Health Tech: Grant Connelly On How NeuPath Health’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness

An Interview With Dave Philistin

Dave Philistin, CEO of Candor
Authority Magazine

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Clearly define the problem you are working to solve — it sounds simple, but defining the problem correctly is critical; an incorrectly defined problem can lead you to a solution that doesn’t actually solve the real problem. An Industrial Engineering professor from Yale University once said: “If I had only one hour to solve a problem, I would spend up to two-thirds of that hour attempting to define what the problem is.”

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Grant Connelly.

Grant Connelly is the CEO of NeuPath Health Inc. (TSXV: NPTH), a Canadian vertically integrated health care provider utilizing research, data-driven insights, technology, and interdisciplinary care to help restore function for patients impacted by chronic pain, spinal injuries, sport-related injuries, and concussions. Grant has spent the last 10 years working in the health care sector and his experience spans digital health, primary care, multi-specialty clinics, and electronic medical records. Previously, Grant served as CFO for a publicly-traded media company and earned an MBA from the Schulich School of Business, York University and a Bachelor of Accounting from Brock University.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

My parents emigrated from Scotland in the 1970’s with about $300 to their name and they had to borrow money to pay for their flights. It was a big leap and a difficult decision for them to leave behind all of their family and friends, but they wanted a better life for themselves and my sister and I. Had they stayed in Scotland, I don’t think I would have had the same opportunities I have had here. My childhood was pretty typical (lots of competitive sports), but one area where my childhood was a little different was my early exposure to business. My dad had a successful career in sales management and he also had a side-hustle: a soccer store. We spent a lot of time in the store or working on the business — I remember napping in the store when I was around 3 years old and working at the store in the summer when I was in high school. That exposure to business and entrepreneurship was a really good source of real life education.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I was working in the investments division at an insurance company and I recommended and received approval for a $55 million investment. We usually wired funds for investments but, for some reason, we couldn’t process a wire that day and had to cut a check. My boss brought the $55 million check to me, put it in my hands, and asked: “are you sure about this investment?” Having a $55 million check in my hands made it much more real which, I’m sure, was my boss’ intention.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

So many people have had an impact on my career — I’ve picked up really important lessons and skills from every leader I’ve been exposed to in my career. I still have a lot to learn about being a leader, but my wife and son have had a really big impact on Grant Connelly as a leader. My wife has off the charts emotional intelligence; something that doesn’t come naturally to me. Seeing how she uses that EI in leading her team has been really eye opening and I’ve borrowed a lot of her leadership qualities and approaches. My son is an awesome little dude but, like most kids, he has his difficult moments, which has really forced me to learn to be empathetic. He also doesn’t respond to ‘because I said so’, which has really forced me to think about the best way to convince him to do what I want or need him to do. It’s not enough to be smart or have good ideas as a leader — you need to be able to convince people to really buy-in to your vision, strategy, and ideas.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

So many good ones to choose from. Right now, I would probably choose the Story of Two Wolves. It’s a story often attributed to Native Americans, but I don’t really know the origin.

A grandfather is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil — he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

He continued, “The other is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you — and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The grandfather simply replied, “The one you feed.”

I often use it as a reminder to continue to feed the good wolf.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Resilience.. There’s a pretty famous graphic that depicts people’s perceptions of success (a straight line) vs reality (a squiggly line that goes up, down, sideways, and can double back on itself). Success isn’t a straight line and successful businesses and leaders often encounter pretty big challenges — some that could be career-ending or could threaten the viability of the business. I’ve had the misfortune (at the time) and fortune (in hindsight) of facing some of these big challenges during my career, from the Great Recession to a global pandemic, to the threat of regulatory changes. No matter how bleak the situation seemed at the time, I made it through. I carry that knowledge with me and know that no matter how close I step to the abyss, I will (and you will) always make it through. This is something that I’ve tried to instill in my team.
  2. Trustworthy. I’ve seen this play out in a number of different scenarios throughout my career. Earlier on in my career, I was hired to make acquisitions in a corporate development role. The CEO who hired me told me that I was hired because I was disarming, which would be helpful in building trust with potential acquisition targets. Making acquisitions is more art than science. People who build businesses are fiercely protective of their business and need to trust that the buyer is going to treat the business and its employees well, post-acquisition. Another example is when I started in my current role at NeuPath. The company wasn’t performing at its full potential and I knew I had to make several key changes. Despite still being relatively new to the business, I’d presented myself in a way whereby I gained the trust of my entire team, who, at the end of the day, also bought into the changes I wanted to and did eventually make at the company.
  3. Empathy. The world of business is changing, and this has only been accelerated by the pandemic. Organizations and good leaders are starting to understand that Jack Welch’s ‘fire the bottom 10% of employees’ approach to business creates a cortisol-rich work environment, which is really harmful to employee retention and engagement. Modern business leaders need to be able to move away from zero-sum decision-making and prioritizing choices that simply look good on a spreadsheet. Leaders need to be able to put themselves in their employees shoes and truly understand how their decisions are going to impact their people. Thankfully, we’re seeing that making decisions that benefit employees and making decisions that are good for business are not mutually exclusive. A study by Deloitte found that for each $1 spent on employee mental health initiatives, employers generate $1.62 in return on investment. This ROI jumps to $2.18 for programs that were in place for three or more years. At NeuPath, we’ve improved our employees’ health insurance and increased spending. As a result, we saw reductions in claims related to anxiety, stress, and depression, and also saw improvements in profitability.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?

We’re working to improve access to care and outcomes for people impacted by chronic pain. In the US, there are approximately 30,000 patients per board-certified pain care physician. That’s an unmanageable roster even for the most efficient physician so, naturally, patients who need care fall through the cracks and are unable to access the care they need.

