interested in digital health?

Ben Schwartz: I had a pretty traditional practice for the first 10 years of my career. I’ve always been fascinated by computers and gadgets and new ways of doing things. About two or three years ago, I became aware of this whole world of digital health, which was maturing. We have this healthcare system that doesn’t work in a lot of ways. We have technology that works in other aspects of our lives, but we’re not really utilizing it well in healthcare. How do we adopt technology in healthcare to make things better?

MDisrupt: You’re a top voice on LinkedIn and your posts really get the conversation started. What impact do you think you’ve had?

Ben Schwartz: When I started to become interested in this, I was your traditional orthopedic private practice surgeon outside of a major metropolitan area. I didn’t necessarily come across people in digital health. LinkedIn became a great way to open doors.

MDisrupt: You wrote, “Big tech doesn’t need healthcare. Does healthcare need big tech?” What’s your answer?

Ben Schwartz: I don’t think healthcare necessarily needs big tech. We know healthcare needs to do a better job incorporating technology, because we lag behind other industries. I do think big tech has the potential to address a lot of issues in healthcare, from an access as well as a technological standpoint. You’re talking about some of the biggest, most resource-rich companies in the world and one of the biggest problems we’re facing, not just in this country, but in the entire world. 

Google and Apple have shown interest in healthcare. Whether that persists I don’t know. The clinics that Apple supposedly was trying to open up were really fascinating—it’s disappointing to hear that maybe that didn’t work. Amazon is doing their typical approach of starting slowly and testing use cases and gradually building. 

“Digital health tools are coming”

MDisrupt: What kind of trends are you seeing among your colleagues around innovation in healthcare?

Ben Schwartz: There are definitely pockets of physicians who are very innovation-minded. And then you have more traditional physicians who are just so busy that when they hear about technology and innovation, they roll their eyes and equate it with the EMR that’s just going to make their lives more complicated. Or they think that it’s hard to prove the use case or the value. But more and more we’re seeing physicians who are entrepreneurial who are either going to come up with their own solutions or work with companies who embrace solutions. I think that’s going to become the norm.

And if you are a physician who’s resistant to technology or innovation, now is the time to reconsider. Because artificial intelligence is coming, these health tools are coming. Patients are going to want them, health systems are going to start embracing them. The future may belong to physicians who are more innovative and entrepreneurial and embrace these things.

Consult clinicians early and often

MDisrupt: Say you were at dinner with a digital health entrepreneur, and they ask, “What do I need to consider to get my product to market?” What would you tell them?

Ben Schwartz: It’s a matter of addressing true pain points. If you don’t have experience in real-world healthcare, you may say, “Oh, I have this great product that addresses this pain point.” But if you don’t understand how healthcare is actually delivered, there are barriers you may not have considered. It’s important to make sure your solution really can be incorporated into a workflow. And how do you prove return on investment? How do you monetize it?

These are the things you want to figure out early on. A great way to do that is incorporate people who have real-world experience early on in the process. Start building your clinical team early on so you don’t get too far down the road in the wrong direction and have to start over.

MDisrupt: Bridging that gap can be pretty difficult.

Ben Schwartz: It’s a challenge. Most physicians are not on an island where they can make unilateral decisions. So how do you incorporate it into a hospital, or a health system, a physician practice, and get everybody on board? If there’s one person who puts up resistance, that can table the whole thing. There’s not an easy answer. It’s a challenge that digital health companies face and that’s why often they go to an employer or a payer, because it’s easier to make traction there.

We need physicians involved and using these products. At the end of the day, a lot of times physicians or patients are the end users, but they’re not necessarily seen as the way forward for these ideas to really gain traction and be viable.

The growing network of physician innovators

MDisrupt: Can you describe the doctor innovator phenotype?

Ben Schwartz: They are people who aren’t satisfied with the status quo. But rather than just decrying the challenges or feeling burnt out, they think, “There’s a problem, let’s figure out a way to solve it. Maybe I can design my own solution, maybe I can partner with somebody who’s developing a solution.” Those people are out there—on Twitter, on LinkedIn, at hackathons. They’re doing advisory work and they’re joining digital health companies.

MDisrupt: Is that phenotype fostered in medical school?

Ben Schwartz: The current generation of doctors in medical school are very tech savvy. They are learning about this stuff in medical school. I get so many young medical students or residents who reach out to me and say, I have an interest in this, how do I get involved? Which is great to see because that’s really going to help adoption. You’re going to have people who are innately willing to embrace this, with the medical background to guide the development of these solutions.

What’s essential to a health innovation?

MDisrupt: When you look at a new health product, how do you evaluate what’s important?

Ben Schwartz: Number one, does the health product really bring something new to the table? Does it solve a problem? Does it bring something that’s clinically relevant, clinically validated? Is it something that can be easily incorporated into a workflow, as opposed to a piece of technology that’s making things more complicated? To me, the best technology is elegant, it works in the background, or it integrates very seamlessly into what you’re already doing. And then it really makes meaningful change. 

And again, unfortunately with the reality of our system, there’s got to be some eye towards return on investment and how do you make sure that this is something you can incorporate and it’s not cost-prohibitive or bring something to the table from a value standpoint.

MDisrupt: Do you see a lot of positive headlines around the pandemic having helped to bolster digital health? 

Ben Schwartz: My concern is that as we—hopefully—move to a post-pandemic environment, [we examine] Did we go too far towards telehealth? I worry that there’s an overcorrection. There are certain things that telehealth or virtual solutions aren’t going to be able to address. And some patients really do want that traditional doctor-patient relationship. It doesn’t have to be for everything, and maybe healthcare technology and digital health can replace some of the inefficient, expensive things we’re doing. But at the end of the day, the doctor-patient relationship is at the core of healthcare. 

Top innovative US health systems leading the way

MDisrupt: You wrote, “If you’re developing a tech-enabled healthcare solution and counting on physicians to embrace it, this issue should be front and center in your product design and go-to-market strategy.” MDisrupt is connecting innovators with clinical experts. Do you see health innovators trying to get clinical early adopters to use the technology before it’s out there?

Ben Schwartz: You have to find the individuals willing to embrace it. And there is, as far as I know, no central resource of a list of hospitals, health systems, physicians that are open to this kind of thing. And there are so many companies out there—the same people can’t be trying to adopt 50 different tools because they’re known as more forward-thinking. So I think it’s coming, I think it’s slow. I think hospitals and health systems are realizing that they have to get on board with healthcare technology and innovation. I don’t think they know exactly yet how best to do that. Some of the more innovative health systems like Stanford, Intermountain Healthcare, Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic will really be the leaders on that. And then it will diffuse out to the rest of the system.

Digital tools supporting traditional healthcare

MDisrupt: What is your dream digital health tool for orthopedics?

Ben Schwartz: Orthopedics is procedure-focused. A lot of the innovation happens [around] surgical robots, or tools and equipment that we can use in the operating room. We’re seeing a shift towards value-based care. Hip and knee replacements are so commonplace and cost, particularly Medicare, a lot of money. We’re understanding that we have to do a better job of preparing patients for surgery, making sure they’re healthy enough for surgery, and making sure they understand the process of recovery. I think we are going to see educational tools like we’re trying to build with Healent. I think we’re going to see post-operative remote patient monitoring tools so that we can keep a close enough eye on patients to identify a problem and intervene earlier.

I think we will see more innovation outside the operating room in orthopedics as we see more adoption of value-based care. It’s about preparing people for treatment and also supporting them afterward. Digital health can fill that void.

MDisrupt: What does a doctor-patient relationship look like today? And what will it look like in the future?

Ben Schwartz: It gets frustrating sometimes to hear about how so-called traditional physicians are really bad at their job.  If you’re outside that system, it’s easy to throw stones. But there are people on the front lines fighting these battles and doing the best they can within the system.

The doctor-patient relationship has been eroded over the last 20 years by things like EMRs, increasing administrative hoops to jump through, declining reimbursement, and increasing overhead. That doesn’t get enough attention from digital health—can we build tools to [bolster] that doctor-patient relationship? Whether it’s through documentation, natural language processing, or a better EMR, it would be great to see more of those tools come to light. Let’s build tools that really support what works about traditional healthcare, restore that doctor-patient relationship and focus on those physicians that are willing to evolve and be agents of change.

At MDisrupt we believe that the most impactful health products should make it to market quickly. We connect digital health innovators to the healthcare industry experts and scientists they need to responsibly accelerate product development, commercialization, adoption, and scale.

