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Simplifying Blockchain for Healthcare

Episode 336

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Simplifying Blockchain for Healthcare with Katherine Kuzmeskas, CEO at SimplyVital Health (transcribed by Sonix)

Welcome to the Outcomes Rocket podcast where we inspire collaborative thinking, improved outcomes, and business success with today’s most successful and inspiring healthcare leaders and influencers. And now your host, Saul Marquez.

Saul Marquez: And welcome back to the podcast. Today I have a very special guest. Her name is Kat Kuzmeskas. She’s the CEO and Co-founder of SimplyVital Health. A blockchain solution to problems and medical record keeping and healthcare payment systems. Obviously we have a problem there. So it’s great that Kat’s using the latest technology to tackle some of those challenges, we’ll be diving into those. In today’s episode, Fortune magazine named her among the 34 leaders who are changing healthcare. She founded the company as a solution for problems she faced as a hospital administrator. Solutions include support for data security, care coordination, post hospital data, communications and analytics for decision making, and risk management. Prior to founding SimplyVital Health, Kat was a Program Manager of the Center for Musculoskeletal Care for Yale-New Haven’s health system. She was also a Strategic Planner for the Medicine and Surgery Service Lines at the Yale New-Haven Health and design an enterprise wide management dashboard at a statewide community health center network. She is an outstanding individual and a leader in healthcare and I’m so excited a post her here on the podcast today. Kat, welcome to the podcast.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Thank you so much. Great intro.

Saul Marquez: Thank you Kat. Well you certainly have done a lot. And so you’re transitioning your your work as an administrator into a health tech company to solve some of the biggest problems. What got you into the health sector to begin with?

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Yeah. So I think it actually takes me back to fourth or fifth grade.

Saul Marquez: Wow okay. Early on.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Yeah so pretty early so in I think it was fifth grade. And so in fifth grade I broke my ankle. It was a hairline fracture. Sounds less less intense than it actually was it’s quite intense but it wasn’t hairline fracture my growth plate and my tibia had slipped forward and yeah it was really it was exceptionally painful but what was an interesting part of the process is my mom and I were bounced between hospitals before being accepted into the one that was in our hometown and we still haven’t gotten the story straight on why we weren’t accepted and why we kept having to bounce around but because of that because it took so long to get into the emergency department I think we were at between 12 to 18 hours before we were actually seen by a physician. My foot was gigantic and they actually couldn’t go into surgery they had to wait for the swelling to go down and because of all of that I actually have numbness in my left leg, my left foot.

Saul Marquez: Even today?

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Yeah. Still today is the tibia was pressed forward on that nerve. And then the orthopedic surgeon that I can never play soccer again. So it was just devastating experience as a child and then. But I worked with the ortho and followed all my PT and of course when you’re a young child being told you can never run and play soccer again anyone that fixed that fixes that is just you know a hero. So it was kind of that whole experience as a child both the trauma but also the experience of the care of a physician and the knowledge and position is that I too want to be an orthopedic physician and I’m always focused on healthcare. Ever since, ever since that.

Saul Marquez: Love it. Well what a great story. Thank you for sharing that it’s definitely a problem today as it was you know when that happened to you. The Care Coordination aspect is something that I feel like I don’t know. You know I feel like it’s gotten a lot better but there’s still some room for improvement. You’re obviously tackling a lot. You’re focused on blockchain. What would you say a hot topic that needs to be on every health leaders agenda today and how are you and your company addressing that?

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Yeah. So I think the topic is data access and it’s a hot topic because I think we are starting the tipping point of where we as an industry globally will be moving into conversations and processes around data access that most providers meaning large enterprises hospitals are not comfortable with and don’t know that this is coming. And I actually attribute a lot of it to the awareness that has come about from the data analytics of Gaffe, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and really people starting to understand that healthcare is the same way. But there’s a lot of opportunity in how we as patients and we as providers can start to work together in ways that we haven’t before. So I think conversations in action around data access are going to become a lot more prevalent we’re hearing a lot of it. We get asked about it all the time. And also I think the mind shift that’s going to happen is that everyone’s going to start to realize that their data silo is much more impactful and powerful not as a silo. And it’s going to be really uncomfortable but it’s going to be better. And I think that’s where we are right now with healthcare and get access.

