Health Tech: Piotr Orzechowski On How Infermedica’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness

An Interview With Luke Kervin

Luke Kervin, Co-Founder of Tebra
Authority Magazine

--

Try to be as transparent as you can about: how your technology works, why you can trust it, how you’re validating it, and how your company makes money. This trust is what is needed to succeed. We try to instill trust through sharing our documentation and findings on our Developer Portal, and also fostering open and honest conversations with each other, and with those around us.

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 Piotr Orzechowski.

Piotr Orzechowski is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Infermedica, a leading digital health company specializing in AI-powered solutions for symptom analysis and patient triage, which he founded in 2012. Piotr began his professional career in the gaming industry as an engineer and software developer, and worked for several smaller businesses and startups before founding Infermedica with the goal of making healthcare more accessible and convenient for everyone.

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?

I was born and raised in Wroclaw, Poland. My parents are both chemists. My mom is a teacher and my dad is a university scientist. He used to bring old computers home when I was young and, by the age of 7, I had picked up programming as my main hobby and focus. I have two brothers — the older one is a prosecutor and the younger one, Leszek, is a space architect. He designs prototypes for on-Mars space stations.

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

I was on a business trip in the Bay Area and started chatting with an Uber driver. He told me a story about when, back in the ’80s, he programmed a basic version of a therapist chatbot — which is not too dissimilar to what Infermedica is doing today. He then showed this program to Steve Jobs and they put it on one of the computers in a shop where they sold their first Macintosh. He came back later that week and it turned out that they had to turn it off because people freaked out when playing with the program. I thought that was a memorable word of caution for what we’re working on today!

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?

There are so many people who helped me along the way that it’s difficult to choose one! At this point, I’m most grateful to my wife, Joanna. It’s not easy to put up with an entrepreneur and she’s been so patient with me. She’s also someone who’s the most honest with me — if I do something wrong, my wife will always be there to help me reassess what’s happened and resolve any issues that I may have caused. She’s the first to call me out, but always stands by me while I work on bettering myself and the situation.

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

My favorite quote is from Scott Galloway: “Nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems.”

When you’re young, it’s so easy to get excited about anything — receiving an email from an important prospect, getting a free pass to a conference, and so on. In 90% of cases, there’s no great value behind it. On the flip side, when something goes wrong, we tend to panic. In reality, there’s always a solution and we should remain calm. I keep a level head and try not to get excited or panic.

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?

I make people feel valued. I try to use “micro-appreciation” whenever I can. Sometimes it’s as simple as a quick mention during a call, or a short Slack message. I’m respectful to others and I assume the best in people — that they are very smart and have very good intentions. Also, I try to be as transparent as I can be and cultivate this openness throughout the company.

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?

By 2030, up to 5 billion people across the world won’t have access to even basic healthcare — this is not just a problem for the developing countries, but it includes 11% of the US population as well. Those that do have access to care typically wait up to 6 days for a primary care appointment. It’s a similar story in Germany (4–6 days) and in some places it’s even longer (in the UK it’s up to 9 days). This means that patients either end up in the emergency department, at greater expense, blocking capacity for patients who really need it. Or, they go untreated and what started as a $10 problem becomes a $100, or even $1000, problem. Even if you just consider primary care, in the US & DACH alone this is a $440B problem that needs to be solved

How do you think your technology can address this?

There are several tasks where AI can be extremely useful given the vast shortage of physicians and increasing level of worker burnout throughout the field. At Infermedica, we’ve developed a B2B platform for health systems, payers, and providers that automates patient triage, the intake process, and follow-up after the visit. For example, Médis uses our Call Center Triage tool to help enhance their clients’ and nurses’ experience and streamline operational processes. We use an AI core, with a reasoning engine, to hold these platform modules, and we have one of the world’s most advanced medical knowledge bases of diseases, symptoms, and risk factors that our expert physicians have already worked on for over 60,000 hours. This base is constantly growing, under stringent tests to match requirements for medical-grade technology which is why Microsoft, and many other global leaders in the healthcare industry, partner with us.

