Empower others — you are more likely to be successful when those around you can be successful. We work in teams for a reason: You can’t do it all, nor do you need to do it all. There are plenty of projects and opportunities for us all to prove ourselves and shine. The more practiced you are at sharing opportunities or stepping back to allow others to shine, the more effective and successful you can be.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Pistek.
Peter Pistek is the Vice President of Product Management at AristaMD, a leading telehealth company. He has over 20 years of experience in developing innovative, industry-leading platforms across a variety of verticals, including education, finance, cloud storage, travel, and retail.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The explosive growth of the internet in the mid-90’s came at the right time for me. I’d just completed my undergraduate work and was doing desktop publishing at Kinko’s but feeling constrained by the printed realm. A co-worker told me about HTML and it immediately drew me in. It was an opportunity to work with technology and be creative in a way that was flexible and constantly changing.
As I moved my career into the digital arena, I discovered product management, and everything started to fall into place. The role and responsibilities let me work with exciting technologies, dig deep into problems, understand why and how of things, and to create innovative solutions that can be accessible instantly, anytime, anywhere.
Over the span of my career since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work across a number of different industries from consumer offerings like Disney Online, to business-centered cloud storage start-ups competing against Amazon. In all those experiences I’ve found compelling challenges that required learning about new industries and thinking outside the box to develop new products.
Throughout that, I’ve found the greatest satisfaction came from having a positive impact on people’s lives. It’s that aspect that brought me to digital healthcare where I see the opportunity to combine my interest in leveraging technology with my desire to help address two of the most stress-inducing parts of life: health and finance.
At AristaMD I’m working with a talented, passionate group of technology and healthcare professionals that strive to simplify access to specialized medical information as a way to make a genuine improvement in how healthcare is delivered.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
They say necessity is the mother of invention and I have found that to be true in the industries and start-ups I have worked at. Some of the best companies began as ideas to solve a problem one of the founders was facing.
When our kids were little, I found myself constantly exchanging clothes and toys with other parents. Kids grow so fast that it felt like we would be buying new outfits every other month and they would tire of toys just as quickly. It was both costly and felt wasteful.
One of my friends, who was also a parent, worked in tech with me and we thought that there must be an easier way to exchange used clothing, toys, and gear. What started as a discussion and prototyping soon became a full-blown app that allowed you to connect with your Facebook friends and groups, posting and viewing items that people no longer needed. Members could also advertise for items they were looking for. People loved the concept and we quickly had over 30,000 users. It was a challenge though, to sustain consistent user engagement numbers. After about two years, we ended up closing it down. Though a disappointing end, it was a great lesson in the importance of timing, the nuances of how customers value your product, the difficulty in driving lasting changes in behavior, and the challenge of creating a business model around notions of community.
Can you tell us about any technological breakthroughs that your company is working on?
At AristaMD, we’re building a platform that brings specialty care information directly to primary care providers (PCPs) within 24 hours, so they are empowered to confidently develop treatment plans for their patients for a broad spectrum of health issues. The core of what we’ve built is driven by some astounding numbers: more than 50% of specialist visits and 70% of emergency room visits are unnecessary. These metrics are reflected in what are often months-long wait times for patients referred to specialists. With proper treatment plans, many of those patient health issues could be handled in a primary care setting. An adoption of an eConsult first process would help power an enormous breakthrough in a healthcare system plagued by a specialist shortage, a huge increase in patient referrals, and access issues for vulnerable populations.
Our goal is to continue to be the leader in ease-of-use, making our service available as a standalone web-based solution or as an integrated part of the electronic health record (EHR) system. We’ve already delivered a solution that’s available in the app marketplace for Epic — one of the leading EHR vendors — and we’re actively developing additional integrations to make for a more seamless user experience. We’re already seeing the results with eConsults coming through AristaMD’s platform helping replace up to 75% of patient specialist visits.
How do you think this could change the world?
Making specialized health information easily accessible and readily available has the potential to drastically improve healthcare for everyone. We can significantly increase healthcare accessibility, improving the lives of millions of people. By enhancing primary care provider capabilities, a significant number of costly and unnecessary specialist visits can be avoided, and we can truly transform the delivery of healthcare with “right time, right place, right provider” care. It has the potential to completely change backlogged healthcare systems and help improve access for all patients, and most notably our vulnerable populations who need it most. We’re talking about the potential for improved population health outcomes and healthcare efficiency for all.