Saul Marquez: And great great call out there cat. And so when we think of data access you know there’s there’s a couple of angles we could look at this from a look at it from the angle of a patient getting access to the data or even I think what you’re more focused on here is is data access across all enterprises to empower the better health care outcomes. Am I right?

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Yes.

Saul Marquez: Okay. Okay. Got it. Got it. Now thanks for clarifying there. You know there’s a whole other movement on how do I get access to my data? That’s not what we’re talking about here today. So…

Katherine Kuzmeskas: That’s right.

Saul Marquez: Okay. Kat good. I appreciate you clarifying that for the listeners. Now give us an example. I love to hear how you and your organization are creating results by doing things differently.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: So right now we are bringing blockchain technology as an effective tool to value based care. And so I would say for now we’re kind of fitting within the model so that we can expand and create new models going forward. And one of the ways that we’re doing that is with a we have a whole program it’s called Sauna which means health and healthy in Latin. And this whole program is focused on essentially creating a better experience not only for the patients but for the providers that are caring for the patient across different facilities. The way that we do that I guess objectively is through value based care programs called bundled payments. We’re actually bringing that to more than just hospitals as the main users of bundled payments we’re actually going to private physician groups that are really interested in it. Employer groups. This is more than just G.E. and Wal-Mart and also insurers. And it takes me back to one of the conversations we had with our care coordinator and orthopedic practice and she said after just one week of working with us and working with our platform they had transformed their entire practice in terms of how they looked at clinical outcomes and how they worked with patients and how they use data to drive decisions. So I was really really cool and part of the reason why we do focus on physicians and not so much hospitals at this time, it’s because there’s so much support that physicians are looking for and may want in terms of how they can use actionable analytics to drive clinical improvement and improved patient outcomes.

Saul Marquez: Yeah that’s interesting. So focused on the physician and I think it’s a great opportunity right now to dive in. Your thoughts on blockchain, if we could some just simplify it for the listeners to better understand I feel like there’s still this black box feel you know what is it and now how can I use it as it useful that maybe this is a good opportunity Kat for you to educate the listeners.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Certainly and it’s really funny because blockchain is… has so much interest around it and we always get asked how does it work? But it’s funny because no one asks how the internet works or even asks you know how does Netflix work or how does my cell phone work. So it’s always funny we find that we get back to very basic conversations of well this is going to tech functions and we didn’t expect that, we didn’t expect that people wanted the nuts and bolts of what blockchain is and how it works and why. So we do spend a lot of time educating and it’s an important part because it will be a black hole until it’s used more and and we hear about it more in industry. So I’m happy to describe a little bit about it. So…

Saul Marquez: Sure.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: It really is just a shared network among individuals and that should network is important because it’s then not controlled by any one entity which allows a lot of cool flexibility and cool efficiencies that you may not get in other systems. Now blockchain is not a panacea. It is not great for everything but it is excellent for some things and part of what we do as a company is help to help providers identify what that is and what it is not. So it’s really just a network of people that run the system and as the way that it was designed is that it can essentially facilitate autonomy through things like audit trails and incentives for running the system and they’re just really neat tools that have been built on top of blockchain like a smart contract. So now that you have this independently run network you know it’s not Amazon, Web Services, it’s not Microsoft as your it’s just a network of individuals running the system with an audit trail moving through it you can leverage the inherent characteristics of blockchain and some of the inherent characteristics that we really like that are so simple and basic. We always talk about blockchain not being sexy at all. Despite what everybody says… it’s really not cool. So in the most basic way it creates an audit trail that cannot be deleted or changed which is really powerful when you start thinking of areas in healthcare that’s helpful. Data access, data sharing, financial transactions, insurance payments. There’s a lot of different ways where you can leverage an auditor that can’t be deleted or changed. The other one is smart contracts which is essentially just a smart contract. It executes when it’s told when something it’s an if then statement. So if a orthopedic physician’s quality metric is attained to no DVTs no blood clots then they can get paid. And on top of that there’s an audit trail to prove that all of this happened so proves that the data was there that there was blood clot, proves that the payment was executed and delivered. And so you can get really creative in how you can use it. We focus I think our baseline our denominators really data access and data access means everything from a bundled payment it can mean that the patient sees the data the providers see the data and the insurance company sees a portion of the data.

