Dr. Babak Movassaghi: “Success comes to those that work hard while they wait”

We all acknowledge that the U.S. healthcare system is complex and fragmented. When someone is sick, they have to navigate in-network providers and facilities, try to find highly rated options, deal with the ensuing paperwork, and hopefully have someone like a primary care doctor plan and coordinate things on their behalf. To move towards a […]

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We all acknowledge that the U.S. healthcare system is complex and fragmented. When someone is sick, they have to navigate in-network providers and facilities, try to find highly rated options, deal with the ensuing paperwork, and hopefully have someone like a primary care doctor plan and coordinate things on their behalf. To move towards a more patient-centric approach, I think more consumers should have access to a patient navigator as part of their care team.

As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Babak Movassaghi, MS, PhD, MBA, a visionary entrepreneur and executive leader with successes spanning international business development, operational transformation, high-performance team building, product innovation, and investment valuation. Babak is the Founder and CEO of InfiniteMD.

Prior to founding InfiniteMD, Babak was the VP of Innovation and New Ventures for Flex, a global leader in design, engineering, and manufacturing with 26B dollars annual revenue and more than 200,000 employees. Babak was also the GM of the Flex Boston Innovation Center where he operated a 12M dollars annual P&L with a strong focus on digital health, robotics, AI, micro-fluids, and smart fabrics. Babak was also responsible for the Flex corporate venture arm, evaluating and funding mid-stage technology and IP-driven startups on the East Coast.

Babak is an award-winning technological innovator, managing product development from ideation to global commercialization, yielding multimillion-dollar results for companies such as Philips Healthcare where he worked for over 8 years. During this time, Babak was awarded the innovation prize and recognized as the Top 2% of talent within the company, being promoted to the Philips Leadership Program for High-Potentials. Babak is the inventor/co-inventor of over 40 patents and is a recognized authority within the tech industry who has addressed international and domestic conferences as a keynote speaker, with 3 published books and 40+ peer-reviewed journal articles.

Babak was also the COO of 2nd.MD, one of the leading medical second opinion tele-health companies in the US, where he was responsible for the clinical and IT operations. Babak was also the CEO and co-founder of Metro Sleep Laboratories, a premier research and commercial sleep laboratory, that he successfully exited (2010).

Babak also was a professional football player in the NFL and NFL Europe where he won the World Bowl (1999) and former Team Captain of the German National team, with whom he won the European Championship several times. For his efforts, Babak was awarded the Silver Needle of Honor by the mayor of his hometown, city of Hamburg.

Babak holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Utrecht University, a Masters in theoretical Physics from the University of Dusseldorf, and an MBA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Thank you for doing this with us Babak. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As a multicultural person, I have had the privilege of living in many countries over the course of my career in the science and healthcare industry. Based on experiences with my friends and family (here and abroad), and through my own personal experiences, I have seen stark differences in healthcare delivery as it pertains to patient outcomes. Seeing the disparities in access, the misdiagnoses, and non-optimal treatment plans has always led me to want to utilize innovation and technology to help people consult with top physicians. Utilizing telemedicine for specialty care in areas such as oncology and orthopedics makes this possible without borders or restrictions.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

InfiniteMD was founded back in 2016, and at that time, our primary focus was delivering access to the top doctors in the U.S. to the international markets in the form of virtual second opinions. However, a couple years in, I had a vision for InfiniteMD. I wanted to pivot us to a technology -enabled/digital health company with a focus on penetrating the U.S. market, while continuing to maintain our international footholds.

It was then, in 2018, when I took over as CEO. I was able to convince a portion of our investors to provide us more funding and to stay on for this next chapter, while the rest did not believe in my vision and chose not to participate in the next round. It was a risky move and against the odds, but since then, we have had over 400% growth and are currently serving over 3 million members that have access to InfiniteMD.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

InfiniteMD actually started using Zoom about five years ago for our video consultations. However, at the time, not all of our doctors’ computers or networks were 100-percent compatible, so we learned. We had one of our international patient consultations scheduled and it seemed like everyone was having connectivity issues. It was an important case and we didn’t want to disappoint, so we ended up putting two laptops in front of each other with another live video service on so they could speak that way. It was a little embarrassing but funny to look back on now.

