In this Careminds podcast episode, our conversation with Ran Shaul, Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder of K Health and Hydrogen Health, explores virtual healthcare and the influence of AI on patient experiences.
The discussion extends to data-driven decision-making, entrepreneurship within the healthcare sector, and Ran’s unique perspective on the central role product managers play in health tech.
How to Know When a Career Path Makes Sense
After a late start in his career post a five-year service in the Israeli Army, Ran pursued industrial engineering and computer science in Israel, driven by a passion for data science. Upon graduation, he used his skills to tackle complex problems using data, with a particular fascination for employing mathematics in business contexts.
“That’s really the theme of everything I’m passionate about. I don’t know why I’m attracted to the concept of using mathematics to solve business problems.”Ran Shaul – Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder of K Health and Hydrogen Health
This led him to start his first business after only a few years of experience in a company working with data warehouses in the early days, which involved managing large databases and local machines before the advent of the cloud. This step into entrepreneurship was motivated not just by a desire for creative freedom, but also by a conviction that data science was poised to become highly influential. This conviction proved true as Ran navigated the growing fields of data mining and natural language processing.
Ran started three companies in total, with the first one being in the health sector. The other two were either acquired or sold, and his focus eventually settled on a company he had founded 6.5 years prior. This company represented a matured perspective in entrepreneurship and offered the chance to tackle a significant problem.
Driven by personal experiences with healthcare and a desire to contribute to something mission-driven, Ran aimed to use data to empower people to make better decisions, particularly in the field of medicine. Six years prior, accurate online medical information was scant and he saw potential in creating an online system for medical advice that was as easily accessible as booking a flight or finding a restaurant.
When asked about the nature of his company, K Health, Ran explains that it’s an AI company, a virtual company, and a doctor’s clinic all in one. Traditional doctor visits often have negative expectations, including long wait times, short consultations, and unforeseen costs. K Health aims to alleviate these issues by offering a more flexible and comprehensive experience.
Patients can consult a doctor on their own terms, at any hour of the day. This flexibility caters to those with busy schedules who might only find time for a doctor’s appointment late in the evening. The wait time is minimal, and the consultation is more in-depth as patients can discuss their symptoms at length with an AI before meeting a physician. This enables the physician to understand the patient’s condition quickly and thoroughly.
The company offers multiple modes of consultation, including video and text-based conversations. Unlike traditional doctor visits, their service doesn’t necessarily end after a single consultation. Patients have the freedom to return to the app and continue discussing their condition or ask further questions about their treatment. This fosters a long-term relationship with the physician rather than a series of transactional interactions.
What Does It Take to Align Innovation and Market Perception?
In healthcare, you should adopt an approach that is conservative, avoiding the typical tech mindset of “move fast and break things”. This principle is even more important when navigating the intricacies of healthcare regulations, which often contain gray areas. Despite these challenges, it’s vital to always prioritize safety and adhere strictly to regulations.
On the question of balancing innovation with regulation, especially as patients share their information with an AI, Ran believes that their approach in summarizing a patient’s situation to provide efficient and personalized care is an innovative and useful feature. He indicates that users are in full control of their experiences, which makes this combination of virtual primary care and personalized AI a truly innovative healthcare solution.
For instance, while there are companies who have chosen to adopt a more aggressive approach by prescribing potentially addictive medications online, this might not always be the best course of action. Such decisions should be made with the patient’s health and safety in mind. Restrictions to service areas that guarantee high-quality and safe care should be seriously considered.
Now, the medical decision-making process primarily lies in the hands of qualified physicians. As an entrepreneur or a tech professional, one should respect and adhere to these decisions without any judgement or influence. The guiding principle in digital health should always be thinking about the long-term outcome for the patient rather than a fast-paced growth model.
While this approach might not conform to conventional business growth models, in the field of healthcare, patient outcomes should always take precedence. It’s important to steer clear of cases that might jeopardize patient safety or the reputation of digital healthcare. By considering these aspects carefully, one can successfully navigate the complexities of designing user-centric, innovative, and safe healthcare solutions.
What Are the Key Challenges in Creating Unreplicated Workflows?
“It’s fine to be an AI company or a virtual clinic individually, but integrating both presents a significant challenge”.Ran Shaul – Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder of K Health and Hydrogen Health
Envious glances might be cast towards AI companies that develop an algorithm and simply provide an API for use, or services that offer “doctor in a box” solutions via video call. However, without a connection between the two, real change can’t occur.
So how do you apply AI safely for the benefit of physicians and patients within a clinical care environment? It’s not just about building an AI system that’s accurate and continually learning, but also about making it understandable for patients and beneficial for physicians.
Often, questions arise about how such an accurate machine was built, one that knows everything about primary care conditions and can diagnose people. However, the main question isn’t just about how it was built, but also about how it’s explained to patients. How do patients understand what the results actually mean? How are these results handed over to physicians? And how is the experience continued such that when a patient has consulted with the AI, the physician has the ability to seamlessly take over and make the actual medical decision?
These considerations represent the major challenge. In the end, the service needs to be something people enjoy using and are satisfied with. It’s a blend of art and science, requiring a combination of different domains. A meeting at a company like this could involve five different domains in the same room: physicians, engineers, mathematicians, regulatory and operational experts, and product designers.
The second part of the challenge is how to build an accurate algorithm. This is where reinforcement learning comes in. Regardless of how simplistic the initial iteration might be, if the model is trained rapidly enough and consistently given feedback about its performance, it will learn and deliver the desired results over time. This concept of a machine constantly learning from humans, a continuous loop of diagnosis, feedback, and improvement, is at the core of the AI’s development and refinement.