Our experts span the healthcare continuum and can assist with all stages of health product development: regulatory, clinical studies and evidence generation, payor strategies, commercialization, and channel strategies. If you are building a health product, talk to us.

And check out our blog and services!

MDisrupt’s Chief Commercial Officer on Building & Innovation

MDisrupt’s Chief Commercial Officer on Building & Innovation

greg-nagy

Greg Nagy is a seasoned global executive in life science and medical technology, with expertise in go-to-market strategies. Previously, Greg was chief marketing officer at Drawbridge Health and VP of global marketing at Topcon Eyecare, and has held leadership positions at other biotech and medical device companies, including Solta Medical and Amgen. Here, he talks about his path from engineer to healthcare technology commercial expert and what it takes to thrive in a startup.
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Healthcare from the inside out

MDisrupt: What led to your interest in healthcare?

Greg Nagy: Just a pure fascination with the human body, and a genuine interest in helping people.

When I was just a teenager, I got hit by a car while I was walking to the bus stop. I was thrown about 50 feet from the impact and had a major concussion, a fractured hip, fractured shins, and severely injured my knee.

I went to an all-boys Jesuit high school, and our motto was “Men for others.” When the accident happened, it was a lesson in experiencing a traumatic event surrounded by others who lived by that motto and really wanted to help.

Having your life flash before your eyes, your perspective really changes. It makes you value your healthcare support system, and is a reminder that anything can happen at any time to make you or your loved ones the “patient.” That’s part of why I chose healthcare—it’s personally fulfilling and I feel like I can make a real impact on improving people’s quality of life.

Building right, from the beginning

MDisrupt: You call yourself a “recovering engineer.” What brought you to engineering and then into marketing and commercialization?   

Greg Nagy: I was always interested in science and medicine. When I started college at UC San Diego, they had recently established their program in bioengineering. I found it fascinating to apply engineering tools to clinical applications in biology and medicine. This led me to an opportunity to develop drug discovery automation for a company that was acquired by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and later a very large-scale global drug discovery operation for Amgen.

After completing my MBA, two things stood out: I really wanted to be a “builder,” which is easier at small companies, where you can build and scale products from the beginning. And I was drawn to the commercial side, because there is a whole lot of strategy involved in bringing healthcare products to market.

I discovered along the way that there were a lot of products that were fantastic, but never made it in the market. And a lot of terrible products made so much money. The difference was about how they entered the market. I wanted to be part of that downstream success story, so I transitioned from engineering into product management. That allowed me to get my feet wet on the commercial side, but still be upstream in product development and connected with the engineers. To be effective commercially, it’s super-impactful to be able to talk to scientists and technologists in their own language.

MDisrupt: What do you like about being part of a startup?  

Greg Nagy: I’m a builder. To me, that’s the most exciting thing—building in a place where there’s a lot of freedom. Some structure is needed, but you’ve got a blank sheet of paper. I’m enticed by that.

At a startup, it’s like there’s a fire behind you—if you slow down you’ll get burned. You don’t experience that in bigger companies because you’re comfortable and there are lots of resources and established processes. And I thrive in that uncomfortable position. It makes me get up every day and have to think hard and strategically about how we do the next thing.

Bringing innovation where it’s needed 

MDisrupt: What attracted you to MDisrupt in particular?

Greg Nagy: I met MDisrupt’s Founder and CEO, Ruby [Gadelrab], when hiring her for a branding project at my previous company, Drawbridge Health. I was super-impressed with the people she surrounded herself with, and by the phenomenal respect for her in the industry. When she said, “Can you help me build MDisrupt?” it was an easy decision to say yes. The fact that there was already a great team in place, with some resources and market traction, was appealing too. I saw this as a chance to make a profound impact in an industry that really needs change.

MDisrupt: Is there anything you’ve learned since coming to MDisrupt that’s surprised you? 

Greg Nagy: I didn’t realize how many folks want to engage in innovation, but just don’t know how to get involved. Despite what you read about doctors being overworked, I don’t think it’s the overworking that bothers them. I commonly hear that they would love the opportunity to be more involved with innovation—not just using products, but guiding their clinical development. We can help them get involved and help them contribute upstream of patient care. And being here gives me a perspective on how much opportunity there is in the digital health market.

