The Future Is Here – A Conversation With Dr. Daniel Kraft
Once a year, the most brilliant technologists, entrepreneurs and futurists gather in the royal Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, and synthesize together what the future of healthcare might look like. Morning Yoga, mind blowing keynotes, intense workshops, beach parties and silent disco nights are some of the activities one can do while socializing with some of the today’s best minds at Exponential Medicine. In a time when the smartphones in our pockets have a significantly more power than of large computers three decades ago, the possibilities of improving our lives by that same exponential fashion in almost all aspects are fascinating. Healthcare as an industry, is increasingly opening up to more people from exciting domains such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, 3D printing, genetics, design and software engineering. Dr. Daniel Kraft, is at the center of it all. He has recognized early on that the most important proponent of this movement is bringing these incredible people together, and that is what he does every year at Exponential Medicine, organized by Singularity University. For that, he is my personal hero, because watching his TED talks and tuning in to Exponential Medicine is what helped me understand what the future of medicine might look like, and gave me the confidence to leave clinical practice and pursue my technology passions. I finally met Dr. Kraft two years after I moved to San Francisco, at the Health 2.0 fall conference. While Health 2.0 focuses on bringing stakeholders together to have essential conversations about technology adoption today, Exponential Medicine brings a smaller more specialized crowd, to talk about what is to come, ten years from now. Omar Shaker: Daniel, it such a pleasure meeting you! Can you please tell us more about how Exponential Medicine started and what your inspiration was behind it? Daniel Kraft: I always had a broad interest in research and healthcare IT, and I found myself doing things outside of what a typical medical student or resident would be interested in, such as building an online bookstore startup and getting involved with the bio-design of medical devices. Singularity University then came along and Peter Diamandis asked me to share in the medicine part of it back in 2009 and we held a one-week executive program in which we covered AI in medicine, robotics and biotech. It was interesting because everyone who came had an interest in healthcare from a different perspective and they wanted to apply their skills to that field. The inspiration was that mixing all these people with different backgrounds gets them excited about the possibilities and drives them to innovate. That is when we started the FutureMed program, and we were sold out with 100 folks for the first 3 programs done at NASA. Something magical happened there, and we had people not normally coming together mixing it up and some companies like Sense.ly, Sentrian and Scanadu were started. A lot of physicians were frustrated with the pace of change, and they got excited to do things together. The theme is that the future of medicine does not come from one angle, but from the convergence of different fields. We got so much interest in 2013, we decided to move to the Hotel del Coronado and we are still selling out. We have 50 startup companies now, and a competition called the MED-Y awards. OS: Out of all the technologies you have seen, which ones are you excited about in the near future? DK: I’m excited to see the integration of Artificial Intelligence with Big Data being part of the workflow. So when doctors walk into their clinics they would have Intelligence Augmentation (IA not AI) where they would be helped with the documentation, choosing the right drug or have a wider scope of diagnostic possibilities. This is all a promise but it has not been achieved yet. I think there are a lot of players enabling this movement like Medtronic or Apple’s HealthKit for example, and helping data flow through that into the EMR will help us go from Quantified Self to Quantified Health. Virtual reality is also becoming more and more important in terms of education, training and therapy. Lots of potential there. OS: What is your advice to doctors and newly graduates who want to get involved with these game-changing innovations? DK: Well the future of medicine is already here, a doctor can do an online consultation through the phone, they can measure blood pressure or heart rate using Wifi enabled devices, figure out how to use those to solve their organization’s pain points. Healthcare has regulatory and organizational hurdles but we live in a time where anyone can really innovate and collaborate with others from different fields to bring in new value to the clinical workflow in a Do-It-Yourself fashion. We should all be innovating and start to have a mindset of doing things in a different way. Doctors need to train their minds to think exponentially and not in the usual linear fashion, meaning that they should think about what will be possible in 5 years rather than only being focused on what is available now. OS: How are the major healthcare organizations dealing with these sweeping changes? DK: The challenge with hospitals is that technologies are not integrated in the doctors’ clinical workflow or EMR system yet which are often still based on old thinking. It is not only about the technology but about the process, workflow and incentive too. This is starting to happen with outcome-based or value-based care, healthcare systems are going to be more incentivized to keep patients healthier, improve quality of diagnosis and therapy. A lot of big traditional companies are beginning to see how they can use this technology in clinical trials, drug discovery, patient engagement and so forth. There is an indication that disruption is coming and it is not necessarily going to come from within but a lot of them are acquiring companies. Pharma, for example, is adopting Therapeutic MRNA, digital wrappers around their drugs, the idea of prescribing apps and behavioral change. I’ve seen a lot of companies who have forward thinking CEOs trying to infiltrate that change within the rest of the organization, which is hard for a 30-50k person company. OS: You have done a lot of research and innovation in the field of Regenerative Medicine which is an area that fascinates me. How close would you say we are from being able to print organs? DK: Stem cell therapy has been there for years (the first bone marrow transplants go back to 68), so in a sense it is not new but there is still a lot of hope and hype. You have to understand that Regenerative medicine is an application field and does not have a specific end goal. It is not helpful to predict or quote a timeline, but it is more interesting to see the cross applications available as we progress. For example, using gene therapy to create “humanized” pigs so that we can get organs from them. We have new regulatory and clinical trial methods. Induced pluripotent stem cells are exciting and the potential to use them for induced therapeutics for curing diabetes for example. OS: The future of technology that was once only imaginable is now here, there is room for innovation and improving healthcare on almost every front, but we still need to make it fit with the existing systems based on older dogmas taught in medical schools and adopted by the industry over years. According to Dr. Kraft, the greatest catalyst to this change is when we start challenging our comfort zone with new technologies, experiment with them in a Do-It-Yourself fashion and making them meaningful within the current healthcare workflows.