A Doctor’s-Eye View of Silicon Valley

5/10/12

What was a geeky doctor like me doing on an MIT Sloan entrepreneurship and innovation trek in Silicon Valley back in March? That was the big question, given that I’m 37 years old, trained as an anesthesiologist, and only started using a Twitter account a couple of weeks ago. Going on that tour was almost like being Alice in Wonderland—I was so out of place from the world I’ve lived in for the last decade.

Medical training, for all its excitement, is absolutely dreadful at teaching the importance of business and organizational process. It’s no surprise that physicians often find themselves complaining about trends, yet do little to make a change. If nothing else, we’re busy working in the clinics. It’s difficult to turn a new idea into reality. This is the problem I was faced with. I saw all these cool ideas, but I was clueless on what to do with them. Do I talk to certain people about it? Who would these people be? How do you put your idea into practice? How do you find time to do any of this?

The Sloan trip was my chance to get a sense of this. How did people get an idea into the real world? Clearly a great idea is meaningless alone. To paraphrase a quote I once heard from former Surgeon General David Satcher: ideas must move from the bench to the bedside to the curbside.

With plenty of companies to potentially visit, I focused my trek schedule around entrepreneurs in the healthcare space. I was fortunate to start with Dr. Thomas Fogarty at his winery. As a little background, Dr. Fogarty is a legendary surgeon who invented a simple catheter that completely changed the way cardiac surgery is done, basically putting himself and many of his fellow surgeons out of business. It’s an interesting and courageous proposition to make a big difference at your own expense. After retiring from medicine, he opened the winery (after all, the catheter did work) which is where he welcomed us for a talk about his experiences. To me he’s the perfect example of the end-user innovator. He saw the problem first hand and knew the changes that needed to be made. His great move was then to actually do it.

My next visit was a visit to Rock Health, a healthcare accelerator. Walking around their office, I got my first taste of Bay area startup culture. It was wonderful to see how passionate everyone was about their startups’ ideas. It brought home the importance of finding something that excites me and that will make a big difference in people’s lives. It’s great to have a job; it’s another thing to have a mission.

I saw this realized later that day at HealthTap. That company, founded by Ron Gutman, is attempting to use technology to connect patients with physicians to get them the answers they need when they need it, significantly reducing unnecessary office and hospital visits. I’m the first to admit our healthcare system is broken and inefficient, and this struck me as an innovative way to address it. As for the feel of the group, these people are clearly focused and on a mission. Ron was just as proud to share his team’s credo as he was his technology.

Our next stop was to meet Dr. Amir Belson at Zipline Medical. I was surprised to see how he targets specialties completely outside of his area of medical training. He’s a pediatrician yet he’s working on ventures like improving endoscopy and fixing the trouble with IV catheters. The surprising part about IV’s is that they’ve changed little since their original design, and it’s harder than you think to place a plastic tube into a moving vein. Amir’s clever idea was to move a smooth “guide-wire” into place, allowing for the catheter to slip into position atraumatically. He described the process as … Next Page »

Dr. Jonathan Bloom is a first-year MBA student at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and CEO of Podimetrics. Follow @

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