We’ve created a cumbersome process where we spend ~$1 trillion per year on administrative costs. Some of that is in value-creating activities (like population health management) but much of our administrative cost is spent on providers simply trying to get paid. The efficiencies that come from our providers managing the administrative complexity of care is a contributing factor for why the U.S. ranks last in healthcare among the top 11 developed nations (including ranked specifically last in efficiency). Everyday tasks like checking insurance eligibility or following up on why a claim was denied are robotic processes that bog down healthcare systems, drain revenue and take valuable resources away from higher-value tasks. It’s a problem borne from the digital era, but one that we believe can also be solved through similar innovations.
As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Sean Lane, CEO of Olive. Olive is a healthcare-specific artificial intelligence and process automation company that automates the most burdensome and error-prone tasks in healthcare. Sean is a technology entrepreneur with a deep background in national security and healthcare. Prior to starting his first company, Sean served as an intelligence officer at the National Security Agency and completed five tours of duty, and has since raised over $40M in venture capital as a leading expert in applying Al to healthcare.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thanks for having me. The road I took to get here was certainly unique — I started my career in the U.S. intelligence community, holding several leadership positions in the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency. I served five combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and afterwards, I returned to my roots in Ohio, where I saw my hometown grappling with the opioid epidemic. That inspired me to think about how the Internet of Healthcare could be transformational and it was that vision that led me to start Olive.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There have been so many interesting stories, it’s hard to pick one. I think the challenges that come with trying to build an important company to change one of the biggest industries in the world all start and end with the people. The most interesting stories I can think of all tie back to the people here at Olive and the people we interact with in the industry. I love, in particular, the story of how Olive came to life. One of our engineers, Larry Haines, built a bot to automate the process of pulling data from an EMR to enable one of our earlier products. We built a bot using RPA to log in to an EMR click through the user interface and quickly bring back patient data to fill into a software tool that we built to make registration easier. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I first saw that bot working. That feeling stuck with me and ultimately led to the creation of Olive. If it wasn’t for Larry’s creativity and trying something new to solve an age-old problem and basically hacking his way to success, I’m not sure Olive would exist.
Can you tell our readers a bit about why you’re an authority in the healthcare field?
We work with 50 organizations, encompassing more than 350 hospitals, across the United States. Because of that, we have a really up-close-and-personal perspective of the real challenges they face and how innovative technologies can be used to make healthcare more efficient.
What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
For me, it’s how Olive came to be. Olive originally came into the world as part of CrossChx. In a span of less than a decade, we’ve brainstormed more than 28 products — a little bit like Goldilocks, except we wanted to find the best way to make the healthcare system more efficient. We knew we wanted to change how hospitals fundamentally operate, in a big way, and we wanted to prove that a successful tech startup could thrive right here in Columbus. We saw a dire need in the healthcare field to leverage technology to solve some really big problems around data, data movement and very arcane ways of processing information. From that need, Olive was born.
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 U.S. healthcare system has a serious problem. One out of every three dollars spent in the industry today is spent on administrative costs. Artificial intelligence can play an immediate role in helping alleviate this issue. It’s why we created Olive, a digital employee that helps solve rising administrative costs in healthcare while allowing employees to focus on more human-like initiatives. She automates healthcare’s most robotic processes, so healthcare employees don’t have to — we want them focused on what matters most instead, the patient experience.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now, we’re in the process of finding new ways for Olive to redirect $1 trillion in value for the healthcare industry. Our goal is to get Olive working in as many healthcare systems as possible, to take the “robot out of the human” and return those talents to more creative, value-yielding tasks.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
I have a bit of a contrarian view here. I think all the experiences we’ve had over the years, including the good ones and the excruciatingly tough ones, played a key role in making Olive what it is today. I couldn’t imagine changing that course. When I was a kid, I used to daydream about going back in time and changing things. Now, that same daydream is actually my worst nightmare. If I wouldn’t have made mistakes and experienced all the hard things we may have ended up in a totally different current reality. I may not have been inexperienced enough to challenge the status quo or naive enough to tackle seemingly insurmountable problems. If I would have listened to advice from future Sean, I’d probably be sitting somewhere comfortably on a beach somewhere and not sitting where I am today — trying to make the impossible possible.
Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited 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?
We’ve created a cumbersome process where we spend ~$1 trillion per year on administrative costs. Some of that is in value-creating activities (like population health management) but much of our administrative cost is spent on providers simply trying to get paid.
The efficiencies that come from our providers managing the administrative complexity of care is a contributing factor for why the U.S. ranks last in healthcare among the top 11 developed nations (including ranked specifically last in efficiency). Everyday tasks like checking insurance eligibility or following up on why a claim was denied are robotic processes that bog down healthcare systems, drain revenue and take valuable resources away from higher-value tasks.
It’s a problem borne from the digital era, but one that we believe can also be solved through similar innovations.
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.
Honestly, the industry is so fraught with inefficiencies, it’s hard to choose just five. But here are the areas I think are most desperately in need of change in the US healthcare system:
- Increased interoperability
- Lowered cost of care
- Increased quality of care
- Reduced employee burnout and staff turnover
- The introduction of more disruptive technologies
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?
- In terms of interoperability, we’ve created data silos in the pursuit of digitizing information. There are many approaches to information exchange (regulatory, technological, process, etc.) and not one alone will solve it. However, I believe that operational AI can help effectively connect patient data and help organizations move it more effectively than ever before. It’s an exceptionally pragmatic approach. Don’t require data to be co-located, don’t require systems to integrate, but rather leverage operational AI to move the data when and where it’s needed.
- Lowering the cost of healthcare is such a multi-faceted problem to solve. It really isn’t about one approach — again, the industry needs meaningful change from all angles. It requires a tsunami of innovation. I think AI and the digitization of healthcare are already significantly reducing the burden of process inefficiencies, but it’ll take mass adoption and continued innovation to really move the needle. Starting the journey is the first step. We encourage our customers to think critically about where to first deploy artificial intelligence. Quick wins are important to create a compelling case for change and we have seen, repeatedly, that “low-hanging fruit” is the easiest way to do so.
- We live in a country where we have access to the best minds — clinical, process and technological. In many ways, I believe we need to let innovation happen in a more organic fashion where care is delivered.
- In terms of reducing staff turnover and eliminating burnout, I think AI is truly the answer. For many healthcare employees, we have made them “routers of data.” That’s not a very rewarding activity and we are seeing unprecedented burnout and turnover. That’s why we created Olive. We believe that freeing up our valuable talent to do meaningful and rewarding work will pay dividends in engagement, retention and then ultimately return on our human capital.
- I think favorable reimbursement policies will help digital health applications continue to expand care delivery models beyond traditional means, helping individuals better manage their own health and creating the right tools, and environment, to encourage disruptive introductions.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
That’s a difficult one! I’ve always been drawn to progressive thinking, so I tend to consume lots of content around new technology and forward-thinking perspectives. Some of my favorites right now are High Growth Handbook by Elad Gill, a great tactical roadmap to how to grow a company. There are lots of playbooks out there to how to start a company and deal with the early stages of business building and lot on how to be an executive of a big company but until this book there was nothing to help you navigate the treacherous waters of the growth stage of a business (going from 10–100M for example). 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell is a classic that has been a staple to leadership development for many years. It’s a staple for a reason. It really focuses on people and influence and that despite all the different methodologies surrounding leadership, those two things and still and always will be the most important. Last but not least is Powerful by Patty McCord. Patty is a bit of a contrarian thinking when it comes to “HR” and her perspective is very refreshing. Re-thinking how you think about HR is a necessity in most companies. I’d urge you to pick this one up if you work at a company that has people in it.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Of course! It’s hard to not join the conversation around emerging technologies and trends, so I’m pretty active on Twitter and LinkedIn these days — @unleashCbus https://www.linkedin.com/in/theseanlane/
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!