From healthcare to healthtech
“Yeah, to me as a computer science person, it’s always upsetting to go to the doctor and just look at him or her, and like realize you know nothing about me… It’s very valuable years of intuition about basic symptoms, but you’re just like, it is medieval… The doctor has to take that expert hat off, and actually, be a curious open-minded person, and study, and look at the data.” — Lex Fridman
Above is a quote from Lex Fridman in a 2-hour interview with David Sinclair. It represents a rising feeling within society. A feeling based on the obvious fact that healthcare needs to change to keep up with the current advances in technology. As a nurse, physician, physiotherapist or another healthcare professional, you might also be unsatisfied with the current system. This post will 1) help you understand why this is the right moment in time to change your career, 2) introduce you to the healthtech domain and 3) give you practical tips on how to make the switch.
Why are you so important in healthtech?
In the third and fourth decades of the twenty-first century, computer algorithms will change from cute gadgets and games to tools that have a serious responsibility in our lives. We can conceptualize this increasingly important role of algorithms in healthcare as the following:
Health state A-> input -> algorithm -> output -> Health state B
Health state B could be an improvement compared to state A, such as in disease, or maintenance of state A, such as in anti-ageing.
We also see several problems within the above logic chain where medical knowledge, either directly from the practical work environment or from physiology and anatomy, is necessary:
- Do we have the correct parameters?
- Where do we get data from?
- Which part of the data is of the most value?
- Is the data accurate based on what we know about the human body?
- Is the correct logic applied to the input?
- Do the mathematical calculations make sense?
- Is the purification of input into usable data correct?
- Can we trust the output?
- What can we do with the output?
- Do we have the correct interpretation?
- What effect will it have on the mind and bodies of the people affected by it?
- Can we use the output to improve the input or the algorithm and create a cyclical pattern?
These questions can’t all be answered by computer scientists, CEOs and managers. There is medical knowledge and experience, or maybe better said, medical wisdom, necessary to direct resources towards the right objectives.
Why switch now?
You might have heard about the term “singularity”. Prophets in different cultures have connected to the Gods, spirits and angels to get information about the future. Today’s prophets, as macro-historian Yuval Harrari refers to them in his book Homo Sapiens, have looked at the increase in computation to do the same and predicted a digital singularity. The word singularity is a term taken from physics that describes a mass in space so heavy that even light can’t escape the force of gravity. The digital singularity means a point in the future in which the amount of available memory and computation speed will be so high that we can’t say anything about how the next day, or as mathematician Ben Goertzel describes maybe even the next five minutes, will look like.
The method used to estimate the time that the singularity will take place is shown below in an illustration from a publication in 2013 in the journal of general intelligence.
Note the logarithmic scale on the y-axis here. Between 1980 and 2000 the speed increased from 50,000 to 100,000,000 calculations per second. According to some singularists, this is not a consequence of the more popular Moore’s law, but an inherent characteristic of the universe itself.
If we track the milestone changes in history back to the beginning of the universe and plot it in a graph we also see an exponential increase in computation power expressed in calculations per second. The growth in computation can be traced as far back as the emergence of DNA, the evolution of the neocortex, the appearance of human language, the creation of human tools, and the introduction of capitalism, all of which are steps towards more complex and efficient forms of computation.
At the start of 2023, we are primarily focused on our phones, smartwatches and maybe a continuous glucose meter. But as we come closer to the singularity, which is predicted to be in the middle of the twenty-first century, the list will extend to devices in and outside our body, from nanobots in our bloodstream to AI algorithms controlling our body physiology. As Byran Johnson says, one of humanity’s biggest challenges in the coming decennia will be to align our goals with that of non-human intelligence.
What can I do within this domain as a healthcare professional?
There is a myriad of opportunities in front of you. Today, I would divide them into roughly three groups: soft skills-orientated jobs, technical jobs and an intermediate category.
In the table beneath, you can see the jobs in the three categories. On the left are the soft skills-orientated jobs such as product manager/owner, someone responsible for the development of products of a company. If a company is creating a new EHR, a product manager could be guiding the development team in getting the requirements of users (healthcare professionals) aligned with the product of the tech team (EHR). On the left is also the user experience specialist. This is a field of expertise of increasing importance due to the rising number of digital health products that must be usable to healthcare professionals, but also patients and/or their families.
In the intermediate category are jobs such as medical affairs specialist. Someone who educates employees on scientific topics and plans to create evidence that supports a new product. I think clinical researchers can also be considered part of this intermediate space as they are often in touch with patients to collect data but at the same time use statistics to show how diagnostics and treatments can be improved.
On the right (technical) side are people that work with data or code. Data analysts for instance look at health data and perform analyses. The group of coders can of course be subdivided into front, backend and full-stack developers.
Some companies also create new job titles that acknowledge the upcoming integration of health and tech:
- Medical quality specialist
Description: Combining clinical experience with quality assurance and making sure the introduction and use of a healthtech product are safe and achieve its goal.
- Medical Science Liaison
Description: Delivering information and services related to a product. A medical science liaison speaks the language of the healthcare professional. They can maintain good relationships with clinicians and medical researchers that use a product.
- Medical knowledge engineer
Description: Using medical expertise and additional on-the-job learned, technical engineering knowledge to contribute to the development of a health tech product.