We learned that any technology needs to be seamless and integrated within the existing system. But of course today, our technology is very advanced and integrated such that even my dad was able to use it recently. And I can assure you he is not very tech savvy.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think our biggest assets are our technology, our over 2,500 top specialty medicine physicians, and of course, our talented and passionate team. As InfiniteMD started out with a focus on international patients, one of our core differentiators is also support for non-English speaking patients. We provide medical record translation and live interpreters to anyone who needs it. I believe very strongly in supporting access for diverse populations.

One of our most impactful stories as of late would be an urgent case that we were able to turn around in a matter of 24 hours. The patient was a former Olympic skier that had gotten an infection after a knee surgery. The procedure the local hospital had recommended was in question. We were able to get the patient live access to a top expert in this type of condition, who essentially said, “If you go through with this procedure, and it doesn’t work, you likely will lose your leg to the infection.”

Thankfully, she followed their advice to cancel it and subsequently made arrangements to come see our expert physician for his recommended surgery instead, and she made a full recovery. To this day, she still sends us videos of her hiking mountains, dancing, and traveling. It is very rewarding that she continues to share her adventures with us.

What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders to help their team to thrive?

Specifically, for healthcare, I suggest going back once in a while with your team to review your success stories and patient testimonials. In all startups, you will have downs and ups. It is important to remember that at the end of the day, you are helping people. Do not forget why you started on this path in the first place.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?

Let me start by saying I think the overall quality of care is relatively very good in the U.S., and this country is home to some of the best trained and educated doctors in the world. Also, the ground-breaking innovations that happen here go on to help many millions of people around the world. I mention these things as positives, and I want to be supportive to all providers coming together right now to battle COVID-19.

Conversely, some big challenges I have noticed all involve the complexity within the system overall. It can be complicated to navigate and therefore access to good healthcare can be very hard in many parts of the country for a variety of reasons. Another big challenge relates to the financial aspect of healthcare. Affordability of care is a major problem in the U.S. There is a lack of cost transparency that catches almost everyone off-guard at some point. And finally, because of insufficient patient data portability and context for treating HCP’s, there is lost opportunity within the healthcare system as a whole.

You are a “healthcare insider”. If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.

Employer-sponsored health insurance comes with many advantages but also many disadvantages, in particular when it comes to consistency and autonomy for the end user — not to mention the millions of people living in the U.S. without health insurance. This is a very hard problem to fix and there are many suggestions out there. I believe at the end, there needs to be a compromise between a national healthcare system and the private payer sector. I do not have a solution at hand, but I do know that in order to fix this issue one must also understand the legacy of the current situation (Link to NY Times article).

We all acknowledge that the U.S. healthcare system is complex and fragmented. When someone is sick, they have to navigate in-network providers and facilities, try to find highly rated options, deal with the ensuing paperwork, and hopefully have someone like a primary care doctor plan and coordinate things on their behalf. To move towards a more patient-centric approach, I think more consumers should have access to a patient navigator as part of their care team.

To improve accessibility, I think we need greater adoption of digital health and virtual solutions for specialty medicine, specifically for follow ups and remote patient monitoring.Cost transparency is difficult, but I think it should be possible for every consumer to “shop” services from facilities with the click of a button. Why does the cost of an exact brain MRI vary depending on the clinical institution conducting the exam when clinical institutions can be only a few blocks away from each other? And why do different plans pay a different amount for the same service? Imagine going to a restaurant with a friend and ordering the exact same steak. Your friend’s bill might be 60 dollars while yours comes to 200 dollars. Transparency is key, but has also provided opportunities for entrepreneurs. There are some digital health companies already tackling this for big things like surgery, but these tools are usually only accessible to those with employer-sponsored plans.

Affordability of care continues to be a systemic problem in the U.S., and there is no one easy fix, but I would say based on my experience that there seems to be a lot of bureaucracy in managing healthcare. I think it is clear that a fee-for-service model is not necessarily producing better outcomes, and I would look at other systems and value-based care models.

For providers to reduce waste and offer personalized care, they need access to data. Patients should have easy access to their data and be able to port it to their treating providers with ease for more informed decision-making. I believe that a recent rule by the HHS is paving the way, and I will be watching closely on the implementation of this by EHR companies and healthcare facilities.

