Being prepared to fully commit your time and efforts to your dream. It will likely require many 100-hour weeks, sleepless nights and many failures along the way. You will likely feel that you are at the end of what you can handle. Believe me, everyone who succeeds goes through this phase — you are not alone. You must persist to succeed!
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Oleg Bess.
Oleg Bess M.D., is a founder and chief executive officer of 4medica. He leads the 4medica leadership team and the company’s product development strategy across inpatient, ambulatory and other new care settings to meet demand for affordable and rapidly deployable cloud-based interoperability and connectivity solutions.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up in Odessa, Ukraine. Well, a communist Odessa, Ukraine, with everything that goes along with that. When I was 15, I moved to New Orleans with my parents. My mother had been a Gynecologist in Ukraine and she had to repeat her residency in New Orleans. Eventually I also went to medical school in the city. Meanwhile, my parents had relocated to Los Angeles, and despite looking at residencies there, I decided to return to New Orleans for my Obstetrics and Gynecology residency.
I decided to stay in New Orleans at Charity Hospital, which had very large patient population with great number of problems to solve. While it was very hard, it was also greatly fulfilling. Charity Hospital was one of those residencies where there is so much work, you are always overwhelmed, with many opportunities for hands-on learning. After the four years of OBGYN residency, I completed a fellowship in laparoscopic surgery, or minimally invasive surgery as it’s called now. I think I was the first fellow in the country at the time, which was the early ’90s. Then I moved to L.A. and joined my mother’s OBGYN practice, specializing in difficult cases of laparoscopic surgery.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I would say it was realizing in the late ’90s that technology had advanced to the point where we could fix one of the biggest pain points in healthcare, which was being able to normalize and aggregate test results. A gynecologist relies heavily on pap smears, blood tests and other patient tests. Every visit would require multiple tests. My desk was filled with paper containing the results of different tests for different patients.
Then the Russian economy crashed, and suddenly there were so many very smart people available to work on difficult problems. We were able to gather a team and create the first physician portal that allowed doctors to log into an Internet browser and see their patients’ information. There were no tools to do this at the time. Unlike today, with many out-of-the box tool already available, in those days the team had to pretty much wire up everything and build everything from scratch. Every button, every dropdown and every table had to be manually created and everything needed to work very rapidly over dial-up internet lines. We came out with the product in the early 2000s. That was an amazing experience and really changed the practices of so many doctors for many years.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Dr. Camran Nezhat, who was my mentor in laparoscopic surgery and who influenced me by modeling how dedication to something can make a huge difference in your contribution to whatever field. He lived and breathed laparoscopic surgery. And you could tell that he was very passionate about it and still is today. He’s virtually unmovable. And he’s made some of the most amazing contributions to the field.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I think one was the willingness to learn. I always credit medical school and the way medical school frames your psyche to where there’s just so much information and there’s never enough time to consume it all. But if you focused, it gave you the base. It taught you how to learn. If there’s a topic I am interested in or that I am passionate about, I can always figure out — especially now, with the Internet — how to collect enough information and understand that topic to a greater degree. It taught me that I can learn almost anything if I put my mind to it.
A willingness to learn also tends to make a person open-minded. I’m conscious about being open-minded. To this day I open three, four, five, six browsers and I look at the news from every type of network, from Al Jazeera to Fox. Your perception can be skewed if you just look at a single news source.
I also had the willingness and ability to put in the time. That’s another thing I credit to medical school. It’s like a boot camp that teaches you how to work hard when you need to and how to sustain it.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are 4medica aiming to solve?
Our mission at 4medica is to transform healthcare through products that connect information from all data sources and place it into the same patient folder. That’s the basis of our “one patient, one record” slogan. And now we’re extending that to premise of healthcare data quality. Even after you integrate the data into one chart, which a very difficult task alone, you must make sure the data in that chart is useful to everyone, including the patient. For example, if you want to graph and analyze one patient’s test result performed by several different labs over time, you need to normalize that test name, since every lab will have different name for the same test. Only after you have done that, the information becomes truly useful.
How do you think your technology can address this?
