Use Multiple Levers to Push the Needle

Mohit KaushalThrough a career that has spanned clinical medicine, venture capital, and health policy as a White House Health IT task force member and the FCC’s Connected Health Director, Mohit Kaushal has gained a unique and broad perspective on the challenges of healthcare technology. Last year he joined Aberdare Ventures, and he remains an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at George Washington University and an appointee to a committee that advises the Department of Health and Human Services on data access and use.

TEDMED: What’s the most remarkable innovation you are seeing in health tech or medicine, and what is driving it?

Kaushal: There’s no single answer, but there are a couple of themes I really like. Pure technology innovation is one big bucket that includes personalized medicine. Medicine is very reactive right now: we wait for people to become unwell before we treat them, especially with chronic disease. Personalized medicine is weaving genomics and real life data together to figure out when we can start managing people earlier in the progression of disease.

Deeper into that is using proteomics and epigenomics to understand the whole body’s network and signaling, and using that to better understand disease and to better target drugs. Many drugs, especially in cancer, are expensive, have terrible side effects, and only work for a certain proportion of cancers. And that’s because cancer is probably many different diseases. The notion of understanding disease at its core to better target drugs is remarkable, along with all the tools and technologies that enable that, such as genomic sequencing.

The other piece I’m very interested in is more on the delivery side: How do we reconfigure the delivery of care? How do we move from a system that’s been built for acute care, with big expensive hospitals and expensive doctors, to a system that takes care of patients in more cost-effective settings, such as outside the hospital? And how do we use technology to enable that?

The framework for that is data capture—remote devices and sensors, as well as data storage and analytics—to turn multisource data into insights and then allow us to intervene. That’s a convergence of connectivity, storage, analytics, and behavioral change. All of these are technologies that, wrapped around the right service models, will effect positive outcomes.

TEDMED: What’s the most important factor for entrepreneurial success in health tech—and is that different from your own key to success?

Kaushal: The most important factor for entrepreneurial success in any industry is the quality of the management team and a little bit of luck. If you have the best science and the best management team, you increase your chances of success.

To go deeper, the specific qualities depend on the thesis of the company. If you’re trying to start a biotech company, you’ll need a mix of people with clinical, scientific, and business skills; those are very specific to the company. But generically, success depends on a team that is cohesive and can execute together. At many stages of the company, you need someone who is the Jack-of-all-trades. That’s the person who is really putting it all together.

If you’ve met some of the best ones, they’ve got real drive, real motivation that is less about cash and more about changing the way we do stuff. All of them work extremely hard and face challenges. In a word, they have hustle.

Is that different from my own keys to success? I don’t know if you could call me successful! If the question is, “What is the key to success in venture capital?” there are some common elements, but it’s hard to say.

TEDMED: For entrepreneurs with needle-moving ideas in global health, what are the keys to finding collaborators and supporters across specialties, industries, and geographies?

Kaushal: From the global health perspective, each market is very different. We could divide this into two themes: one is a scientific theme. I mean, a pill is a pill; it will work anywhere. But on the delivery side, it is different from country to country. There are different rules, regulations, delivery mechanisms, and infrastructures everywhere.

The first thing to think through is whether the end product as a manifestation is scalable as it is, or does it need to be tweaked for local markets? It’s not like WhatsApp, where you can build a very small labor company in the Bay Area to deliver the fundamentally same service around the world.

In terms of partners, it really depends on the specific population, but what many early stage companies need are partners who have local insights and knowledge and can help navigate the local distribution.

TEDMED: In 2020, you’re asked to give a TEDMED talk about the biggest transformation you helped bring about in your field. What is it?

Kaushal: I’ve been lucky to work on different pieces of healthcare. I was in the Obama Administration working on policy, and I think if you can move policy in the right direction by even a degree, the positive impacts are huge. But I was also in clinical practice as a practicing doctor, I do academic work, and the innovation of excellence is what I do now. Any transformation I could help bring about would tie all of those pieces together. What makes me passionate about where I am right now is using multiple levers to push the needle.