Chris is a partner in IBM’s Healthcare and Life Science practice where he sells and oversees delivery of technology solutions. His portfolio is very broad, making it a lot of fun to manage.
Over the past 12 months there has been a noticeable uptick in clients seeking cognitive solutions which puts IBM on the forefront of interesting tech.
HTA - Tell us about your personal/professional background?
I started as a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers dealing with supply chain technologies. It was a great start as it gave me the opportunity to work on global projects for companies cutting across multiple industries. Along the way my portion of PricewaterhouseCoopers was sold to IBM, and I found myself working more and more in the healthcare sector which I find very noble compared to some of my work in other industries.
Lately, I've become fascinated with platforms -- in a data sharing, innovation environments, etc. sense. I'm currently forming a coalition of companies to exchange information on a blockchain platform and we are working with the FDA, Merck, Wal-Mart, KPMG and some silent partners to prove this will work.
On the personal side, my wife and two sons and I moved to Austin over a decade ago. We support a number of local causes including Any Baby Can, where I formerly chaired the Board of Directors, Dress for Success and Diaper Bank where my wife has volunteered, and our sons’ scout troop.
HTA - First thing you do when you wake up?
I check Twitter to see the news, scan my IBM email and Gmail - in that order. Usually, before I get out of bed. I probably shouldn't, but it’s now become my ritual.
HTA - How do you unwind at the end of the day?
Normally, I save end of day for reading books. I try to read anything that is time sensitive, like newspapers, at the very beginning of my workday.
HTA - What surprises you about the healthcare industry?
We continue to think that it will be solved through regulations and decrees. But, whether it’s a tweet from the President calling out a company's pricing policies, or introducing new legislation, nothing has worked.
And I think that's because, few understand how it works. Some experts may understand the flow, the roles companies play, etc. but when I say few understand it I don't think many people, even experts, can easily predict a hospital charge or prescription cost because the system is intentionally opaque.
This will not be solved by adding regulations to make it transparent. We need to redesign and simplify it through reasonable, incremental steps. Technologists who pretend they can blow-it-up and fix it quickly, are as unreasonable as those who think we can regulate it into working.
HTA - What suggestions do you have to fix the healthcare industry?
Compassion | Transparency | Accountability
I think those are items most of us can accept. Let me elaborate on each;
Compassion is about access; people should have access to reasonable, affordable, care. Too often the conversation starts with "Is healthcare a right" or "Who pays". That's looking for an argument before we even know what we are trying to achieve. Let’s determine what access looks like, and if it’s even the right goal, and then proceed.
Transparency is about removing the surprises. This isn't just a comment about understanding bills or predicting charges; it’s broader and is meant to encompass patients having easy, portable, access to their health records, to provider information, understandable treatment plans/implications, etc. alongside the finance issues. I mean here we sit, with HIPAA long on the books, and we are putting out press releases as Apple HealthKit achieves milestones integrating with EMR systems. This should be table stakes, not a press release. We struggle to get, or outright lack transparency, on so many levels.
Accountability is primarily about owning outcomes. First and foremost a patient is responsible for owning their health decisions -- their weight, chronic conditions, etc. That's on them and it starts with them.
But it’s also about providers feeling accountable for patient outcomes, it’s about pharmaceutical companies being more proactive in monitoring adverse events, etc. Picking on providers and pharma for a moment, when we talk about outcomes both make a point that patients make choices which providers and pharma cannot influence. True, but doctors and pharmaceutical companies have decades of healthcare education, data on thousands of lives, and I'd argue they could do far more to help patients understand how their behaviors will manifest itself over the long term.
Instead, what I see are patients not owning their health data, and providers / payers / pharma not engaging the Fitbit / Apple Watch / etc. data that patients will gladly give away. It starts with the patients but everyone could do more -- everyone needs to be accountable for taking steps to improve health outcomes.
HTA - What suggestions do you have to fix the Pharma industry?
Well I would not say fix, but I do have something I’d like to see - a realistic conversation around pricing and risk.
Pharma, and their shareholders, have a legitimate desire to justify their pricing based on the high cost of developing new drugs but it ends up merging two very different concepts inside a single company -- a high risk business (“R&D”) and a steady annuity business (“patent period of a product”).
The easiest way for Pharma to keep their shareholders happy while straddling these bipolar bets is through high prices at the consumer’s expense. This is not good for society nor investors. Society suffers from high prices and investors end up with R&D risk and a steady annuity when they might only want one of those, not both.
Furthermore, even that is just barely working. McKinsey has a great slide highlighting for the top-15 Pharma companies how much revenue is from therapies they bought vs. created in their own labs. It turns out much of their innovation is “bought”.
I think many Pharma companies should redefine their competitive advantage to identifying promising therapies from startups, conducting late stage trials and then commercializing.
Innovative products would reach patients faster and at a better price while offering investors the ability to chase risk (small startups on edge of R&D) or steady dividends (Pharma).
HTA - What future can artificial intelligence have on healthcare?
I believe this will improve health outcomes by distributing knowledge. The internet distributed information but it still depended on the doctor. Unfortunately, some are better than others at using information to drive a diagnosis. AI will become a peer to the doctor providing knowledge.
I envision this becoming like “Intel Inside”. Doctors will differentiate based on their AI network affiliation. Going forward I’d be more likely to select a doctor who is using an AI platform trained, and updated, by the Mayo Clinic than a doctor whose primary credential is a diploma on the wall.
HTA - IBM's Mantra is delivering value while helping reduce costs. Can you share some different ways startups are using IBM's platforms?
I try to spend a day a week on the 16th floor of Capital Factory and it’s been great to discover how many startups are using our cognitive tools. Frankly Amazon, Microsoft and Google get a lot of attention, but we need to have a "cloud" infrastructure conversation independent from the "cognitive tools" conversation.
If you start to really assess the stack I think you will find more companies, startups included, are using IBM's solutions than you would guess. The story is even more impressive, if you then look at our Hyperledger blockchain initiatives.
Focusing on healthcare, our data sets, Explorys which has EMR information and Truven which has claims data, provide a lot of value IBM extends to healthcare startups.
HTA - How can Austin be the epicenter for Health Tech?
I think it comes down to Austin having a breakout company that creates a halo effect. And by halo, I mean reputation, financial, etc. When we have an entity generate a breakthrough exit it creates a lot of opportunity around it. To get there many things must happen, and everyone has their own top-3-5 things, but I believe generally have the right ingredients. It’s down to someone having that final big spark to ignite, and we are not far away.
HTA - How do you learn? What are you reading?
New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Twitter and the daily updates by Austin-based Geopolitical Futures are on my daily reading list. Weekly, I read the Economist and Business Week, and I listen to the Pivot Podcast.
On the book front this month, I read Loonshots and Platform Revolution both of which I enjoyed. On the more casual side I recently read Professor Galloway's The Algebra of Happiness, which was so-so, and Red Notice which was a chilling account of a hedge fund manager turned human rights activist who got sideways with Vladimir Putin.