Saul Marquez: Makes a lot of sense. Kat appreciate you diving into into that. I know it’s a segway from some of the things that we were gonna talk about but it think worthwhile and it’s interesting that you mentioned kind of the same concept like “hey nobody asked how the internet works.” I think most people are just so used to it now and black chain people are still getting used to it. Yes so appreciate that this is really helpful.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: And we also think what’s interesting about blockchain that might be different from some of the other type that’s out there is blockchain came out of the gate last year touting not blockchain itself but just companies and an enthusiast touting decentralized everything and no middlemen. And it was scary and I think it you know there’s a better way to talk about blockchain and instead of decentralization talking about it as collaboration so that could be a factor too.

Saul Marquez: Yeah I love that. That’s a good distinction to make. Right. So as you as you work through some of the the tech I’m sure you’ve run into some snags at love if you could just share… well firstly you know just you shared some of the success stories but tell us some of the things that haven’t gone so well maybe one set back that you had and what you learned from it?

Katherine Kuzmeskas: So yeah I mean there are setbacks every day in a startup. As one of our investors says, “you only start a company if you have the right intestinal fortitude to disagree.” So I think one of the you know I think one of the biggest setbacks was our lack of anticipation on the importance of education and the different levels of education that are needed and the different audiences which is a little upsetting because you know two out of the eight of us now which at the very beginning was September of last year two out of three of us were Teach For America corps members and as part of a teacher of Teach for America, you were taught two very important things one is using data analytics to drive decisions and two, teaching in a way that’s understandable at different levels of your classroom. And so it was kind of frustrating in the fact that like how did we miss this. How did we not know that education was going to be so important but then also the other side of that which is how do you make this education so accessible and so understandable. And it’s still it’s still difficult but also not even understandable but in a concise way understandable and approachable by digital healthcare leaders, digital tech, entrepreneurs, physicians, nurses, healthcare administrators, and each audience is different. And so I think that’s the biggest setback for us is really figuring out how to educate and talk about blockchain. And one of the ways that we approached it first is just not talking about blockchain. So when we all yeah when we sell our applications or we talk to healthcare providers about the software that we have, we usually don’t mention watching at first just because it depends on whom you’re speaking with and their perception on blockchain. And it really shouldn’t matter anyway. Patients should drive value without the fact that it uses blockchain technology. So I think we’ve gotten beyond that as an industry. I think it’s OK now to talk about blockchain but we have noticed that education is important and we tailor messages and tailor content to be able to make sure that we drive that message across all audiences.

Saul Marquez: That is very interesting. And and you’re right Kat, I mean at the end of the day if it does what you needed to do who cares what it as long as it’s you know legal, safe, and moral right. I mean who cares?

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Right.

Saul Marquez: Yeah I think it’s such a great point. And hey by the way. “Yeah. What you’re using is a blockchain.” “Oh my gosh it is?”

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Exactly.

Saul Marquez: Yeah yeah I totally know what you mean. And and it’s really neat that you’re sharing this perspective Kat because you know I think it’s something listeners that we have to consider, are you going to allow perception and bias stop you from potentially finding a solution that’s good for you. My challenge to you all is next time you hear blockchain to think of the opposite of what you’re thinking. Just for a second whether it be good or bad but just try it and then secondly is look at what the solution is and quit focusing on the actual technology.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Right. Exactly.

Saul Marquez: Fascinating. And Kat, thank you for that because I mean that’s a great lens to look at this with I appreciate you educating us there and now we’re offering a call to action for our listeners for that.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Yes.

Saul Marquez: So tell us about an exciting project your focus on.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Yes. So we… I would say the most exciting project at the time that we can talk about we have one that’s really really exciting, we can’t say anything yet.

Saul Marquez: Thanks for the teaser. Thanks for the teaser.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: One the ones that we’re excited about is Health Nexus in and of itself. So Health Nexus is from what we’ve seen, one of the only healthcare safe blockchain protocols that exist. It’s public permission which all that means is we know who runs the system. That’s why it’s commissioned. But it’s public in that it’s it’s essentially an open network. And the reason why we did public permission is because it brings in both of the best parts of a permission network that healthcare wants because it’s safer more secure from their perspective but also the inherent benefits of having a public completely open blockchain protocol. So it allows the system to be open source, governed in a certain way that allows growth and development of applications on it. And I would say this is the most exciting project right now because we are in the process of spinning up nodes. Individuals are spinning up nodes and relaunching the alphanet. And it is faster than a Syrian which is great especially in healthcare. We always get asked about you know “how do you process so many transactions in healthcare?” And so I’d say that’s really the most exciting project. And the reason why is because not only is it open source and available for healthcare globally for anyone that wants to use blockchain as a tool but also it’s brought together some incredible leaders in healthcare. We have a global consortium and it is composed of everything from non healthcare entrepreneurs to healthcare entrepreneurs, majority of entrepreneurs are physicians we have healthcare and hospital administrators and it’s really just a great cohort of individuals who are dedicated to bringing this technology as a tool to healthcare in a very efficient way.

