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Dr. Ram Subramanian: “No product is perfect ”

At PerceptiMed we are working on harnessing the cutting edge AI techniques to make a mark on medication safety. Be it in a pharmacy, hospital, managed care facility, our products are focused on eliminating medication errors. Over the years our products have eliminated thousands of potential errors, avoiding adverse drug events (ADEs). We have been […]

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At PerceptiMed we are working on harnessing the cutting edge AI techniques to make a mark on medication safety. Be it in a pharmacy, hospital, managed care facility, our products are focused on eliminating medication errors. Over the years our products have eliminated thousands of potential errors, avoiding adverse drug events (ADEs). We have been able to develop machine learning models to identify thousands of medications with near 100% accuracy, which can prevent medication errors in pharmacies and managed care facilities. This technology will assist pharmacists and nursing staff to focus on patient care and less on medication dispensing and administration.


As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ram Subramanian.

Dr. Ram Subramanian is the CTO at a quintessential silicon valley startup, PerceptiMed Inc. His efforts have been focused towards the healthcare space for nearly 20years. Where he has been developing hardware-software solutions for medical diagnostics, automation, and safety. His expertise is primarily in computer vision and machine learning. In addition, he has developed new products, prototypes, launched hardware-software solutions and scaled them up to meet enterprise requirements.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I believe in happenstance and in perseverance. I have had the urge to invent or develop something that would be of use to the general population. I started work in this direction 22 years ago by talking to doctors to develop diagnostic aids for corneal diseases. I have progressively sought out opportunities be it in academic life or in my professional life. After graduating with a PhD, I started my career in a large firm with a pitch to innovate and incorporate machine learning and computer vision into an existing product line. I quickly realized that I needed to switch gears and be a part of a more dynamic and faster paced environment. I sought out early stage startups in the medical devices and diagnostics field. I joined PerceptiMed as the company’s mission, geared towards medication safety, was something that resonated with me, personally.

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

One interesting story that I can recollect happened recently. I was at a trade show talking to potential customer who was, on the first day of the show intrigued by one of our products. I ended up talking to them 3 more times and finally as the show was closing, they made up their minds to purchase. But they had one condition, I had to be the one to do the install of the system. They have been happy with the product and subsequently have stopped by our booth at other trade shows and even recommended other customers to purchase our product. It is always nice to see that the product we have created at PerceptiMed is making an impact at pharmacies every day. It just goes to show that it’s not enough to have the best or latest technology. It really matters to connect with customers, make them feel confident about their investment and make sure the product is supported well. I make sure that all engineers participate in customer support activities, which includes me as well. Our customers find this very refreshing; they sometimes take time to talk with me and provide valuable feedback and provide new ideas as well. This has the added advantage of providing an avenue for our customers to add value to a commodity that they use. From a product and company growth perspective, I feel this has been very good for me and the company.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

At PerceptiMed we are working on harnessing the cutting edge AI techniques to make a mark on medication safety. Be it in a pharmacy, hospital, managed care facility, our products are focused on eliminating medication errors. Over the years our products have eliminated thousands of potential errors, avoiding adverse drug events (ADEs). We have been able to develop machine learning models to identify thousands of medications with near 100% accuracy, which can prevent medication errors in pharmacies and managed care facilities. This technology will assist pharmacists and nursing staff to focus on patient care and less on medication dispensing and administration.

How do you think this might change the world?

With more innovation pushing this technology, we would be able to ensure patients would better adhere to their prescription medication with an assurance of safety. Allow care givers and prescribers to monitor medication therapies more closely. Overall, we would shift to a more patient centric care. We would reduce medication errors and the complications associated with adverse drug reactions.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

The biggest concern would be how adherence data get used by healthcare system and insurers, etc. E.g. If insurance companies decided that they would not cover complications or certain healthcare costs because the patient did not follow a strict medication regiment. This could be yet another piece of personal information that if in the wrong hands can be misused.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Have more pharmacies see the benefits of the technology and the solutions we provide, so that they can realize their true potential to be more patient care focused. We also need to have a end consumer/customer product to allow better tracking of medications, especially very high value drugs.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

I take every opportunity to talk to people about medication safety, from ordinary conversation to talks at conferences, booths at tradeshows, marketing materials in trade journals. I try to publish research work in machine learning conferences, take part in panels at trade shows and extensively talk to customers and investors.