Especially now when issues with access to care and long wait times have been compounded by the pandemic, it’s never been more important to integrate telehealth solutions, such as eConsults, as a cornerstone to how our country provides healthcare now and in the future.
Can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Healthcare technology continues to have challenges relating to three important issues: privacy, accessibility, and bias.
Privacy is arguably the issue that gets the most attention. We have rules, regulations, and certifications that govern how and when personal health data needs to be secured and shared, but the locus of control tends to be out of the direct hands of patients. They have no way to trace where their data is used or where it has gone. That said, simply finding an effective path for information to more freely flow between systems will benefit patients, reduce errors, and drive down costs by reducing basic data clean-up work that most health clinics and systems must currently solve independently.
Accessibility to technology is an ongoing issue that we, as a society and as businesses, are continuing to make progress on. Even so, basic challenges such as access to broadband still hampers delivery of some of the latest, most advanced healthcare options. This has become clearer as the pandemic has driven the wider use of telehealth. Those with more limited means and access to technology are most impacted by controls implemented at clinics to limit the spread of the COVID-19.
Though gaining in visibility, bias is one of the less obvious challenges in the healthcare technology space. How we handle and incorporate patient details such as skin color, gender, language, social norms, and more must be accounted for in the solutions we deliver. Things like training AI to understand and account for different skin colors, or modulating recommendations based on gender identification. These are challenges that need to be considered so we can make sure providers are properly equipped to make appropriate treatment decisions.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
Commitment to change.
The beauty of AristaMD’s technology solution is that using it is so flexible. It can be accessed through a simple web interface or through deeper integrations with electronic patient care systems, but the common component is always the change required in clinical processes.
There are many challenges in healthcare and changing the way it’s delivered along with the tools that are used to manage that care is critical. As with many things, the “last mile” is the challenge and we’re actively working on reducing the effort involved with using it as well as making it even more valuable to users.
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 have been countless people that I’ve worked with over the years that have guided me with sage advice, helped me learn and hone my skills, and trusted me to take on greater projects. I am grateful to all of them and appreciate the impact that they’ve had and continue to have, though none more so than my parents.
My parents were political refugees from former Czechoslovakia. They came here to escape the totalitarian communist regime, knowing they would probably never be able to go back and see friends and family, or even their childhood homes. It was a challenge for them in the beginning- they spoke no English, did not know anyone, and the culture was very different.
They were always very supportive of my choices, even when they did not fully understand them. For instance, they had expected me to study engineering or the hard sciences and go into that field. After taking a course in college that explored the ways in which mass media impacts communication, I realized I really wanted to focus on communication media, with a thought of going into advertising. Even though my parents did not understand my choice of major, they supported me and gave me the freedom to try it out.
I have always been grateful to them for the sacrifices they made so that their children could have more opportunities.
How could you use your success to bring good to the world?
Improving the health, wellbeing, and lives of thousands would be a very fulfilling result.
From a more individual perspective, having the opportunity and ability to help people be successful and fulfilled on a professional level is a real joy for me.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
Distilling what I’ve learned down to a handful of points is a real challenge. Like when baking a cake, there are a few fundamental ingredients but it’s those “secret spices” and icing that help things come together and are critical to the final result:
1.) Learn to tell good stories — Ideas, solutions, even problems, all benefit when communicated in a compelling way. Simply stating something doesn’t generally result in people recognizing the importance that you give to it. And even when it does, the reason that they believe it’s important may be entirely different from your perspective. Telling a story means that there’s a beginning, middle, and end that engages people, helps them understand your perspective, and aligns expectations.
2.) Practice being unconstrained — It’s very easy to slip into constraining ideas or plans based on patterns of past activity, whether our own or someone else’s. There are numerous times that I know I’ve done this in my own career. For example, thinking that a business is only about building a specific product or delivering a service in a particular way. These types of constraints can be appropriate at times, but they also can trick us into settling on incremental changes, missing things that could be far more meaningful and impactful. We’ve been taught from early on to follow rules and guidelines, so the behavior comes very naturally to us which is why I see this as something that needs to be practiced so that we get better at it over time. Consider Boundaries much like a child might: they are something to be explored and can change depending on the time and situation.
