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Mark Wien

Updated: Sep 7, 2023


My fascination with healthcare, despite not being a science enthusiast, led me to explore various aspects of the field. In high school, I initiated a pet therapy program at a local hospital, and during my time at the University of Michigan, I delved into the business side of medicine, studying cost and quality of care.


My interest in microfinance emerged during business school, culminating in an independent study. I came up with a new micro equity model, went to Panama and did some independent research. When I started on Wall Street, in finance at Bank of America, I actually ended up starting a micro equity firm trying to pilot this model. Much of what we ended up doing was healthcare based. However, I realized the difficulty of communicating effectively with doctors without a solid medical background. This prompted me to undertake a post-baccalaureate program, completing all necessary science courses before applying to medical school.


Throughout my medical school journey, I was troubled by the lack of a comprehensive healthcare record system, something akin to Bloomberg for doctors. As a patient, I noticed that my medical records did not seamlessly follow me from one hospital to another. This observation, coupled with my global travels and exposure to healthcare systems globally, such as in Vietnam, Myanmar, Russia, and post-Ebola Nigeria, inspired me to found PocketPatientMD. While doing elective clinical rotations in Kenya, I made the decision to leave medical school during my final year to fully commit to PocketPatientMD.


What is the mission of PocketPatientMD and how does it align with your personal values?


PocketPatientMD aims to provide patients with unhindered access to their healthcare information, while also enabling healthcare professionals to access this information when needed. The current state of healthcare information accessibility is subpar, especially in emerging and resource-constrained environments where paper records are still prevalent. Existing systems often fail to communicate effectively, leading to potential duplication or omission of crucial information.


Our solution is a universally accessible tool that ensures everyone can access the necessary information. This venture allows me to operate in new markets and different places, providing a sense of excitement and fulfillment that I didn't find during my time in finance. While I have a keen interest in medicine, I realized that daily patient interaction and the scientific aspects of the field might not suit me. This project aligns with my interests and the global aspect is an added bonus.


As we grow, we aim to utilize anonymized reporting and data for impact, leveraging my background in business and finance to support these ideas. We are currently raising a SAFE note with a valuation cap of $10M USD. This will enable the platform to always be free for our users, which overcomes significant cost barriers, without being dependent on aid or donations. I believe the current aid system is flawed and unsustainable, and for-profit and scalable solutions are the answer with the added benefit of job creation and helping local economies. As we become more sustainable, we will have the flexibility to support other disruptive projects with similar potential for impact.


Where do you envision the business will be in the next 10 years? What's the big, hairy, audacious goal?


PocketPatientMD's impact will amplify over time. For instance, an organization using it for a day will find it beneficial, but its true potential unfolds over a longer period. After a year, the system will provide monthly data on the prevalence of certain diseases, enabling better medication planning and disease prevention. It will also enhance monitoring and evaluation (M&E) capabilities, and improve tracking outbreaks and responding in real-time, by knowing disease history and historical averages.


One significant area of potential impact is clinical trials. In many places, these are years away due to the challenges of identifying suitable patients, ensuring protocol compliance, and maintaining proper storage conditions for trial materials. Our solution opens up a wide range of possibilities in this regard.


Currently, the primary challenge is uptake, given the scarcity of universal solutions. However, the future of PocketPatientMD lies in analytics and algorithms. These tools can help address the shortage of specialists and enhance disease prevention and monitoring. For example, real-time data could alert a potential cholera outbreak on the same day, enabling immediate testing of water sources and resource deployment.


How has your work with PocketPatientMD changed your perspective on healthcare?


One universal issue I've observed is that doctors often lack a voice in the selection of tools and solutions they use. These are frequently dictated by individuals outside the healthcare space or those pursuing specific interests. For instance, a pharmaceutical firm might offer a solution that, while effective, may not align with a doctor's preferred treatment method. Yet, due to incentives, they might choose this course. Doctors typically don't have the autonomy to choose their Electronic Health Record (EHR) system, as it's often imposed by their organization.


The intertwining of public and private sectors, especially in emerging markets, is another notable issue. While this can increase the potential for corruption, it also creates a 'gatekeeper' problem. A private doctor with little knowledge of the private sector might lead a project in a very public sector manner, stifling innovation.


I was also struck by the scarcity of specialists and the true impact of the doctor shortage. The dearth of cardiologists and pulmonologists, for example, was surprising. However, these challenges highlight the vast opportunities for technology. The lack of specialists and other issues can be addressed with diagnostic tools, AI algorithms, and other technological solutions. Despite the challenges, I've learned a lot and see a wealth of opportunities ahead.


Can you describe a time when you felt your work made a significant impact?


