Entrepreneurs in Medicine

There is so much talk around health-tech and how digital solutions can be leveraged to improve outcomes for both patients and clinicians. To be successful, these solutions are going to have to be driven by healthcare professionals.

This is a guest post by Dr Chris Peyton in which he discusses his approach to risk at the both ends of the patient/tech spectrum. Is reframing risk to match the potential outcomes for any situation the key to successfully moving the needle and shaping the future of digital health?

Why risk failure?

Almost 10 years ago, rather naively at the time, I made the decision to begin moving away from a more traditional career in medicine to join the start-up space.

The drive to do this came from the same reason I became a doctor in the first place: to help as many people as I could. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity of working in a large number of clinical roles through multiple health services in different parts of the world. I’ve spent time with amazing clinicians full of ideas on how to use technology to improve the health of our patients and the lives of our colleagues. I could see that if you scaled some of those changes globally, the positive impact on people’s lives could be huge.

But, having an idea is just the first step.

You need to make that change happen on the ground successfully if it’s actually going to do any good at all. So, I set about exploring how tech could be implemented via start-ups to better serve both clinicians and patients. While my drive to help people was constant, I quickly found out that the start-up space and being a clinician require very different mindsets when it comes to risking failure.

In medicine, we go out of our way to mitigate risk at every step. That makes sense. Failure in medicine can result in harming a patient. So, our decisions are evidence based from years of research, we can be slow to embrace change, and are generally cautious in our approach to patient treatment. The start-up space is almost the opposite.

Move fast and break things.

I often hear people quote this famous Facebook motto from the early days which has been adopted by entrepreneurs the world over. Essentially, it means that making mistakes is a consequence of true innovation so, if you are creating something ground breaking, you need to take risks and be ready for it not to work. In the medical space, that idea can be hard to reconcile, especially when switching between ongoing work as a clinician and my other work as an entrepreneur.

I have since learned, though, that failure in the start up space can be hugely positive in the long run. Those hard won lessons provide invaluable learning you never forget (without being life or death).

My first big step in learning came with my first venture – iMeducate. The platform helps busy doctors and med students prepare for exams. I’d used similar platforms personally in the UK and knew how valuable they were. There was nothing like it for Australian health professionals, so I set about making it. Easy, right? Cue failure.

I made the critical mistake of hiring developers that looked great on paper and said they could make it, but had no specific experience of building exam prep portals.

$50,000 later and I had something that didn’t work. 

As someone on a starting registrar’s wage, who’d invested my own money along with a few close colleagues’, it felt like an unmitigated disaster. But, no patients were harmed; only my ego and bank balance. I quickly worked to salvage what we did have that was working – well-written questions for the exam preparation from consultants who really knew what they were doing. Lesson learned, I found developers who had built something in a different field, but similar to what I wanted to achieve. Fast forward to now and iMeducate has helped over 20,000+ medical students pass exams in Australia.

I’ve since taken that experience into another venture called Ediofy. The platform solves an even bigger education problem that all health professionals deal with daily – the responsibility to keep up with continuous professional development in order to maintain our registration.

We’re already time poor, so end up cobbling together learning during stolen minutes while on call, or carving it away from personal time. One of the problems is that there isn’t a single platform to go to and you end up jumping between Quora, Youtube tutorials, colleague groups on Facebook, etc. – none of which are a really great fit. Another problem is that keeping track of those CPD hours is difficult.  So, Ediofy centralises everything in a fit-for-purpose space specifically for medical professionals, automatically logs CPD hours, and uses artificial intelligence to help target learning journeys appropriate to each specific user.

We’ve been able to build the site and load content supervised by OBE awarded surgeon and world-leading surgical trainer Dr Rodney Peyton (thanks dad!). We’ve also had around 400 other health professionals user test and have begun seeing doctors both learn and also use their knowledge to share and teach using Ediofy. The proof of concept is there.

This is when another challenge emerged.

It’s expensive to scale the platform up to the size it needs to be, to service the entire Australian health industry properly (and then globally too). There isn’t access to the kind of venture capital in Australia like there is in the USA either. So, going back to the learning from that first big mistake with iMeducate, we’ve found other people who have had success in funding start-up ventures outside MedTech and seen what they’ve done. That search has led to crowd equity funding via a leading platform called Birchal, which is kind of like a Kickstarter but instead of buying a product, lots of investors buy a part of the company. We’re also giving health professionals who invest 2 years of full access to the site for free as a bonus.

The point is, that first big failure, and a willingness to ‘move fast and break things’ since, has snowballed into one successful platform and another that could be even bigger again. If I had been too risk averse, and never tried to build something, that success would never have happened.

The trick is in realising when failure is acceptable and when it isn’t.

In a medical space, it’s certainly not worth taking risks with patient care. But, it could be worth trying a better way to schedule patients in your private practice, or using a new platform to manage CPD, or solving some other problem that puts demands on your precious time.

As long as the possible reward for any risk makes sense, it can be more than okay to fail. You have to work hard to learn from that failure, analyse what happened and set plans to improve. Learning in that case is the reward – something that makes the pain worth it and sets you up for the future. That’s the path to ground-breaking success. True failure is never trying in the first place.

For those readers who might be interested, you can see Ediofy’s investment offer document on Birchal. LITFL readers who choose to invest also get a bonus 3rd year full access to the site as a signing up bonus. Early expressions of interest close 8pm May 24th.  

There’s also an Ediofy ‘pitch video‘ you might get a cheeky laugh from as well!

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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