These jobs can be conducted by doctors, but also, partly or in whole, by registered nurses, physiotherapists, or medical students.
Here are some job titles that might be applicable to healthcare professionals working in healthtech:
- Chief Medical Technology Officer
- Healthtech Medical Director
- Medical Innovation Officer
- Digital Health Medical Advisor
- Healthtech Clinical Consultant
- Technology-Enabled Healthcare Physician
- Healthtech Solutions Architect
- Healthtech Transformation Specialist
- Medical Technology Strategist
- Digital Healthcare Expert.
List of healthtech startups
Here is a short list of health tech companies I collected (as you can see a non-exhaustive search). You can read about their objectives and what kind of background profiles they want.
Here is a list of healthcare professionals that I’ve found online that can be considered role models for changing careers:
- Chris Lovejoy, MD, machine learning engineer and founder of several startups.
- Thijs Spanhaak, MD, Medical Knowledge Translator at Ada Health
- Milan Jovanovic, MD, PhD, Procuct Owner at Ada Health
- Jeff Lafranca, MD, PhD, Operational manager GeriCall
- Ronny Shalev, PhD, CEO & Founder of Dyad Medical Inc
- Tryggvi Thorgeirsson, MD, CEO & Founder of Sidekick
- Jefferson Tang, MD, software developer
- Kevin Maloy, MD, software developer
You can check out their LinkedIn or personal websites to see what they are currently enthusiastic about and get information about their career change.
The application interview: lead by example
Some important things to keep in mind when you decide to switch and get invited for an interview:
1. Make a personal website.
CVs are outdated. Make an online portfolio (e.g. www.yourname.com). On the website, as much as you can, lay out the steps you took in private to prepare yourself for a job in this field. Here are some examples to get started:
- Show photos of yourself at tech events (people skills)
- Write reviews of health apps that you like and why you would recommend them (commercial and customers satisfaction skills)
- Analyse data from personal health trackers that you got from your smartwatch (data analysis skills)
- Write reviews of research papers in artificial intelligence that made you think differently (research skills)
- Present some hobby coding projects (software development interest)
Remember to place an emphasis on your autodidactic skills. These are essential in this fast-developing field. University degrees are not outdated, but they will be…
2. Present yourself with your ambition first.
In your resume, application letter, and conversations, instead of “As a doctor, I handled complicated family life of patients with dementia well and I really liked the project management side of these cases” talk about: “I have a heart for project management, I created a weekly discussion group about Alzheimer’s and saw the impact this had on people and their families. It motivated me to think differently…” See how the tone of the conversation changes in the second sentence.
3. Don’t use the word “patient”
Also note that in the first sentence above, I deliberately used the word people instead of patients. The word “patient”, was derived from Latin and originally meant “the one who suffers”. This word will become irrelevant as we move from symptom-focused medicine to more information-based medicine. Recontextualize your role as a healthcare professional. Our objective should be to use data to detect disease before the start of suffering.
3. Let companies clearly know whether you’re ready to switch to full-time.
Letting go of your medical license as a doctor or nurse is of course a big decision. Some companies will really appreciate it, as they can make full use of your capabilities. Others will like it when you stay in touch with the healthcare environment and will see it as a strength for the job activities. Make up your mind about this. And persistently portray yourself as such with pride so the person on the other side of the table knows where you stand.
4. Participate in social events.
There are hackathons, meetups, and other events related to health care taking place in many cities around the world. Try to participate in them and get in touch with like-minded people. You can find these communities on www.meetup.com. It’s wise to be selective. Some of these meetings can bring you to the next level, while others can be demotivating as they are based on an over-hyped misunderstanding of healthtech.
5. Learn something new every day.
Most importantly, learn something new every day. Try to focus on your field of interest. There is a wealth of high-quality free educational material online about management, health tracking, coding, etc. Make use of it. When you’re having a quiet day in the emergency department or you’re not getting called during an on-call shift, use the time wisely. Thrust me on this one. You will see the fruits in the long run.
The salary change
As a healthcare professional, you already have a reasonable and reliable monthly income. Financial uncertainty might be a barrier to changing careers. The salaries I have come across range from 2500 euros, which is approximately the average salary of a first to a second-year resident in the Netherlands but can go up to 5000 euros, the same as a medical doctor with a three-year medical speciality degree. There are probably switchers with much higher salaries. I would expect a cardiologist or surgeon in healthtech to be above 5000 euros.
As an important side note, when you think about a salary change, please also think about your mental health. Having a burnout due to working in a rigid system will leave you with much bigger losses in the long run than going down 20–40% in your salary for a couple of months or years. It’s better to work at the lower end of the hierarchy and get home full of energy than to work in a high-paying leadership position that drains you mentally.
To sum it up
- The people you treat will expect a higher integration of healthcare with IT.
- Not assembling the two will lead to large disadvantages in light of the singularity.
- Your healthcare experience is valuable and can influence the currently developing algorithms and interfaces that will be used in healthtech products.
- You’re not alone in this journey. There are people that have taken a similar step in life. Use them as examples.
- You might drop in financial income, but don’t let this hold you back.
Stay open-minded and don’t give up in the face of resistance. We can do this!