Saul Marquez: Super exciting. And if they want to learn more where where can they go to learn more Kat?

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Yes I would say the two best locations one would be our website simplyvitalhealth.com but then also you know some softer touch easier to read content would be on our blog which is on medium and I think it’s just medium/simplyvital. Yes. So say protocol and also describes our team and great content for Saturday or Sunday morning.

Saul Marquez: Love it. Love it. Now this is great. Or for yeah or even week day during your coffee right. Yeah. Folks will provide a link to the medium blog as well as the website. Just go to outcomesrocket.health in the search bar just type in simply vital, simply vital health, or simply vital,you’ll see the episode pop up with the show notes full transcript and links to all the things that we’ve been discussing. Getting close to the end here Kat, let’s return you and I are building a course on what it takes to be successful in health tech today. This is a syllabus we’re gonna be creating a lightning round followed by a book that you recommend to the listeners. You ready?

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Yes.

Saul Marquez: All right. What’s the best way to improve healthcare outcomes?

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Actionable data.

Saul Marquez: What is the biggest mistake or pitfall to avoid?

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Getting… don’t get bombed out.

Saul Marquez: Hard intestinal fortitude.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Intestinal fortitude

Saul Marquez: Right. How do you stay relevant as an organization despite constant change?

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Well what’s great is healthcare changes a lot slower than all the other industries. So they had that piece.

Saul Marquez: Love it. What’s one area of focus that drives everything in your organization?

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Healthy can be affordable.

Saul Marquez: I love that. And bonus one here what is your number one success habit?

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Ooh I always just get back up and keep going.

Saul Marquez: Love that. Kat, what book would you recommend to the listeners?

Katherine Kuzmeskas: So it would not be a book actually. I would recommend a podcast.

Saul Marquez: Let’s hear it.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: And right now one of the podcasts that resonates with me most strongly is actually a it’s a short bit podcast and take 10 to 20 minutes at a time and it is by Robin Sharma.

Saul Marquez: Okay.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: And it’s called Mastery Sessions. And I love this because he has so speaking about you know like how do you get up and keep going and what’s the number one success factor it’s consistent constant reminders about how to continue to be your best selves. As things grind and are hard and are difficult and challenging and just finding ways to mentally push through and persevere and never give up.

Saul Marquez: So it’s called Mastery Sessions.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Yes. That’s it.

Saul Marquez: By Robin Sharma.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Yes that’s it.

Saul Marquez: That’ll be one that I definitely check out, listeners checked that out as well. Robin Sharma, Mastery Sessions. That’ll be linked up as well in the show notes, search bar on outcomesrocket.health/simply vital. Type it in and you’ll find it there. Great. Sounds like a great resource to tap into with the ups and downs right.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Yes.

Saul Marquez: Love it. Okay. So this has totally been fun. You’ve educated us on blockchain, we’ve got a better idea of the things that you’re up to and and the value that you’re providing to physicians now but it’s expanding here shortly. I love if you could just leave us with a closing thought and then the best place for the listeners could get in touch with and interact with you.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Yes so healthy is affordable through data access and finding ways to open up access to data for patients and providers. That’s what we’re focused on. It’s SimplyVital Health. We’d love to help others do that as well. And the best way to find us is through our website and then anyone can connect with me on LinkedIn.

Saul Marquez: Outstanding. Kat this has been fun. Folks, take Kat up on on taking a look at their blog. Get educated. It’s the best way for you to continue making outcomes better. And Kat, just want to say thanks again for carving out time for us. We really appreciate it.

Katherine Kuzmeskas: Thank you. Thank you. Appreciate it. This is great.

Thanks for listening to the Outcomes Rocket podcast. Be sure to visit us on the web at www.outcomesrocket.com for the show notes, resources, inspiration, and so much more.

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