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

It all started back in 2011 when I was playing an online version of a “20 Questions” game with a friend of mine, who is a medical doctor. We were intrigued by the fact the game got smarter every time you played it. Seeing machine-learning technology applied in this way sparked an idea in us: to try to build our own version but, instead of asking questions about well-known people, the game would ask about medical symptoms for the player to identify the disease. At the time it was a game, but in 2012, it turned into a vision and Infermedica was founded with the aim to develop our ‘game’ into the most accurate symptom checking tool available.

How do you think this might change the world?

I’m a huge believer that, just like we’ll have self-driving cars in 5–10 years from now, there will be fully automated self-care bots, available 24/7, to help us find solutions to low acuity health concerns, like a cold or UTI. According to the WHO, by 2030 we might see a shortage of almost 10 million doctors, nurses, and midwives globally. Having certain constraints on how fast we can train healthcare professionals, our long-term plan assumes that AI will become a core element of every modern healthcare system by navigating patients and automating mundane tasks, saving the precious time of clinical staff, and supporting them with clinically accurate technology.

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?

Certainly. Self-driving cars will make mistakes and, inevitably, AI tools in healthcare will also be wrong sometimes. The accuracy of a human doctor’s diagnosis ranges from 50–90% depending on disease, complexity and training, so nobody is infallible. That’s why we need two things — a strong regulatory framework, and approval procedures to only allow the best AI tools to enter the market with clear rules of responsibility towards patients. Secondly, we need to build feedback loops that will help us learn over time and draw conclusions from every single error. We learn by making mistakes — this applies to doctors too — but the same mistake can never be repeated twice.

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. Like with every kind of business, you need to have a business plan and understand what problem you’re solving and for whom. With us, it was the problem of healthcare. In the beginning, it started out with us trying to see if we could make the technology work. Beginning with a symptom checker, we were able to refine one part of the intake and consultation process. Now, with over 60,000 clinician hours, and with years of industry experience, we are able to grow our products and provide our services to more markets, globally. This is only possible with a plan.
  2. A great team is a must — especially with social impact companies! You need to make sure that you find people who are passionate about the vision of improving the world for others. We have an analogy within the company that Infermedica is a ship that we are all sailing on together. Sailing requires everyone to work together, pulling and tying ropes simultaneously to ensure the sails catch the wind and the ship heads in the right direction. Well, this is the same with value missions in social impact companies. We all need to be aligned to sail together to the same point on the horizon, and common values are essential for that.
  3. Financing your vision is very important, but you must be careful only to find supporters and investors who share your belief and see the long-term impact you want to make.
    An investor brings a network, experience, and funds. However, they also bring expectations. Before accepting financial support for your business, make sure they support your cause as well. An investor should want to sail with you in the same direction but, as they’ve traveled this route before, they will help you avoid the bad seas, and catch the high winds, not steer you in a direction you are unfamiliar with.
  4. Making sure you check for regulatory requirements! In our case, we work with medical-grade technology. As our technologies grow and we implement them into new markets, we must make sure they meet all requirements for the global markets we operate in. While this can be time-consuming, it’s also essential. We want to provide only the best-in-class technology, which is safe, reliable, and accessible. This takes planning and a dedicated legal team which, luckily, we have both at Infermedica!
  5. Try to be as transparent as you can about: how your technology works, why you can trust it, how you’re validating it, and how your company makes money. This trust is what is needed to succeed. We try to instill trust through sharing our documentation and findings on our Developer Portal, and also fostering open and honest conversations with each other, and with those around us.

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?

There are three main types of motivation: extrinsic, intrinsic, and there’s also transcendent motivation. The transcendent motivation is a powerful driver — it is about our desire to be a part of something greater than ourselves. Having a big impact on what’s most important to others’ lives — health, environment or society — is very fulfilling and will yield much greater satisfaction than just collecting your monthly paycheck.

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. :-)

In the business world, I would love to meet with someone I could help and advise — perhaps a young entrepreneur or a student wondering what to do next with their career. When it comes to fun, I would love to meet with Patrick Mouratoglou as I consider him the best tennis coach in the world and a very inspiring person!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find out more about Infermedica and our mission to make healthcare accessible and affordable for all by visiting our website, www.infermedica.com, or following us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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

--

--

Luke Kervin, Co-Founder of Tebra
Authority Magazine

Luke Kervin is the Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Tebra