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The Data-Driven Future of Healthcare Is Everyone's Opportunity, and Everyone's Responsibility

After decades analyzing the intersections of science, healthcare, business and data, this MD and entrepreneur offers her vision of a more ethical and better-performing wellness industry.

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As a medical doctor and entrepreneur, I’ve been part of the inner circle of the worlds of healthcare, retail and big tech. I’ve built companies from the ground up, hold a number of patents in personalized medicine, have guided Nobel laureates as well as National Academy members and noted scientists in pushing the next frontier of tech-driven solutions, and have been recognized by Scientific American and the World Economic Forum. One of the characteristics that has helped propel me on this remarkable journey is that I’m inevitably excited upon hearing that something is deemed “impossible”. The world of medicine has been my playground, and in it, I’ve inevitably run towards the biggest obstacles, aka the biggest opportunities, and champion cutting-edge innovations.

To me, the success formula has always been simple: opportunities + responsibilities = choices — that it’s up to us to make the right choices, and to do so before it’s too late. For instance, how do we go about shaping the world’s data privacy? And in doing so, how do we innovate quickly while remaining mindful of the types of technology we are truly comfortable deploying? How transparent should our medical data be? How much should potential employers know about us? There are many questions and very few answers.

We’re at a new dawn in medicine, and I believe data and technology can empower people to help us navigate and save the world if we’re able to use them intelligently. To me, this is the responsibility of all stakeholders in science and healthcare; whether an investor, advisor or consumer, all are integral to this mission. But perhaps more importantly, I believe that if you’re an entrepreneur, you now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to alter the course of healthcare forever.

Here are a few invaluable lessons from my journey. 

Related: 5 Exciting Ways Health-Tech Start-ups Are Improving Lives

Begin with a cause worth fighting for 

In response to an audience member’s question at an All Things Digital conference, Steve Jobs said, “You [must] have a lot of passion for what you’re doing, and the reason is because it’s so hard… if you don’t, any rational person would give up. If you don’t love it, if you don’t really love it, you’re going to give up."

I couldn’t agree more. 

The importance of loving my work and living for a mission was impressed upon me early, during days at Harvard Medical School, when I saw a patient die of a staph infection. This event led me on a path of entrepreneurship in the diagnostic space, and to the founding of IntelligentMDx. I committed to using tech to design accurate, rapid and easily deployable diagnostic testing solutions, and that was where I first saw the power of data-driven insights, and the possibilities for proactive and predictive healthcare. Now, with convrg.ai and the Convergence Group, my mission has been amplified; our team is improving access to healthcare around the world through digital acceleration. 

While I believe a sense of urgency and the drive for a call to action have always been imperative for entrepreneurs in healthcare, these needs were underscored by the pandemic. There’s been a radical change in people’s mindset with regard to their health. People now tend to neglect diagnostic testing unless it feels urgent, and we clinicians have been left wondering what the medium-term consequences will be. We’re seeing many missed health screenings, paused treatments and diseases detected at the later stages. We’re then left worrying whether there will be a hidden pandemic — one of cancer, or diabetes or behavioral health challenges. So, how do we get people to engage more successfully with matters of health, and how do we make ourselves, and others, willing to embrace not just health tech, but also health data and its management? Finally, how do we make the most of all the health data that’s already out there?

For entrepreneurs, opportunities in these spaces have never been more numerous or more stupendous, and our time is now. I want you to remember, there is always a way, but it’s imperative to know what gets you up in the morning and to keep your eyes on that passion.

Related: 7 Mission Statements That Inspire You to Buy 

For real impact, build a movement 

If you recall, back in the day, doctors would typically know patients personally. They knew who smoked too much, knew who lived home alone, and who had picked up their prescribed medications as well as those who’d forgotten. Today, it’s much harder for doctors to reach patients, and correspondingly to prompt them to take timely action.

We have so many more apps and so many more notifications and so much more noise that it’s, ironically, actually hard for someone to get through to us. We’ve also learned that illness is not an individual challenge; Covid-19 has shown us that it’s a community challenge… a population challenge.

With convrg.ai, we’re committed to addressing this issue of “digital fragmentation” and impersonal outreach through work on improving engagement. We’ve successfully piloted how to get through to patients with relevant health information by reaching people through a channel of their choosing, at a time that works for them, and in a language they can understand. Our mission is to change the world’s collective approach to medicine from reactive to proactive, but we can’t do this alone; we need to partner with as many providers as possible to deploy what we’ve built. So, the next step is achieving scale.

I learned from formative years as an entrepreneur that having a viable solution is not enough; if you truly want to be successful at scale, you’ve got to build a movement — need people to understand your story, and buy into what you’re trying to do. You need to convince an entire ecosystem of potential partners, advisors, investors and hires as to why your message matters. But it’s hard to affect large-scale impact if you’re working in a silo. Breakthroughs in laboratories, no matter how radical, are not enough. If the things you’re trying to do are truly big and bold, you need to get everyone on your side — need to partner with larger players to expand globally and raise sufficient funds. Once you decide that you’re going to do whatever it takes and combine your ambition with the power of data, you’ll see doors open to massive breakthroughs. 

Related: Test, Build, Accelerate and Scale: Meet the 4 Cycles of Jeff Bezos 

Cultivate a 360-degree perspective 

I’ve seen many first-time entrepreneurs make the same mistake, and I’m guilty of it myself: You have a massive idea, but forget that it won’t work unless you have a ready marketplace. To determine this needed market traction (to solve any big problem, really), you must learn to see a business idea from all angles. So, my last piece of advice is that it doesn’t matter how big an idea is in your head: What matters is how much of a tangible impact it will have on the ground, in reality, in your community. In other words, you need to develop a perspective that combines your tech genius with the ability to read human pain points and their need of the hour. If you want to build something real and get it into practice as an entrepreneur, pioneer and leader, the best way to learn is to first go and break things… make mistakes, so that you then know with certainty how to get other things right. 

Alice Jacobs

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Dr. Alice Jacobs is involved on a global basis with technologists, startups, major companies, governments, academic institutions and investors. She is committed to improving access to and delivery of healthcare through digital acceleration and AI data solutions at scale.