4medica provides both the ability to aggregate this information and — this is the secret sauce to what we’re doing — our master patient index- in real time is able to place every document into the right patient’s chart. That’s something that was missing in healthcare. It gives us the ability to change healthcare by connecting disparate data sources that may contain a few reports from hospital A and hospital B and a laboratory and a doctor, we can put it all together, into the same app, and give it to you. And now, leveraging our extensive history of working with laboratories, imaging centers and hospitals, we are providing other elements of healthcare data quality, such as test normalization across many data sources.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
It was the pain of thousands of pieces of paper on my desk that I kept looking at all day long. Even in the beginning days, once we gave doctors the ability to view test results, we realized that the true future would be enabling them to make sense of this data. How to make sense of scientific and clinical information and test results to improve drugs, to improve outcomes, to understand how one symptom could be related to multiple diagnoses and, vice-versa, how some symptoms are not necessarily known to be associated with a specific diagnosis. We started realizing that can happen. But we realized very early on that because this data was so poorly organized and poorly normalized, it was hard to put all of these pieces of paper in the same patient’s chart, unless you do it manually. We started discussing creating our own master patient index because nothing else out there worked. You can’t make sense of this wonderful data that you have unless you’re able to normalize it and bring it into the same chart so you can create clinical decision support.
How do you think this might change the world?
Our entire approach to healthcare will be changed when data quality enables radical transparency in healthcare. New medications will be developed and come to patients faster, and doctors will spend time thinking about patient problems instead of looking for the right information. And of course, patients will be in control of their full chart, instead of having dozens of apps, each with only a sliver of their information. One great example would be aligning any patient with an appropriate clinical trial. With high data quality this is very simple to do, and a clinical trial company might even pay this patient to use their information. In fact, with 4 million new cases of cancer in this country annually, with 20 to 25 million Americans living with cancer every year, you’re able to leverage this type of almost automatic matching of patients with treatments and with clinical trials. Today too much work and too much effort and money goes into finding these patients. Meanwhile, the patients themselves are sorely lacking information about which clinical trials they could benefit from. Just think how amazing it is when you can just automatically make that match. Today with machine learning and algorithms, we can do that, if only we had high quality data.
An automatic healthcare concierge can notify you of your options for medications, clinical trials or even the best specialists in your area. The minute you receive a new diagnosis you could get a message saying there’s this new medication or there’s this new clinical trial that can save or change your life. You can’t achieve that without doing what we’re doing.
Like any technology out there, this is something that can have unintended consequences. In today’s world of rapidly decreasing privacy for all of us, this type of aggregation of records may have some dangerous consequences if the records a) become public and b) are used not for the reasons they were intended, which was to improve a patient’s health.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example for each.)
- One is being daring enough to dream. Many of us have dreams and goals, but so many do not dare or simply do not find the time to achieve them.
- Second is to make sure your dream can make an impactful change on the society. For me personally, it was to transform healthcare through transparency and quality of health information. I could always see how doing this can identify new treatments more rapidly, assure that patients are treated correctly and put patients back in charge of their health.
- Thirdly is to never take the existing for granted. Do not lock yourself into thinking that since something is done one way now, it should always be done that way. Step back and find your own path of how to reach your goal.
- The fourth thing is to realize that if your goal is to make an impact, you can never accomplish it alone. If your dream is worthy, many others will gladly join you and work tirelessly alongside with you.
- And the last, is being prepared to fully commit your time and efforts to your dream. It will likely require many 100-hour weeks, sleepless nights and many failures along the way. You will likely feel that you are at the end of what you can handle. Believe me, everyone who succeeds goes through this phase — you are not alone. You must persist to succeed!
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
There are two things that drive me. One is stepping back and looking from a very early perspective at any problem and trying to solve it in an original way. The other one is that whatever you do, if it’s worth doing, it’s going to require a lot of work. So just talking about it and putting some effort into it is unlikely to move the needle unless you’re incredibly lucky. So be prepared to work very hard and dare to make changes that no other people would be willing to make.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Elon Musk. I would love to talk to him about some of his management principles and how he makes multiple ideas, very difficult ideas, come to life. He’s an incredibly smart person. We all know other incredibly smart people, but Musk and the original PayPal group learned something about management that I would love to ask him questions about.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.