With Neupath’s recent acquisition of Kumocare, we will be able to continue to provide proprietary care virtually through a platform that allows physicians, personal support workers and allied health providers to see patients via telemedicine and in-home. There are numerous benefits such as reduced wait times with more efficient and easy access for patients and their physicians alike and the ability to provide care beyond the physical constraints of clinic locations and hours.

How do you think your technology can address this?

We view technology as a real opportunity to extend the capabilities of physicians and other healthcare providers. Pain care physicians spend a great deal of time educating patients about the differences between chronic pain and acute pain and also how biological, social, and behavioral factors can influence pain. Being able to use technology to deliver this education saves time for pain care physicians, while also improving access to care for patients who can’t see a pain care physician in-person. More importantly, though, we approach pain management holistically and educating patients while also providing them with the tools they need to better self-manage their pain are big components of that holistic approach. Chronic pain, by definition, is a chronic condition; care can’t just occur when patients are at an appointment with a pain care physician. Providing patients with a technology that they can access whenever and wherever they are is empowering and moves the care model from episodic care to a continuous care model. Finally, we are using technology to improve data collection in order to enable care providers and patients to better understand how different factors or events are impacting patient function and pain.

We are thrilled to be increasing our involvement with technology in our daily practices at NeuPath. NeuPath recently announced a partnership with Cynergi to advance virtual reality and remote pain management technology in treatment of chronic pain. Numerous studies show the benefits of pairing VR based software with more conventional interventions. Working with a leading group like Cynergi allows us to bring innovative, behavioral pain treatments to our patients.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I have family members and friends who have been and are being impacted by chronic pain. Seeing the impact that chronic pain has had on their quality of life and the lack of effective treatment options pushes me to improve access to care and outcomes for people impacted by chronic pain.

How do you think this might change the world?

Chronic pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is extremely costly for patients, payors, and businesses. Outside of the substantial economic cost, patients impacted by chronic pain can also experience higher rates of depression, an increased risk of suicidal ideation, and increased risk of opioid-related substance use disorder. In sum, chronic pain patients face a significant reduction in health-related quality of life. In addition, studies have shown that even when adjusting for the impact of increased rates of depression, suicidal ideation, and opioid use, life expectancy for chronic pain patients is lower than average. Being able to provide holistic, non-opioid, widely-available treatment options for chronic pain management should lead to longer, more fulfilled lives for people impacted by chronic pain.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

We’ve seen examples of ‘if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product’ play out in the health tech space. There was a free app that allowed women to track their fertility and the developer was generating revenue by selling user data to third parties, including insurance companies. Sharing this data could lead to pregnancy discrimination and have an impact on a user’s ability to obtain insurance. Our business model is not based on monetizing users’ health data, but it’s extremely important for anyone using health tech to understand what is happening with their data.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

  1. Identify an issue you are passionate about — we have spent thousands of hours working to build a solution. You need to find an issue that you could invest thousands of hours thinking about and working towards a solution.
  2. Clearly define the problem you are working to solve — it sounds simple, but defining the problem correctly is critical; an incorrectly defined problem can lead you to a solution that doesn’t actually solve the real problem. An Industrial Engineering professor from Yale University once said: “If I had only one hour to solve a problem, I would spend up to two-thirds of that hour attempting to define what the problem is.”
  3. Research and test — even with a correctly defined problem, you might still land on a solution that is either impractical or difficult to use. We spent a lot of time speaking with various stakeholders — patients, pain care physicians, family doctors, and other healthcare providers — to understand their needs and perspectives. We found that family doctors often believe there is a communication gap — between both pain care physician and family doctor and patient and family doctor. As a result, we have developed system generated reporting that can be shared with family doctors in order to address the communication gap. In addition, we build wireframes that patients and other stakeholders could test. We took that testing feedback and used it to refine our UI and UX.
  4. Think about retention — you can build beautiful technology and develop a solution to a real problem, but it’s all for naught if it doesn’t engage users. The 90-day retention rate for medical apps was 34% in 2020 and the annual retention rate was 16%. As a result, we built some gamification and rewards into our app. Think about how you are going to engage and retain users.
  5. Don’t expect to nail it on your first try — go to the App Store or Google Play store and check the version number for really popular apps. Nobody gets it completely right on their first try; it’s an iterative process. We defined the app and its features and decided which features make it into version 1, while the other features were placed on our development roadmap. Getting a version 1 into users’ hands sooner allows you to collect valuable feedback and iterate. You will probably find that features you believed were important aren’t actually important after all and, more importantly, users will identify important features that you hadn’t even considered.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Aside from feeling good about being a positive change agent, there are business benefits associated with making a positive impact on our environment or society. ESG or environment, social, and governance are becoming increasingly important factors for investors when evaluating investment opportunities. Our largest investor, Bloom Burton, puts it very succinctly: ‘do well by doing good.’ Given the increased focus on ESG, I think there is a real opportunity to ‘do well by doing good’ by working to have a positive impact on our environment or society.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Such a tough question. Simon Sinek. I really enjoy his books and his views on business and leadership.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I have a Twitter account, but I don’t post a lot on Twitter. Your best bet is to find me on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/grant-connelly-239b454.

You can also keep up with all things related to NeuPath on Twitter at @NeuPathHealth, on Instagram at @neupathhealth and on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/neupath-health.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to share NeuPath’s journey in HealthTech.

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Dave Philistin, CEO of Candor
Authority Magazine

Dave Philistin Played Professional Football in the NFL for 3 years. Dave is currently the CEO of the cloud solutions provider Candor