What was your inspiration behind Elemeno Health?
My little sister was born with a VSD, a common heart defect. When I was 8, she went to the hospital for a surgery to repair it. Unexpectedly, she died in the O.R. from a medical error.
I am the child of immigrant parents from India. They always wanted me to become a doctor. Ultimately I pursued this path, specializing in pediatric critical care, including the care of children with congenital heart disease.
Throughout my 20 year career in pediatric critical care, I have taken many calls overnight, working closely with nurses at the bedside, around the clock. Healthcare is a team sport, requiring collaboration and coordination across disciplines and professions. I quickly appreciated the importance of frontline staff in delivering care and developed empathy for their work. Over these two decades, I have also seen healthcare complexity growing at an exponential pace and overwhelm the frontlines. This is the knowledge-practice gap (the gap between institutional knowledge—what we know—and frontline practice—what we do). The result is inconsistency, errors, and waste. Training through binders, fliers, posters, emails, and mind-numbing staff meetings no longer work. Hard-working and well-intentioned staff could not stay on top of it all, which resulted in medical errors and waste.
At the same time, we have seen the rise of technology in the consumer space, the great enabler, supporting us to do more, and do it better. As for technology in healthcare, it generally served as a growing barrier, pushing us further away from the patients who we came to serve. We aim to bring the conveniences and benefits of consumer grade solutions to healthcare so that every caregiver would be empowered to deliver the best care possible to every life they touch.
How did you know it was time to launch this as a business?
We developed the Elemeno prototype at UCSF, working closely with frontline nurses and doctors. We deployed bite-sized multi-media training which could be easily accessed and consumed at the point of care. We drove adoption with team-based gamification, playing off natural rivalries (day shift vs. night shift, ICU vs ICU). We first targeted a major hospital acquired infection (essentially a medical error). We demonstrated a 48% reduction in infections, savings of $1.1M, and an estimated 3 lives saved. We then targeted hospital-acquired diarrhea (C. diff) with similar results. Every hospital faces these challenges. They all know what they should do but struggle to implement. Our solution was an approach too important not to scale.
What was the process like to launch?
Healthcare is an inherently risk-averse industry. Change in healthcare is hard. No one wants to go first. Our prototype proof points were essential to establishing credibility in going to commercialization. We leveraged trust connections with healthcare leaders for initial deployments, proving success. With each new client, convincing others became easier. We did not pivot, rather we persisted because this was a solution built from the inside out, and we knew it would work.
Any surprises or key learnings?
Several colleagues who were supportive in deploying our prototype while I was working full time in the academic medical center world UCSF, then pulled back when I sought to scale the benefits to other hospitals through commercialization as Elemeno. Moving from internal medical director to external vendor was like going from the Star Wars “light side” to the “dark side”. There was a loss of academic purity. They did not understand that academic solutions struggle to scale. In fact, multiple hospital leaders advised me that the best way to accelerate development would be to partner with industry outside of the university.
Does your teaching experience help (or harm) your role as founder?
Teaching is learning twice.
The best teachers deeply understand what they are teaching, and explain it in a simple manner. In clinical medicine, my teaching roles have been at the bedside much more so than in the classroom. The teaching that sticks with learners, is the teaching that is contextual; what the learner needs, when they need it. The best teaching is paired with visuals/hands-on doing, such as seeing an image, diagram, or procedure as it happens.
What’s the #1 skill you think entrepreneurs need to succeed?
Perseverance. If you have an idea that works, it’s still about timing. If the window is not open right now, find a way to extend your runway.
What’s been the biggest challenge when founding Elemeno Health?
I have three school-aged kids and was in a very stable academic leadership position in the medical profession. The personal risk I took to become a startup founder extended to my family. There’s a reason so many founders are in their twenties. Responsibility is much less, so risk tolerance is much higher. I am a doctor. I went into medicine to help people. I made the startup leap because the knowledge-practice gap is the greatest problem in healthcare today. Closing that gap will help millions. It was simply the right thing to do.
What’s your vision for the future of healthcare?
COVID has accelerated our sales and demand, by highlighting the urgent need for a better solution to communicate and train frontline staff to constantly changing practices. Elemeno is the fast and agile solution. It can drive adoption of any priority practice (non-COVID, as well) independent of location and time.
What is your superpower?
I am a connector. Connecting individuals to their mutual successes. Now with Elemeno, we are connecting hospitals and building a network of sharing to all members of the community.
What’s your kryptonite?
Trying to make everyone happy.
Do you have any other things you like to do outside work?
I love to travel. My wife and I took a year to travel around the world early in our physician faculty career. In travel, I love both experiencing the beauty of different cultures (food, art, language, architecture, history) and the wonder of different lands (geography, climate, wildlife).
I have a strong interest in global health. I am a former Chair and served for 15 years on the board of 501c3 Global Healing, dedicated to developing sustainable high quality healthcare in low income countries. Through this organization, my wife and I founded the Roatan Volunteer Pediatric Clinic on the island of Roatan, Honduras—a partnership between Global Healing and the Public Hospital Roatan (and the Honduran Ministry of Health). This clinic has served as a major site for international health electives for pediatric medicine residents from US training programs, as well as for undergraduates. It has served over 50,000 patient-visits to date. I also led the program in partnering with multiple US universities and research centers to create TIGRE (Transdisciplinary Immersion in Global Health Research and Education). This program studied global health challenges and interventions on the island (essentially a global health studio/lab), which served as a microcosm of the same challenges in developing nations.
Do you have any favorite apps or tech devices you use?
Waze: It helps me in the moment and leverages the experience of my peer community. What’s the best way to get somewhere—not unlike Elemeno and the best way to do something
GameChanger: It really is a game changer. Great way to track and share little league, travel ball and high school games. I can stay connected with how the kids are doing even if I cannot make the event.
TeamSnap: Helps organize the kids games and practices, and keeps me on schedule as a coach.
Who is someone that has changed your life and why?
Mr. John Jackson, my 7th grade science teacher. He developed my intense interest in the life sciences, from nature/environment to human health. He was a dynamic teacher always inclusive of the students. He engaged us as both learners and teachers. He showed me that we can all be teachers, no matter how junior. Everyone has something to teach one another. When we work together, everyone excels.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Create your own goals—what you want, not what others want you to do. Don’t be concerned with what others think. Follow your own mission and do the right thing.