These two aspects – multidisciplinary collaboration and constant machine learning – are instrumental in overcoming the challenges that come with blending AI and healthcare in an effective and meaningful way.
How to Define Product Success in Your Organization
“If you have people using the product and come back for more, that is when you know, you have a good product in the market.”Ran Shaul – Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder of K Health and Hydrogen Health
Reflecting on leadership style and how it has evolved over the years, there is a need to balance personal opinions and passion with the success of the company. In the early stages, when the company is small, you might be doing a little bit of everything. However, when the company grows – as it did during the COVID-19 pandemic from a 50-person company to a 300-person company – the need for vision and leadership becomes more pronounced.
Using techniques like providing hints rather than direct instructions and allowing people to discover things themselves can be very effective in larger settings. As the company grows, the leadership role becomes more about providing vision and inspiration rather than direct, hands-on guidance.
The establishment of a strong leadership layer is critical to the impact and success of the company. This strong leadership group, composed of leaders in different domains, has the ability to execute efficiently and effectively. Creating alignment with this group is key. It’s important to maintain the right to go into the details – to look at the code, the algorithms, the design – but to do it in a consultative way rather than authoritative, to avoid disrupting the work of others.
Maintaining a strong leadership team at the top, ensuring they have the capacity and willingness to execute, while occasionally diving into the lower levels to get your hands dirty, is vital. It’s a balance of leading by example and supporting those executing the work.
Tough Jobs, Tougher Candidates: The Ideal Profile for a Product Manager
“You need to have a belief, you need to have a vision. They need to be able to basically say no to the naysayers and say no.”Ran Shaul – Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder of K Health and Hydrogen Health
Ultimately, someone needs to connect the dots. There’s a necessity for someone to sit in a room, hear all the arguments from various sides, and then stitch it all together. This task is complicated because product managers may not have a background in medicine, nor might they fully understand all the regulatory aspects of their decisions. Despite this, they suddenly need to merge data science, the accuracy of algorithms, and the provision of high-quality clinical care. This makes the role of a product manager incredibly complex, given that they likely aren’t a data scientist nor a physician.
There are two dimensions that are important here: curiosity and the ability to make decisions. Surprisingly, many people prefer to stick to what they know. If they’ve worked in an e-commerce company, for instance, they might be comfortable with selling a new product using the same basic user funnel principles. However, the role here requires learning new domains, understanding the considerations of a physician, the considerations of an algorithm, and integrating those. This requires an eagerness to learn, to read and to understand beyond what one already knows.
The second dimension is decision-making and trade-offs. There’s rarely a perfect solution or an exact minimum viable product (MVP) in every aspect. So, you have to make decisions and execute them in such a way that you’re making small progress with each step. It’s not about one or two decisions; it’s about thousands of micro-decisions that build the big picture and result in a cohesive product. This combination of curiosity and trade-off handling makes for a very strong product manager or product owner.
How Often Do Product Managers Influence the Company’s Vision?
“A product manager needs to kind of ignore the noise and follow the data and, but that’s the task when you actually have a running product with your own data.”Ran Shaul – Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder of K Health and Hydrogen Health
It can be challenging to know which feature to implement, and sometimes you have to rely on A/B testing and observing what works. This requires a product manager to cut through the noise and follow the data. However, this mainly applies when you already have a running product with your own data.
The situation changes when you don’t have this data, for instance, when you want to start a completely new feature or even a new company. While surveys can provide some feedback, consumers may not be as good at giving feedback for a product that doesn’t exist yet. It’s difficult for consumers to envision using a product that doesn’t exist.
In these situations, the product manager needs to rely more on gut feeling, belief, and vision. They need to have the courage to say no to the naysayers and to believe that they are innovating something that people will want to use. This is where many interesting things happen and where new features are born.
For instance, with K, we didn’t initially know if people would be interested in a single screen showing them a differential diagnosis. Some suggested that people wouldn’t want this feature and that it would only confuse them. However, we went ahead, implemented that screen, and iterated around it. It turned out to be a moment of success, with users spending four minutes answering questions just to know what K thinks about their condition. This was despite initial feedback that people wouldn’t want to spend that much time providing information.
So, the toughest part of being a product manager is to break through the “nos”, follow your vision, and build something that you believe people will like. Then, you put it in their hands and see how they respond. Despite the rules and guidelines, sometimes you need to see past them, invent new things, and rethink the existing order.
In conclusion, if you have a good idea, just go ahead and do it. While gaining experience in big companies and working in different environments is valuable, there’s something uniquely rewarding about pursuing your own idea. Entrepreneurship and leadership aren’t for everyone, but if you enjoy the excitement and have something you want to pursue, go ahead and do it. Put it out there.
The key points are thus:
- Passion, persistence and the right skills can create meaningful entrepreneurship ventures, even in complex fields like healthcare.
- The integration of data science, AI and real-world medical expertise is key to providing a more accessible and efficient healthcare service.
- Regulatory compliance, safety, and patient-first approach are paramount in navigating the challenges of digital healthcare innovation.
- Success in health-tech depends on multidisciplinary collaboration and constant machine learning, aiming for a blend of accuracy, transparency, and patient-physician interaction.
- The role of a product manager in this setting is multifaceted, requiring curiosity, sound decision-making, and the ability to navigate both familiar and unfamiliar terrains.
The APP Solutions launched a podcast, CareMinds, where you can hear from respected experts in healthcare and Health Tech.
Who is a successful product manager in the healthcare domain? Which skills and qualities are crucial? How important is this role in moving a successful business to new achievements? Responsibilities and KPIs?
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