Digital health is absolutely exploding right now—record amounts of funding, large IPOs, and an increase in M&A activity. Most importantly, tons of breakthrough healthcare innovations are coming to doctors and their patients to improve quality of life. It is an exciting time for MDisrupt: We have the opportunity to make a real impact, working with some of the brightest minds in healthcare to bring life-changing digital health products to market and ensuring that clinicians and patients have the information they need to choose the best products that are the right ones for them.

Making a difference

MDisrupt: How do you see the role of marketing and commercialization in digital health startups?

Greg Nagy: I think it’s got a tremendous role. Successful companies understand how to get the product to market and to the masses efficiently. It requires a delicate balance to get to commercial scale while preserving precious capital. Quite literally, it’s a race against the clock.

The more we can speak the language of both sides—science/technology and commercial—the more great technologies we can help bring to market. To me, that’s where we can add the most value. There are hundreds of digital health companies starting every month. How do we make sure they actually make a difference for people? I think there’s been a lot of missed opportunity for humankind, because a lot of products get shelved.

MDisrupt: Co-workers say they appreciate your calmness. What helps you be that calm guy? 

Greg Nagy: I’m always surprised to hear that. I think I’m more like a duck—looks calm on the surface, but paddling really hard underneath.

In startups, there are always lots of ideas and changing priorities. You have to be that person who steers straight down the middle: “This guy is not overreacting and he’s confident about what he’s doing.” I think that confidence is important to feel and to project. By tuning into the challenges people at some of these digital health companies are dealing with, I can show them confidence very quickly out of the gate.

Dog joy

MDisrupt: One last question—why’d you get your dog?

Greg Nagy: The dog got me! I’m a “foster fail.” Frida, a Great Dane named after artist Frida Kahlo, was adopted from a rescue group in Southern California. After just a few weeks of fostering, we fell in love with her and she is now part of the family. I didn’t want a dog—didn’t want to give up my freedom—but now we take her everywhere. You forget about everything else when you’re throwing the ball for your dog. It brings so much joy to everyday life.

 

At MDisrupt we believe that the most impactful health products should make it to market quickly. We help make this happen by connecting digital health innovators to the healthcare industry experts and scientists they need to responsibly accelerate product development, commercialization, adoption, and scale.

Our expert consultants span the healthcare continuum and can assist with all stages of health product development. This includes regulatory, clinical studies and evidence generation, payor strategies, commercialization, and channel strategies. If you are building a health product, talk to us.

How Health Economists Add Value to Digital Health

How Health Economists Add Value to Digital Health

Ragan Hart

Ragan Hart, MS (public health genetics), PhD (health economics), is a co-founder of MDisrupt and its director of operations. Previously, she served as entrepreneur-in-residence at F-Prime Capital. Ragan recently celebrated her one-year anniversary with MDisrupt, and sat down for an interview to talk about the career path that brought her from science to startup.

Bringing innovation to the clinic

MDisrupt: Why did you choose to study health economics?

Ragan Hart: I was an exercise science major doing lab work in the genetics of diabetes, and I wanted to better understand genomics tools and sequencing. That led to an interdisciplinary graduate program in public health genetics. I was very interested in biostatistics and how to get these technologies to the clinic.

With colleagues who were physicians, research scientists, genetic counselors and others in an academic medical center focused on genetic testing, I kept hearing, “Payers don’t want to pay for this.” And so I asked, “What type of evidence do the payers need? Are we having conversations with payers?” And the response was, “No, we haven’t been engaging payers.”

That was pivotal. I said, I need to train in applied health economics to understand payer decision making. Economics and business are two things I wish had been introduced to sooner.

MDisrupt: What did you envision for yourself in terms of a career?  

Ragan Hart: I definitely knew I wanted to work in industry. I didn’t know the term commercialization at that point, but I was absolutely trying to find my way into commercialization. I knew I had an understanding of startups in the genomics diagnostics space. So I started following the market of early stage venture capital into a set of these companies. I really started to understand the different levers at play for health tech adoption.

MDisrupt: Why did you decide to join MDisrupt?  

Ragan Hart: Because I absolutely understood the mission that MDisrupt was founded to serve—getting the most impactful health products to market faster and more responsibly—and I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to have a role in connecting scientists and health experts to digital health founders. I pride myself on being able to appreciate new ideas; I value a lot of lessons learned from the tech sector and I want to be part of figuring out how we can bring this into health care.

How health economists add value 

MDisrupt: How do you see health economists as helpful to digital health companies?

Ragan Hart: Health economists can help digital health companies by identifying:

  • Who are the stakeholders?
  • What are their economic incentives?
  • How do we build a product that can meet those incentives?
  • What evidence do we need to generate?
  • How do we assess how well the product performs in a clinical setting?
  • What’s the added value? For example, is this improving quality of life? Are cost savings being generated?

From a value proposition perspective, the digital health companies may have a really awesome product. But it’s also critical to their success to be able to articulate why their product should displace standard of care. Applied health economists can support economic evaluation for cost effectiveness studies—evaluating the new health technology against whatever is currently being used and comparing cost effectiveness.

Often, costs are going to be increased by investing in new health technology. But we’re getting this gain in the quality outcome or the health outcomes. The next step of data that needs to be generated is, can the purchaser who’s evaluating this technology afford it?

And so applied health economists can generate budget impact data, honing in on the financial consequences for adopting the new health technology. These are things that a health system needs to know, and in an ideal world, maybe the health system would do that kind of analysis. But they don’t necessarily put resources into doing it, so it really has to be done by the digital health company themselves. However, in the healthcare industry’s transition to value-based care, we may start to see more health systems identifying gaps from a cost-benefit perspective.

Integrity as the North Star

MDisrupt: Can you describe a challenge you’ve faced that’s been formative to the way you work now? 

Ragan Hart: In the academic space, something came up where a senior individual was operating without scientific integrity. The challenge was a dilemma for whether or not to say, yes, we’re willing to accept your lack of scientific integrity. There would have been limited consequences for everyone involved. I was really fortunate that my advisor said, look, here are the two options. And this one—to accept the lack of scientific integrity—is not an option. And that forever changed my ability to be able to navigate situations from that perspective. 

MDisrupt: Can you say more about that? 

Ragan Hart: It allowed me to anchor myself in thinking through the competing incentives, and, going back to my economic roots, that everything is about tradeoffs. It was a valuable lesson in what’s the North Star, and, when are we allowing ourselves to veer away from that? At what cost?

Health startups need scientists

MDisrupt: What advice would you give other scientists who might be thinking about working with a health startup?

Ragan Hart: Do it! Startups building health products need individuals who have critical thinking skills and subject matter expertise. They also need to generate data and evidence that their products work and are safe, effective and clinically useful.

Oftentimes, scientists are conflicted and wonder, Well, am I still going to be in an environment that maintains the academic rigor, intellectual curiosity, and stimulation of the academic environment? The answer is yes, tenfold in a startup environment. Because you’re also getting to cultivate new skills on top of contributing domain expertise you already have. It’s incredibly enriching.

Fresh ways to work

MDisrupt: What have you discovered in your role at MDisrupt that’s been fresh and surprising for you? 

Ragan Hart: I’ve been exposed to the value of marketing. And building trust with colleagues and working in a team. Previous environments have been quite siloed and building that bridge and rapport hasn’t been valued as much. It’s so valuable, because we’re trying to build and execute on the same mission. And I’ve learned that it’s OK to depend on others. Necessary, in fact.

MDisrupt: Can you say more about that? 

Ragan Hart: Building off of that trust piece, there are too many critical things that need to be completed to meet the goal, and not one of us can complete them on our own.

MDisrupt: What would you say to scientists who might be interested in joining MDisrupt?

Ragan Hart: It’s an easy way to work with digital health innovators. It’s about being able to apply your scientific skills in a new environment. And the energy and pace are invigorating! You are able to contribute to getting your science placed in the hands of patients or providers or health systems or whoever the intended user is, faster and more responsibly with data. Scientists don’t often have that opportunity.

At MDisrupt we believe that the most impactful health products should make it to market quickly. We help make this happen by connecting digital health innovators to the healthcare industry experts and scientists they need to responsibly accelerate product development, commercialization, adoption, and scale.

Our expert consultants span the healthcare continuum and can assist with all stages of health product development. This includes regulatory, clinical studies and evidence generation, payor strategies, commercialization, and channel strategies. If you are building a health product, talk to us.