As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Paula Muto. Dr. Muto is a practicing general & vascular surgeon from Boston and founder/CEO of UBERDOC, a disruptive digital healthcare platform. She is from an entire family of surgeons, an outspoken patient advocate, and passionate about women’s health issues. She is married to a surgeon, mother of two, and an avid squash player.
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 have always been an independent surgeon, railing against a system that prevented us from taking good care of the patient. I decided I could keep writing angry letters to the WSJ, or I could put my money where my mouth was, and try to fix it. So, with both children in college, I turned my empty nest into a tech start-up. I recruited fellow physicians, nurses, and experts in insurance and IT, all on the front lines of care, and we developed the first (user friendly) direct pay platform.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
As a surgeon, I am used to making decisions quickly, even when the choices aren’t great. Turned out the Agile method of software development fit well into my skill set, but no one appreciated it until we launched ahead of schedule and below budget, earning me the honor of being called the “best entrepreneur” by my tech team. No one, including myself, ever imagined it would be such a perfect match.
Can you tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the healthcare field?
I am a practicing surgeon for over 20 years. I am the daughter of a surgeon, the wife of a surgeon and a sister to a surgeon — all practicing healthcare for a collective century. I run a successful surgical practice, and am founder and CEO of a progressive digital health platform. In the past 3 years, I have had meaningful discussions with employers, employee benefit brokers, government officials, hospital executives and have met with doctors across all specialties, states, and practice types. In short, I have tremendous perspective and experience, and am trusted as an authority on healthcare and disruptive technologies.
What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We’re women — we break the mold. I already had to break the mold by being a female surgeon, in private practice AND with two children. I was told it wasn’t possible, but with the right people, it can be possible. Same with UBERDOC.
Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?
The biggest challenges in healthcare are access and cost, and they affect both the doctor and patient. Current solutions have been top-down, system based. However, the future of medicine is about individualized care and targeted treatments that do not require a complex delivery system to be successful. The quality and outcomes are, and will always be, dependent on the experience of the physician and their access to resources. UBERDOC allows any patient, regardless of their type of insurance, equal access to the best specialist for their needs. UBERDOC is disruptive because we are taking care of the patient first, and setting the price well below commercial insurance in the process. We’re creating a relationship between the doctor and patient, without a middle-man, that’s what makes us different.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As UBERDOC grows, we are getting all sorts of exciting suggestions from patients and doctors. In a sense we are creating a whole new healthcare driven by the only stakeholders that matter.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
- Time. As a surgeon I expect results immediately, in business, it takes more time. I had to learn to be more patient, and not expect meetings at 7 am.
- Team. Building a team is not immediate. Finding the right fit is important, but you have to go through a few bad fits to find the right people.
- Advisors. You’re never beyond good advice. Your advisors change, along with your company, and although the founding advisors are there for you, you have to be open to new perspectives.
- Money. You always underestimate what you need.
- Female Founder. No one told me when I started that I had a 2% chance of getting funded. It hasn’t stopped us yet though.
Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this studycited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
- Overpriced — insurance premiums are too high, and far exceed the actual cost of care. This creates a process of misaligned motives where profit margins take priority over outcomes.
- Lack of transparency — prevents patients knowing the truth about the cost of care and enables the system to be overpriced.
- Lack of direct accountability/too many intermediaries — so many intermediaries from employers, to insurance companies to the government, who is responsible? Eliminating fee for service also removes individual accountability, and outcomes suffer accordingly.
- The business of medicine reaping huge profits. The bureaucracy has created a cottage industry that diverts resources away from direct patient care — There has been an explosion in growth, a 3,000% increase in healthcare administration, but a 0% increase in doctors and nurses. How many admins does it take to take out an appendix? The answer is none.
- Lack of distinction between healthcare and health coverage — the focus of all policy has been on coverage, who is paying and how much, rather than who is in charge of delivering the care. Physicians and nurses are no longer the ones who decide, and outcomes reflect that. It’s time we listened to the pilots when they say it’s dangerous to fly.
You are a “healthcare insider”. If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
- Suspend all incentives and penalties, do not bonus us for doing our job. This will eliminate the costly bureaucracy on both sides, and save billions instantly.
- Transparency in pricing. Why is medicine the only business where when you pay cash you pay triple? Make it fair and affordable and the prices will be competitive.
- Require the federal government to only pay providers, not third parties, including pharma, distributors, and insurance companies.
- Single payment system. Require all insurers, and the government, to use the same interface and require all data be anonymized, then there is no fear of hacking and the personal medical record can be shared seamlessly.
- Allow everyone to buy Medicare off their tax return and expand their health savings accounts.
Thank you! It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities and leaders do to help?
Change can happen quicker than you think and it starts by deciding who should be in charge of the healthcare dollar. Technology and access to information has given patients a better sense of their own health needs, and they should have more autonomy and privacy when choosing what is best for them and their family. To achieve this, community leaders and employers need to recognize that they are not responsible for another individual’s healthcare decisions, a person’s right to choose goes way beyond just a woman’s womb. The government has not and probably cannot be the best steward of the healthcare dollar because of special interests and political agendas. A one size fits all doesn’t mesh well with the future of biotechnology. Healthcare is apolitical, and should not be held hostage by competing economic priorities. What doctors and patients can do is reestablish the connection, in a transparent, fee-for-service model, where there will be direct accountability for services provided. 90% of healthcare is delivered at a local and personal level and our outcomes will improve when we facilitate that connection.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
Physicians like Atul Gwande, who have written extensively on the healthcare system, are inspirational. I enjoy listening and watching podcasts and documentaries about navigating the start-up world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn — PaulaMutoMD
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!