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Kristy Dickinson: “Own your voice and make it heard”

The truth is, in order to be a good leader, you don’t need to know everything. You need to surround yourself with brilliant people who understand your “why” and have the same vision as you — but then, they can help fill the gaps in your own skillset. This experience has shown me that even though we […]

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The truth is, in order to be a good leader, you don’t need to know everything. You need to surround yourself with brilliant people who understand your “why” and have the same vision as you — but then, they can help fill the gaps in your own skillset. This experience has shown me that even though we don’t always know what we’re doing, we must never lose confidence in our abilities to figure it out.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristy Dickinson, Founder and CEO of Chronically Simple, a healthcare app designed to help patients and caregivers manage appointments, interactions with healthcare providers and all the administration that comes with living with a chronic or complex disease. Kristy Dickinson founded Chronically Simple after being diagnosed with a rare disease. In 2019, Chronically Simple became a part of Innomar Strategies, Canada’s leading specialty pharmaceuticals service provider, and a part of AmerisourceBergen. In light of COVID-19, the company enhanced the app to meet the challenges of their community and to be most impactful to patients and caregivers amidst the pandemic. The resulting enhancements address the needs of the most vulnerable patients and caregivers who are struggling to manage their complex care while navigating the new realities of COVID-19. The latest version of the application includes a comprehensive symptom tracker for temperature, pain, fatigue, cognitive ability, and nausea, as well as medication dosage and prescription tracking, which are all key factors in managing chronically ill patients’ progress and treatment.


Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career began in finance and lending. After leaving the financial sector, I decided to follow my entrepreneurial mindset and opened my own firm; ultimately, I worked as a recruiter for 15 years, but in 2012, my world changed when I gave birth to my daughter. Now, I have 3 kids, but with each pregnancy, my health got progressively worse. I decided I had to take a step back — what I called a “pause.” I was not very good at coming to grips with the fact that I didn’t know what was happening with my health, and that I might not be able to continue with the plans I had for myself.

During that year, I was diagnosed with EDS [Ehlers-Danlos syndrome], a connective tissue disorder that left me with 10 different specialists managing my care over three hospital jurisdictions in Ontario. The lack of communication between my specialists was so frustrating, and as a result, I began requesting copies of every note, test result, and prescription. Suddenly, I was managing paperwork from disparate sources, and trying to connect the dots of my own care, while also experiencing a chronic condition.

When I talked with my friends, who were diagnosed or had loved ones facing chronic illnesses like cancer and diabetes, it became so clear to me: These were global issues, facing many people, far beyond myself. It was then that I decided to turn my negative experience into an opportunity to help others. I ideated the app Chronically Simple for people with chronic conditions and their caregivers to take control of their health and have their records all in one place. I didn’t want anyone else to have the experience I had had.

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

My whole career journey has been an interesting one. In four short years, I transitioned the app from an idea and concept to an actual prototype, secured investors, and was acquired by Innomar Strategies — a leading service provider for specialty pharmaceutical, biotech manufacturers, and healthcare professionals in Canada. I had to learn to adapt my work structure to a large corporation while still running Chronically Simple internally like a lean start-up. My resilience, determination, and sense of urgency had to shift from a sprint to a marathon mindset. The whole process of creating my business has been a very interesting journey that has molded me into the leader that I am today, but one of the most gratifying days I had was that moment when Chronically Simple launched and its first user started to use our service to be empowered.

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?

Looking back, it really was a very humorous development when I embarked on naming Chronically Simple. In Canada, in order to own a domain name, you must go through a very tedious, nuanced process. Every time I came up with a potential name it always turned out that it was already owned by another major corporation. To date, I probably own 50 domain names because of this.

Feeling discouraged, I decided to have fun with the naming exercise. I eventually set up a contest with my friends, and whoever suggested the best, usable name would receive a 100 dollars Visa gift card. When one of them proposed Chronically Simple, it all fell into place. I learned that when there are twists, turns, and challenges along the way in your career, you must be flexible and use your network of loved ones to support you when you need it. They won’t let you down!

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Chronically Simple is built on the foundation of helping others by empowering patients and caregivers. We work closely with patient support and advocacy groups to not only bring chronically ill patients’ voices to this app but also to the caregivers that support them. More recently, we have made an effort to help the medically vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic by enhancing our features as well as offering the app for free for the first six months. Since the updates have been released, we have heard back from many users about the positive impacts that Chronically Simple has made worldwide.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

One user’s story particularly stands out to me. David, whose wife Shari has been living with cancer for eight years, had to quickly become the primary caregiver when COVID-19 struck in Canada and long term care facilities were no longer safe. He let us know that the app has changed the way he manages his wife’s care and alleviates stress in his daily life. David has been using Chronically Simple to track her medications, store her doctor’s contact information, take notes from her telehealth appointments, log her symptoms, and temperature. David told us that Chronically Simple has been essential in taking care of his wife during this unprecedented time. When I hear back from users like David, I am reminded of my purpose and the reason that I created this app in the first place.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Own your voice and make it heard. Take an active role in your healthcare journey. I’m a firm believer that no one knows our own bodies as we do. Therefore, no one will advocate for us the way that we would. Patients and caregivers should feel confident to speak up to their providers, have a voice, and make sure they’re aligned with all plans of care.