Currently, our system has been tested in over 100 countries, with the most significant footprint in Africa. We also have some presence in Asia and are beginning to engage more with organizations in South and Central America. We have direct proposals to most Ministries of Health in Sub-Saharan Africa, with approval already granted by six and pilots approved in public sector facilities in two more. We're also in discussions with local governments and county Ministries of Health for similar initiatives.


Our two most significant projects to date involved working with the Red Cross in a Southeast Asian country and an organization in The Gambia during COVID19. We quickly added a contact tracing component to our platform and trained teams remotely within a week, enabling effective contact tracing in both locations. We also recently trained a department at the primary teaching hospital in The Gambia, and see other promising projects being initiated.


Looking ahead, we have several large-scale pilots with various Ministries of Health that we hope to commence and scale after a funding round. The goal is to have between 250,000 to a million people on the platform. We've also received positive feedback from individual doctors, affirming that our instruction manuals and videos are effective and that our platform can grow organically without extensive on-the-ground support. This allows us to continue offering our services for free, avoiding any barriers to access.


What are some of the unique healthcare challenges you've encountered in different parts of the world?


The two primary obstacles we've encountered are cost and connectivity. By offering our platform for free, we've overcome the cost barrier. This approach also simplifies interactions with governments and other organizations, as there's no room for financial impropriety when no money is changing hands. We conduct the training ourselves, eliminating the need for on-the-ground personnel, which in turn allows us to maintain the platform's free status and foster a closer relationship with our users.


To address the connectivity issue, we've made our platform available offline. Users can now access the platform without electricity, internet connectivity, or data, and sync it when connectivity is available.


The final challenge is language. Our platform is multilingual, covering English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, Swahili, and some local tribal languages in beta. While doctors typically practice in major languages like English or French, we've ensured our platform is accessible to a broad range of users by overcoming the language barrier swiftly.


Other common and known challenges relate to patient compliance, shortages of specialists, and break-downs in the cold-chain due to infrastructure impacting the temperature medications can be stored at.


How do you handle situations where resources are limited?


Our platform is designed with a primary focus on doctors rather than patients. While patients can access their information, the critical aspect is enabling doctors to access comprehensive patient records. For instance, if a patient without a phone but registered on PocketPatientMD falls ill, a doctor using the platform can identify the patient using various identifiers like a fingerprint or ID number, and access their accurate health record.


Most patients may not frequently use PocketPatientMD, perhaps only to check medications or receive appointment reminders. Currently, we're not even allowing patients to access it as we want to ensure that everyone on the platform is a real person and the information is accurate. This approach builds trust among doctors using the platform, as they can rely on the information provided.


The existing system, where patients carry papers, x-rays, or bags of medication from one doctor to another, often results in wasted time and resources due to incomplete or unclear medical histories. By focusing on doctors first, we aim to streamline this process. From the patient's perspective, the key is that their own healthcare providers can access their information. In the future, we may expand patient-facing features, but this shouldn't pose a problem.


What are some of the healthcare innovations you've seen that have the potential to make a big impact?


Portable diagnostic tools are making a significant impact, particularly in regions with a shortage of specialists. Instead of sending an X-ray image or a picture, tools that can read and interpret these images are invaluable. For instance, with PocketPatientMD, users can upload a variety of images such as X-rays, MRIs, or mammograms, enhancing diagnostic capabilities.


There are numerous products related to X-rays and ultrasounds that can operate in resource-constrained environments. Innovations in refrigeration technology, which allow for the maintenance of low temperatures, are also noteworthy. We have partners working on such solutions.


Furthermore, the development of algorithms is promising. Initially, I was skeptical, believing that a doctor's expertise was irreplaceable. However, considering the variability in the quality of doctors, even in a country like the US with some of the world's best physicians, I've come to appreciate the potential of these algorithms. The commitment to becoming a doctor in the US is significant, given the financial and personal sacrifices involved. Therefore, tools that can supplement or enhance a doctor's work are certainly worth exploring.


In your eyes, who are 2-3 other Healthcare Heroes?


Sanjay Gupta's work in raising global healthcare awareness is commendable. His ability to educate and engage people, even those not inherently interested in healthcare, is a significant contribution.


On a micro level, many doctors are doing remarkable work. One of our advisors, Dr. Sunkaru Touray, the first pulmonologist in the history of the Gambia, is a prime example. Despite now teaching and practicing in Texas, he remains committed to improving healthcare in the Gambia. He sends equipment and resources back to his home country, leveraging his professional career to benefit the Gambian people. His dedication extends beyond his professional life into his personal time, making him a truly inspiring figure. Dr. Rachel Jamison is also doing incredible work, opening a new Children’s Hospital in Conarky, Guinea and providing inspiring care each day.


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