Ok, it’s very nice to suggest changes, but what concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest these changes? What can the following groups do to help?

  1. Individuals: While there are some daunting challenges, I think individuals can equip themselves with knowledge, meaning learning about the things they can control in terms of their healthcare. They can explore their options in terms of access to resources like digital health tools, telemedicine at potentially lower copays, and determining if they have allies like patient navigators available to themselves. They have to advocate for themselves as much as possible by learning about assets that may be there to support them already — and do not be afraid to try something new!
  2. Corporations: Corporations can be separated into two different groups of stakeholders: payers and health systems. Both groups working towards enhancing transparency around costs that would serve everyone. For payers specifically, I would encourage them to do more to incentivize and develop digital health and telemedicine options for consumers to improve access. They can really lead the charge in terms of reimbursement as well. For health systems, yes of course continue to implement and innovate options that make enhanced access possible, but also consider what more can be done to help consumers safely own and share their medical data for informed decision making.
  3. Communities: Communities and their local leaders can implement more community-based initiatives to help patients access and navigate healthcare, especially in the cases of low-income families. This could take the form of advocacy in both navigation and how to deal with the financial challenges and find resources.
  4. Leaders: In broad strokes, leaders in business and healthcare can champion some of the things mentioned above for a better tomorrow. I would say to do this with an openness to feedback and with persistence. Change is never easy.

I’m interested in the interplay between the general healthcare system and the mental health system. Right now, we have two parallel tracks, mental/behavioral health and general health. What are your thoughts about this status quo? What would you suggest to improve this?

I think we are just starting to see how important it is to make mental health part of the practice of general healthcare. This should be integrated and addressed as part of treating the whole person, with the focus being on improving overall well-being. There is still a stigma around seeking help, but I think it would be wonderful if we started teaching the younger generation earlier about the benefits of practicing mindfulness, and so forth, during early education.

How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?

There are a couple of attributes that I have observed in truly outstanding providers, many of whom practice in our network. In addition to a data-driven approach and track record of good patient outcomes, they often: lead with compassion, make themselves available (as much as possible) for urgent cases, commit their lives to clinical excellence, as well as research, devote time to educating other HCPs and advancing their field, and continue to inquire about and follow-up on their patient’s progress proactively.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Success comes to those that work hard while they wait.”

It reminds me of what has been a theme over my entire life: working hard against all odds until the opportunity materializes. As a young scientist in Germany, I worked diligently to get an opportunity to study at Philips Healthcare. Years later I was recognized as the top 2% of top talents to receive a promotion. Beyond my experience in science, I trained hard and turned my love and passion for football into my career when I had the opportunity to play professional football. Yes, American football — not soccer! I later found myself gaining admission to the MIT Sloan School of Management where I received my MBA and then subsequently founded InfiniteMD.

I have always believed in persistence; the opportunity will come when YOU put the work in.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, we recently launched our Virtual Centers of Excellence programs for oncology and musculoskeletal conditions. These programs pair an expert multidisciplinary physician team from the nation’s top hospitals with a patient over the course of their healthcare journey. We believe for especially complex diagnoses, often two or more physicians collaborating on a virtual second opinion provides the best guidance. Our technology makes these interactions possible and we are planning new enhancements in the realm of our collaboration tools. These programs greatly reduce the long wait times for specialty medicine advice, the travel, and other challenges in coordination for patients that are already dealing with the burden of their condition and are unsure how to proceed.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?

“The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle is one of my favorites. It has helped me to be much more in the present. Thoughts can take control of us, by either putting us too much in the future or the past. The only thing we can really control is the now.

Two podcasts I really enjoy are the Happiness Lab and Planet Money on NPR.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I truly believe that InfiniteMD has been a movement in itself by giving people around the world the most important gift — peace of mind when it comes to understanding their healthcare options when it matters most.

Building on my passion, I would like to launch a mission to provide easily accessible and affordable healthcare to families in need throughout the world. When more people have access to healthcare, our research strengthens. When that happens, we can move further in the process of developing cures and more reliable treatments for complex, serious, and terminal illnesses.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can find me on LinkedIn, and I promise I’m going to get better at using my Twitter! If they want to read up on the latest InfiniteMD has to offer, please visit https://www.infinitemd.com.

Thank you so much for these insights!

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