3.) Change is challenging — Changing behavior is difficult. Much like guidelines or rules, people are creatures of habit and we get comfortable in our routines. Your friend can’t open the door to your apartment because they don’t know about that special handle twist you need to do — but you’re used to it. Always stay to the left in that turn lane so you don’t hit that pothole. Though we could solve these by contacting a locksmith or submitting a request to the city, we get used to them and breaking out of our routine isn’t usually our top priority. Tie this into work and these patterns become harder to impact. Change is risk and cost for individuals and perhaps even more so for organizations. The exact outcomes aren’t always known, and it means people have to modify what they’re used to doing. It’s invaluable to recognize this early and get better at helping make change easier for yourself and for others.
Example: Online classrooms for k-12 — We had an initiative to drive adoption that involved compensation for the teacher signing up, for the school when they signed up a certain percentage of their classrooms, and for the salesperson. While we were very successful in getting the sign-ups, usage never materialized. It became clear that while we were able to get people to sign-up, it was entirely due to the incentives we’d put in place. In this case, teachers had an existing way to interact with their students and it was risky to change that, so they didn’t have any desire to continue forward. It was a real wake-up call for me to see that massive amounts of users didn’t immediately translate to actual business value.
4.) Get out of your comfort zone — Push yourself to explore issues, processes, or activities that you avoid. Even if you don’t change anything, understanding different angles is so important in getting a more complete picture. Sometimes you may decide that you want to expand your skills or change your approach to handle things differently. It can help you appreciate the challenges that others may face or give you new insights into decisions.
Example: Disney’s project to transform the Walt Disney World site to be fully dynamic. This was still a relatively new concept in the mid-90’s. It was a significant undertaking and neither I nor the development team had done anything like it. We dove in and collaborated, going well outside our comfort zones, learning about database structures and user experiences so we could do walk-throughs of the user experiences and interface logic, identify what else we needed in the database, iterate the designs, and repeat. We successfully completed the project by crossing out of our normal operating processes and discovered that we had better ways to address similar challenges from that point forward.
5.) Empower others — you are more likely to be successful when those around you can be successful. We work in teams for a reason: You can’t do it all, nor do you need to do it all. There are plenty of projects and opportunities for us all to prove ourselves and shine. The more practiced you are at sharing opportunities or stepping back to allow others to shine, the more effective and successful you can be.
While not a definitive list, these are a few key things that I’ve picked up along the way.
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.
Do one good thing that directly helps someone else every day. That’s it. From personal experience, it’s not as easy as it sounds. It often requires that moment of consideration of what someone else is dealing with or going through and understanding what might be helpful to them. This doesn’t need to be a grand action or profoundly life altering thing for that person, just that it helps them have a better day.
The beauty of this is that it’s something that can be done on an individual level and customized to fit each person’s own style — you don’t have to get external resources to do this. You can find the level of interaction that’s right for you and fits your day-to-day. Whether it’s directly acknowledging someone’s hard work and effort, leaving a nice tip, giving directions to someone that appears lost, or just connecting with people in brief conversations. These types of interactions can help us remember the connection we have to those around us and, hopefully, help spread a bit of mindfulness and consideration that we all can benefit from.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“There is probably no pleasure equal to the pleasure of climbing a dangerous Alp; but it is a pleasure which is confined strictly to people who can find pleasure in it.” ― Mark Twain
I remember reading this quote in high school as part of an analysis of American writers. I found it funny, but it also struck a chord and stuck with me. It has been a consistent reminder that what’s important, valuable, or engaging varies from person to person. You can group people together based on some facets — demographics, social circles, financial standing — however their individual decisions will ultimately be made based on what motivates them. We have to make assumptions to operate in our daily lives but as I’ve approached challenges, I remind myself that each person I’m working with or that might be using products I’ve had a hand in, will be a collection of unique information points, so outcomes will vary, and we need to be flexible enough to handle those differences.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
Rather than pitching a specific idea, I would love to highlight the fact that here are many different paths to improving people’s lives. There’s not only physical healthcare but also mental health, sense of community, personal health & wellness, and more.
Invest in solutions that can work in tandem to help solve some of the most complex issues we face. Find and fund entrepreneurs that are willing to dream big but understand that the path to success requires the ability to regroup, adjust, and try again.
The entrepreneurial spirit is one that is driven by solving problems. While the details and complexity of the problems may vary, the fundamental thought is there: this can be better!