It’s not personalized. It doesn’t differentiate between simple and more complex cases. Everyone is basically treated the same which puts a tremendous burden on the entire system, as it shouldn’t be a “one-size fits all” approach.
Asa part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Mike Kisch, CEO and co-founder of Beddr — creator of the first FDA-registered sleep wearable. Mike likes to make the complex simple, engaging, and accessible to more people, and he applies this philosophy to healthcare, too. Previously, Mike was the founding CEO of a wearable hearing enhancement company that developed the first connected hearing device. And his enthusiasm isn’t just relegated to healthcare — Mike is also a passionate surfer and skier.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started my career in consumer packaged goods working for companies like Kraft Foods and Anheuser-Busch. I then transitioned to the technology industry working at Cisco Systems on a range of smart, connected products like video cameras, conferencing systems. Most of the products I worked on at Cisco were focused on making complex experiences simple and accessible to more people. Unfortunately, few of them made much of an impact on how people live their lives. I shifted my focus to healthcare about eight years ago and have been the CEO of two different digital health companies, one in hearing health and the current company focused on sleep health. Hearing loss and sleep disorders are both conditions that are significantly underdiagnosed and can dramatically lower the quality of a person’s life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Many people start companies to solve a problem that is personal to them. While I have had sleep issues in my life, I’m fortunate that they haven’t been persistent or pervasive, but I make sure to prioritize sleep. The sleep issues I have had have been severe enough that I gained a newfound understanding of how important high quality sleep is to my life and how it is an underlying component to living a healthy life. What makes that interesting — or perhaps ironic is a better word — is that after starting both of my last two companies, one focused on hearing health and the other focused on sleep health, a close member of my family was diagnosed with hearing loss and another with a sleep disorder. This made the mission for both companies much more personal, and it has also given me a much greater appreciation of the journey that our customers are on and where the process breaks down.
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?
One of the biggest mistakes we made when we started the company was trying to be too different in too many ways. In our early discussions with people within the sleep industry, we really struggled to get them to understand what we wanted to do and why. The humorous part was the interaction between the two groups had the best of intentions, but lacked a shared vocabulary and context. The result was that we would spend hours going back and forth until we started to get clearer on how we were similar, and be able to justify how and why we were looking to be different. From a distance it might have looked as though we were in the middle of a modern day Abbott & Costello “Who’s On First” routine.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of dismissing the way things are in the pursuit of making it better. The lesson I learned and one that I encourage anyone that is entering the healthcare market is to be very clear about where you need to be different and where you need to be the same.
For Beddr, the user experience, economics and outcomes are all dramatic improvements over the existing system, but the data that we gather, it’s accuracy and the role of the physician are mostly the same as in the current sleep medicine system.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our company has an intense focus on solving consumers’ sleep problems in the most affordable, convenient and impactful way possible. This may seem like a bit of an obvious statement, but the reality is that we see almost no other companies or organizations focused on this.
We see a number of consumer wearable companies that are adding sleep tracking features to their products to increase utility and engagement, but ultimately deliver very little insight and value to users. Within larger health systems, clinics and physicians while well-intentioned, are not 100% focused on driving improved outcomes for the broader population of people with chronic sleep issues. There is a rigidity in how they define success that limit the care options available to consumers, as it can be easy to become distracted by the vagaries of reimbursement and the pure science of sleep that they lose focus on the patient, their problems and helping them get better.
I believe our success as a business will be driven by our ability to stay focused on delivering better outcomes at lower prices to more people. Our entire product architecture and business model is being built to support those two goals.
What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be clear on where you need to be different and deliver greater value, and where you need to be the same to accelerate understanding and adoption. These two principles should work in tandem.
- Design for the individual with the problem — make sure your product experience helps them in their journey. Then, determine how best to meet the needs of the expert, employer or health system.
- Engage with clinicians and regulatory agencies — don’t avoid them. It may extend your timeline, but you will be better positioned for the long-term.
Ok, thank you for that. 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?
- It’s not patient centric. The system has evolved driven not by the needs of those who are sick, but by the needs and financial motivations of clinical experts, insurance companies and health systems.
- The system is focused on treating disease versus preventing it. Preventable chronic disease drives most of the cost in healthcare, but the system is not geared to incentivize and reward prevention.
- It’s not personalized. It doesn’t differentiate between simple and more complex cases. Everyone is basically treated the same which puts a tremendous burden on the entire system, as it shouldn’t be a “one-size fits all” approach.
- The incentives are all wrong. The current system rewards the wrong behaviors versus the right outcomes. It reimburses for treatment but not for prevention.
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.
- Reward quantifiable outcomes.
- Prioritize reimbursement for prevention versus treatment.
- Treat patients as human beings that need ongoing support to make positive changes. Don’t treat them as a number/robot.
- Minimize the power and influence of associations that have a primary motivation of maintaining the economic health of the status quo.
Ok, its very nice to suggest changes, but what concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest these changes? What can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to help?
- Individuals — have more of a hand designing products to glean thoughtful perspective to changing the system. Every voice counts and being proactive about how to modify these systems starts with the individual.
- Corporation — become an active participant in discussions on prevention and how to incentivize businesses to take a human approach to designing better systems and processes.
- Communities — build communities around these issues and how we can become ambassadors for change. Grassroots are powerful in igniting change and communities have the leverage to channel their voices into greater purpose.
- Leaders — listen to advocates and patients — show the greater healthcare system a better way. Measure your successes and create a template for others to follow which will affect greater change.
Right now we have two parallel tracks mental/behavioral health and general health. What are your thoughts about this status quo? What would you suggest to improve this?
Our focus on sleep health puts us right in the middle of the general healthcare system and mental health system. For example, sleep disorders like sleep apnea that are caused by physiological issues are typically handled by pulmonologists with a specialty in sleep medicine while insomnia is typically handled by mental health professionals. But what happens when a person has both and they equally contribute to their sleep issues or one is the cause of the other? It’s important to recognize how these issues interplay and have a significant impact on our overall health. Sleep issues aren’t caused by one primary factor, and with treating these disorders, it’s critical to evaluate your overall health and well-being.
How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?
A person or an organization that delivers the best health outcomes for the lowest possible cost to the most people.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The goal is not to be perfect by the end. The goal is to be better today.”
Building company or a first generation product is all about learning what works, what doesn’t work and continually moving forward and making improvements. You will never achieve perfection, but you can focus your company, your team and yourself on improving everyday.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At Beddr we have an ambitious vision to help people understand and solve their chronic sleep issues.
We are in the midst of building out the first end-to-end digital service that helps people understand the causes of their sleep issues, provides easy access to experts for coaching and diagnosis and then matches people to the therapy program most likely to deliver the best outcome. This entire system is made possible by the integration of human sleep expertise and artificial intelligence into a single, comprehensive solution that can help people in less than a week for thousands of dollars less.
Eventually we believe we will even be able to predict whether or not a person will have a good night sleep hours before they go to bed.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
I love the book David vs. Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. As a start-up, it reminds you of the unique advantages of being smaller,more nimble and less tied to the status quo.
Outcomes Rocket w/Saul Marquez
Christina Farr at CNBC
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The single best thing you can do to improve your mental and physical health is to increase the quality of your sleep. My hope is that we can inspire people to understand the importance of sleep and make it easy enough to take action.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Twitter — @surfski
LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikekisch/