As nations become more interconnected, so does the health and wellbeing of the world’s population. We can no longer just look at population health locally or nationally. Instead, we must think of population health as a global partnership that is implemented on the local level. So, how will the best doctors in the world be empowered to help individuals well beyond their borders?
At Virtudent, we believe this occurs through a combination of (1) mid-level providers, (2) new medical devices, and (3) telehealth technologies. We’ve decided to start with dentistry, a highly tactile and in-person healthcare vertical that 40 percent of the US population can’t access and which costs more to treat than all cancer treatments combined. We equip registered dental hygienists with new devices that allow them to provide high-quality preventative care to patients in the field. We use telehealth technologies to connect the hygienists with world-class dentists for supervision, evaluation and diagnosis. Then we work to refer patients to local dentists who can address any recommended follow-up care.
Convenience is one of the primary reasons people skip their recommended dental visits. Missing preventative dental care can lead to tooth decay and loss, gum disease, and a number of serious health concerns including heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease. By partnering with companies like Microsoft, Wayfair, EF Education First and many others, we are making it easy for busy employees to finally make it to the dentist. We take a portion of those profits to make care accessible to 5,000 children for free, many of whom have never been to the dentist in their lives.
In the United States, 164 million work hours are lost due to unplanned dental visits and 45 percent of those with dental insurance don’t use their preventative care benefits. We are here to change this. Through our model, we’ve reduced the cost of basic dental care by one-third. We’ve brought the most specialized dentists in the country, coupled with high-quality care, to the most underserved and remote populations—improving the quality of life of thousands of patients.
I believe the combination of new medical devices and telehealth technologies will help us bring care to the most remote locations around the globe. This will allow people to stay healthy wherever they live, equalizing healthcare disparities. And if this can be done in dentistry, it can also be done in a number of other healthcare specialties.
Q&A with Hitesh Tolani
What brought you to this career?
My parents emigrated to the United States when I was a one-year-old. My father, an entrepreneur on a business visa, ran a chain of clothing stores. But he passed away when I was 13 years old and my mom and I became illegal aliens because his visa was our legal link. Pursuing a resolution led to a national immigration battle, resulting in a private relief bill in the US Congress introduced by Strom Thurmond. Thirty-five thousand Americans wrote their congressional representatives for me and my mom and the case was also fought in the US appellate court system.
Towards the end of this saga, I was fortunate to meet a man who served as a judge in the appellate court system and was favorable towards our case. I asked him, “Is there anything I can do to thank you?” He said, “You want to be a dentist? One day someone will come into your chair who will not be able to afford care. The day you treat that person for free, know that I and everyone who campaigned for you has been thanked!” Those words have echoed in my ears ever since. I will never meet all 35,000 people who wrote or worked behind the scenes to push through our bill. Therefore, treating just one patient pro bono doesn’t feel like enough, especially since there is no dearth of patients in the US healthcare system who are in need of care.
Was there a tipping point?
Not long after starting Virtudent, someone who was revered in the world of dentistry told me I was as crazy as Willy Wonka! “Your idea to use telemedicine for dentistry is pure imagination,” he told me. “If you see even one patient, I’ll send you a bottle of Dom Perignon!” He then laughed at me in a room full of people, many of whom were considered titans of dentistry. They all laughed along and I remember walking out of that room feeling quite deflated. But I thought, why not me? I can do this! Today, we treat thousands of patients at Virtudent and I have also gained a mentor—someone revered in the world of dentistry—who has made me the proud owner of a very expensive bottle of Dom. It sits in my office reminding me that good things come to those who hustle!
What have you learned?
1. The 80/20 rule. As a doctor, I am a perfectionist when it comes to treating my patients. However, as a business leader, it is sometimes important to launch products or ideas before achieving perfection.
2. Bite your tongue, whether or not you’re right, however asinine the other person is to you. You’ll never regret walking away.
3. Your team comes first! It’s not your team’s job to adapt to you, it’s your job to adapt to them. You are as strong as the team you surround yourself with. They will be the reason you succeed, but they won’t be the reason you fail.
4. Say thank you! Being grateful is a state of living. It’s not a moment in time that’s dismissed after two words. It’s the way you carry yourself, interact with people, and treat those who challenge you. Sincerely thanking people brings them joy and being grateful pays back in droves.
5. It never gets easy! Building a business is hard work. No matter how big you get or how much money you’ve raised, there will always be a challenge to solve. If you ever get comfortable, you should be worried.
Excerpted from The Art of Healthcare Innovation with permission from the author and publisher.
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