Become more educated about your health. Patients and caregivers can gain knowledge and a sense of ease and control by having all their information readily available in one place. I encourage patients and caregivers to request copies of their medical records after every appointment. This is critical to ensure continuity of care during times of crisis or if you seek treatment from a new Health Care Provider.

Eliminate the hoops that patients and caregivers must jump through in order to receive the care that they need. Politicians should consider mandating the release of medical records to patients without cost. Complex illnesses result in complex medical records, and for some patients, it can cost thousands of dollars to access their own files, creating a huge barrier to those with chronic conditions. By giving patients better access to their medical records, chronically ill patients can become active members in their healthcare journey.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, a leader is not someone who leads with force, but rather someone who leads with respect, empathy, and integrity. A leader should respect and value their team’s differences and understand that no one thinks or works the same way. The great leaders that I’ve had throughout my career always provided me with a runway to learn, grow, and to be unapologetically me. Ultimately, a great leader is someone who makes their staff feel empowered to be their best self every single day.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

How hard it was going to be

I know this is the opposite of what you’ve asked, but one thing I’m glad no one told me was how hard it was going to be, andthe amount of grit and determination I would need. I don’t think I would have moved forward in creating Chronically Simple ifI knew this. So, while maybe I didn’t fully understand it at the time, there’s a part of me that is glad no one told me. The other side of that coin is that I also had no idea just how rewarding it would be.

You don’t need a tech background to lead a start-up

I come from a non-tech background. When I launched Chronically Simple, I spent a year and a half of my time trying to learn how to code rather than allocating my time to leading the business. It wasn’t easy, but I later learned to put complete trust and faith into a developer who knew how to successfully build my app — which leads to my next point.

Good leaders don’t need to know everything

The truth is, in order to be a good leader, you don’t need to know everything. You need to surround yourself with brilliant people who understand your “why” and have the same vision as you — but then, they can help fill the gaps in your own skillset. This experience has shown me that even though we don’t always know what we’re doing, we must never lose confidence in our abilities to figure it out.

Be flexible and learn to adapt for the greater good of your organization

When Chronically Simple was acquired by Innomar Strategies, it was a huge learning curve for me. My organization was built like a start-up, and we had to learn how to quickly adapt to be part of a much larger ecosystem. I learned how important it is to embrace change. It may not always feel comfortable, but if it is for the good of your business and will enable you to help more people, it is always worth it.

Celebrate your small wins because they will end up being your greatest memories

It has truly been a rollercoaster — but a joyful one. When our team hits a goal, I always quickly move on to the next one. I wish someone told me to allow myself to relish in the successes rather than sprinting to the next hurdle. It’s good to take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate our “wins” the way that we should.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would inspire a movement to help raise awareness and understanding for people who are living with an invisible illness. Many people don’t realize that 96 percent of people with chronic medical conditions live with an invisible illness. I would love to create a movement that causes the world to lead with kindness and empathy in all that they do. I teach my children to approach everything from a place of kindness because you never know the burdens people carry or the battles they fight each day behind closed doors. I believe that If you do the right thing, the right thing will happen.

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

My favorite quote that has guided me through my career is that “everything you want is on the other side of fear.” When I got the idea to create Chronically Simple, everyone around me had doubts and told me I was crazy. But, that didn’t stop me from moving forward. I wasn’t afraid of failing, but rather afraid of missing an opportunity. Usually, if things are worth having, the journey is hard. That certainly was true for my experience creating Chronically Simple, but it was worth it because now I get to help others and do what I love every day.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

A huge inspiration of mine throughout my career was — and still is — Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. She is a brilliant woman with an incredible story, and I would love to have a meal with her. She went from selling fax machines door-to-door for seven years to becoming America’s youngest self-made billionaire. She uses her fame and fortune for good to support women in business in amazing ways. For example, she recently donated 5 million dollars to support female-run small businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

When I was struggling to build Chronically Simple, Sara was a huge inspiration to me because her story is so relatable. I would listen to her podcasts and hear about every time she experienced career obstacles, and how they led to her future successes. She believes that failure should be seen as an opportunity or a lesson, and a chance to build your character — and I live by that belief.

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