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?

There is no one single story, event, or anecdote that I can attribute my current status or success. I would think of it as a series of events, inspiration from people and being at the right place and the right time with just a touch of luck. If I had to start talking about the help and opportunities I have received, I would have a long list and need a lot of time. I believe that personally and professionally all success stems from teamwork.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I would like to think that my role and work at PerceptiMed has not only helped me to grow professionally, but also allowed me the opportunity to help develop a line of products that potentially saves lives. Until date our products have processed over 7 million prescriptions in pharmacies alone and have prevented thousands of potential medication errors. But I do not believe that I have made a big enough impact, there is always room for improvements and space to do more. I have but hit the tip of the iceberg.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. The amount of time commitment that would be demanded — I didn’t realize the amount of commitment that would be needed at an early stage startup. Where we as a team at times have spent days without leaving the office to solve a critical issue.

2. No product is perfect — No matter how rigorous we implement reviews and test plans, there is always an issue that will crrep into the product. No matter how hard we try. There was a time once where out product was to ship out to our first customer. As we were moving the boxes to be shipped we noticed the devices were failing and sending an error signal. After everyone in the entire company spent a day reviewing the devices we found that the packaging was causing a short circuit making the devices fail.

3. Even the simplest of products have complications — Even with the simplest of features that get implemented, with in a few iterations based on suggestions and recommendations from different sources, the feature becomes complex enough that it becomes hard to support. It then needs to be reworked or rearchitected.

4. Never take no for answer — When a new concept, feature or design is conceived there is always resistance to change. If you really believe in it, you need to do what it takes to convince everyone, and it wont be easy. But if we truly believe in the new feature or concept we need to collect collect the data to prove the point, and its never easy to convince people.

5. Selling even the best product is not easy — Even when you have the best product in the market it still takes a lot to convince potential customers to make a sale. I have had to talk to potential customers at trade shows and sometimes I would have to talk to a potential customer 3–4 times in a 2 day period to close a sale.

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. 🙂

It would be great, if we can bring people to realize the criticality of medication safety and medication adherence. With around 4 billion prescriptions that are sold in pharmacies every year in the US alone. There are approximately 16 Million errors that occur, where many thousands are potentially fatal. If we can get people to be more aware of the medications that they take and provide them and others in the health care chain tools to facilitate safety, we would be able to save many lives.

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

Never be afraid of failure, it helps reveal one’s self-imposed limits. Many will choose to live with them and never move past them. Other will venture with big leaps beyond it. There may be pit falls and sacrifices along the way, but if we never try or push ourselves, we will not have the innovation we see around us.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Our current health care system focuses on efficiency through rigorous process control, incentivizing throughput to increase revenues. But this has led to system that has dehumanized health care. We need to use innovation and technology to add the human element back into the system. We need use technology to free up the health care providers so that more attention can be placed on the care aspect of healthcare. Products and solutions that aid the pharmacies, hospitals and managed care facilities, e.g. freeing up the pharmacist in a pharmacy from counting and verifying pills being packaged for a patient or customer and allow them more time to interact with the customer/ patient to better understand their needs, aid in medication therapy management, help increase medication adherence. This will in turn allow better therapy outcomes for the patient. It will reduce overall health care costs by reducing / prevent ADEs and complications due to errors in medication dose, skipped medications, negative drug interactions, etc. Our products also allow the busy pharmacy to be assisted by a pharmacists remotely from another pharmacy, this will allow communities that are remote and currently do not have a pharmacy to be serviced by a remote pharmacist.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Yes

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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