How entrepreneurs can improve patient care - musings from a leading oncology doctor

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Elizabeth Griffiths, MD

Who is Elizabeth

Elizabeth Griffiths wasn’t raised in the most traditional sense - her parents rebelled against conformity, of the idea that you just go to work every day and watch your life go by. Her father was an aerospace engineer and her mother, who graduated medical school as one of only five women in her class, withdrew from her OB GYN residency because the training carried the expectation that she would dedicate her life solely to the program. Her mom knew the importance of balance, and ultimately went into primary care where she excelled. That sense of balance was a driving force in Elizabeth’s family, and for about five years of her life she and her parents lived on a 43-foot steel sailboat that they built in their backyard. This unique experience gave Elizabeth the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time with her parents, whom she calls her best friends, and in that time she absorbed everything her mom knew was key about practicing medicine and taking care of patients.

While Elizabeth was raised with a spirit of rebellion, she rebelled her upbringing by being conformative, going to medical school at UNC and following it with a residency and subsequent fellowship at Johns Hopkins. She chose these programs specifically because they were keen on the bedside aspect of patient care - the aspects of medicine that matter so much to her mom, and that inform all aspects of Elizabeth’s approach to her oncology patients today.

In the face of a system that’s increasingly reliant on looking at a computer, Elizabeth practices medicine in a much more personal way. Here she shares her perspective on the importance of building foundational knowledge in your career, why finding the right mentor is key, how technology and AI can augment the practice of medicine, and what she hopes to see for the future of clinical trials.


Get to the root of where you are specializing

In the medical field, it's crucial to have a deep understanding of the fundamentals. This includes going a level or two below your intended area of specialization. This allows you to appreciate the processes and requirements of each function, which is essential for providing effective patient care. This could be realizing that if you draw a sample at 5 p.m., someone has to stay until 9 p.m. to process it, or knowing that when you send a test, the bottle it goes in will depend on how the sample gets separated. It can also be patient-driven. When you order a CT scan for a patient, how does that patient get transported there? What was their experience when they checked in? To be a successful clinician scientist you have to understand the granular aspects.

Whether you are a doctor or an entrepreneur (or both!) you must understand your responsibilities when you come to the table. A patient’s success or failure may rest on your decisions as a medical professional, emphasizing the serious nature of a clinician’s responsibility and level of medical knowledge.

It’s easy to forget everything isn’t just “click here, look at a computer, and type” but behind all of this is somebody’s experience, finances, or even livelihood.


Self-direction is critical to getting the most from a mentor

When choosing a mentor you have to recognize what that person can and cannot provide - and never expect them to do anything for you. Elizabeth takes a more hands-off approach to mentorship, while still helping her students create a package that will prepare them for the next stage of their career. For her this typically includes guiding students to publish an article, collaborate with someone in the lab, conduct a research project, and consider writing a clinical trial, etc. all drawing back to the idea that it’s critical to create a baseline knowledge about all aspects of your industry.

A mentor can offer guidance and support but will never do the work for you. It’s essential that mentees take initiative and be self-directed in their learning and development to get the most from a mentorship.


AI will never replace bedside manner

There is plenty of fear mongering that AI will replace doctors (or that it will replace most any job) but that’s just simply not the case. There is a place for AI in the medical system and as this technology becomes more prevalent in medicine, it's important to strike a balance between utilizing advanced tools for diagnosis and treatment while still providing the personal touch and empathy that patients value and need.

There are two aspects of effective patient care. One is the ability to translate medical information to patients, to hold their hands and listen to them, so they can effectively communicate their experience. The second aspect is very analytical, translating the experience patients report on into identification of a possible diagnosis and rendering an answer for why they feel sick. AI has the potential to be a game changer for the second aspect through data analysis because as a clinician, and human, you may not be able to generate all possible options yourself or may be biased towards a particular answer.

Entrepreneurs can help create this automated mechanistic system by thinking about the collection of data and differential diagnostics in an effective way, as there is a huge opportunity to create synergies between clinicians and AI that will lead to better patient care.

It's important to strike a balance between utilizing advanced tools for diagnosis and treatment while still providing the personal touch and empathy that patients value and need.


Clinical trials need help from startups

The current process for finding and signing patients up for clinical trials is clunky and riddled with challenges. Improving access, reducing turnaround times to launching studies in more geographies, and creating clinical trial standards would make the process easier to navigate and more effective for patients in need.

Creating standardized approaches to clinical trials would be the holy grail because all parties would agree on standards, research would be more clearly delineated, costs would be less debateable, and opportunities would be more abundant because you wouldn’t always have to start from scratch. A good example is thinking about clinical trials the same way we think about building cars with an assembly line. A uniform structure would also enable clinicians to develop expertise that could translate to running effective trials in general and not only in the one they designed. Imagine a world in which some patients could even go from one study to the next so clinicians could compare patient data in an apples to apples format that would ultimately create a better platform for understanding more about each disease.

** At ARTIS, we love working with and matching industry thought leaders and entrepreneurs who are envisioning and building a better future of healthcare. If you are applying AI in medicine, let us know! In the world of clinical trials, ARTIS is already investing in companies working to change this space, such as Power, a patient-friendly platform making it easier for all patients to discover and enroll in promising clinical trials that are right for them.

A good example is thinking about clinical trials the same way we think about building cars with an assembly line.