When Super Power Meets Super Passion

PUBLISHED ON  January 27, 2014

WRITTEN BY  Roni Zeiger

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It’s not only fun to talk about super powers, it’s useful. A recent post by Susannah Fox thoughtfully suggests that all of us have a super power in our networks, our communities. Here let’s explore a more traditional (!) notion of superpowers. Each of us has one and perhaps our most important professional responsibility is to identify ours and nurture it.

Deservedly or not, I get questions from many individuals and startups in the health technology world asking me for advice. I’m starting to think that the answer is usually that you must find your super power and your super passion.

To health professionals or students asking for career advice, I try to explain that the secret is to do whatever it takes to follow your passion. Without passion, no job will be will be impactful (or fun) for a sustained period of time. And take a step back to consider: what a privilege to be living in arguably the first time in history when so many of us can choose what we do for a living.

To startups I ask, what problem can you solve better than anyone else can? There are other requirements for a successful business — e.g., are you solving a problem that someone really wants solved, will someone pay for it, is your solution better than currently available solution(s), can you maintain a competitive advantage — but if someone else can do it better, why bother?

We can synthesize the advice to the individual and the startup by saying that each of us, personally and as organizations, should be doing what we are most passionate about and what we can do better than anyone else. What if teachers sought to identify every student’s super power, and curricula were flexible enough to let students learn in the context of their evolving passions? What if continuing medical education included feedback from patients that helped clinicians hone their super power? What if health care delivery systems supported collaboration among clinicians that allowed them to complement each other’s super powers and super passions? What if funders of research and funders of companies sought to maximize the number of people and organizations using their super power to pursue their super passion?

What’s your super power? What’s your super passion?

The thing formerly known as the PHR

PUBLISHED ON  January 6, 2014

WRITTEN BY  Roni Zeiger

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While I don’t think anything called a personal health record or PHR will succeed — too much baggage with that term — the start of 2014 seems like a good time to reflect on the future of the-thing-formerly-known-as-the-PHR.

The biggest success story here has been Kaiser, where nearly 2/3 of users use its “personal health record”. I put the term in quotes because the usage isn’t really about the record at all, it’s about specific functionality, namely getting a prescription refilled, emailing your doctor, or scheduling an appointment. The only part that has anything to do with health records is looking up test results, and that’s usually just about whether your latest results are ok or not.

So it’s about helping real people solve real health problems, about getting health stuff done in the right context. (Quick side note: the PHR I worked on at Google failed fundamentally because it didn’t help many people solve real problems.) When the context is interacting with your doctor for a refill or appointment, patient portals like Kaiser’s are outstanding. What about all of the other contexts that matter for our health?

I expect to see more “vertical” tools and solutions that tackle specific problems exceptionally well. While in the health world we tend to want one solution that does everything, the consumer technology world suggests that the commitment and focus of innovators who are passionate about their problem leads to winning products. I’ll bet on Misfit Wearables over Nike in the self-tracking space, and while I can’t live without Gmail or Google Docs, if I need a nearby restaurant I go to Yelp.

We’ll see someone — perhaps CareDox — do an awesome job with immunization tracking + school and camp forms, because that’s a pain point and doctor’s offices don’t have enough incentive to do it really well on their own. My favorite (and biased) example is Hula, a service which helps you get STD testing, retrieve the results, AND share the verified results with someone before having sex with them. Might sound crazy to some, but think about the number of people for whom this should be a touch point for health and prevention. I said biased because I’m an advisor to Hula, though I’ll also mention that I asked them if I could be an advisor, not the other way around.

Let’s get vertical.

Pharma Can Sing Like a Virgin

PUBLISHED ON  December 26, 2013

WRITTEN BY  Roni Zeiger

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After watching the entertaining AND educational Virgin Airlines safety video a couple times at 30,000 feet over the holidays, I started thinking… if Virgin can buck the decades-long trend of tedious and probably useless safety demonstrations — despite being highly regulated by the FAA — what might an analogy be for pharma and the FDA?

Obviously Virgin pulled in expertise far outside of those who simply know the FAA rules. They asked, what are we really trying to accomplish here? Absolutely, we need to check a regulatory box. Some engaging educational material – great idea. (Has anyone studied yet knowledge retention of the new video compared to a traditional one?) Entertainment while people are stuck in their seats? That sounds good for business.

This approach might be applied to the design of drug inserts or informed consent forms for clinical trials. Are FDA constraints tougher than FAA’s? Then we just need to be more creative. Also think about how low the bar is: how often does someone learn something useful from a drug insert or actually get informed by informed consent?

The biggest lesson here for me is about iteration. The sexy 2013 safety video referenced above has gotten tons of buzz including 8 million YouTube views so far. But this started with Virgin’s cute cartoon 2008 safety video with “only” 100,00 YouTube views.

Let’s iterate!