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Social Impact Tech: Michael Oleksiw of Pleio On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

At Pleio, our focus is on providing a more human experience through technology support. Every day. To do that, it all comes down to not removing the human from the digital equation or the human from the tech equation. And while this seems like common sense, this is where we get the chance to put the stake in the ground to say that a truly impactful digital experience doesn’t remove the human component, it is informed by it.

Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I grew up in Montreal, Canada, in a family with deep Ukrainian roots. Origins were important to my family, and they instilled the value of where we came from by continuing the traditions of food, language, and culture — all with an overlay of humility and a strong work ethic. Childhood for me meant playing, but also provided a structure of sports, recreational activities, and education, which were also supported without question.

As kids, we were basically outdoors from dawn to dusk. You need to understand this was before the era of the Xbox, so the appeal to be outside and active was not diluted by indoor tech. Anyway, I’m glad it wasn’t. I was either on the baseball diamond, in the pool, on the rink, or up a mountain … anywhere competition could be found. Late nights often morphed into early mornings, whether hacking on a C64, cramming for an exam, exploring the corners of Montreal, or simply hanging out with friends. Never a dull moment! I was in perpetual motion, expelling physical and mental energy. Childhood and young adulthood for me was a good time, a happy time.

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

Being in a constant state of motion continued for me from childhood into adulthood, leading naturally into travel, which is something I’ve always enjoyed. Perhaps the most interesting story since I began my career was the result of travel to China, where I was engaged in a technology project. At the time, we were working on a large software project. Some data within the database became corrupted and, unfortunately, an immeasurable amount of data became unusable. We needed to solve the problem quickly or our customer’s operations would be greatly impacted, which, in turn, meant that we’d be out of the project.

So, we quickly assembled the best technical minds in our company, along with leading consultants to try to figure out how we could solve the problem. We had senior people in the room who were baffled! Everyone was trying to figure out an approach via coding when the most junior person in the room stood up and suggested we manually re-enter the data. Impossible! What makes this interesting is that it was a solution that never would have been plausible in North America and, therefore, wouldn’t have been considered an option. However, in China, this problem could be solved in a timely manner by allocating a multitude of people to work on the problem. What appeared to be a purely technological problem was suddenly solvable without technology. I learned that the boundaries of “out-of-the-box” thinking may vary by situation but still offer value to be considered.

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?

Yes, Dr. Charlie Fong. Early in my career, armed with a shiny degree and garage entrepreneurial experience, I was searching for my professional self. I was working as a Quality Assurance Analyst, developing validation packages for clinical trials software. When the company named a new leader, I thought I might lose the traction I had gained. Quite the contrary. He took me under his tutelage and gave me the one shot I wanted. I became the youngest director in the company, dunked in cold water, tasked with the worldwide commercialization of an internal software product.

After some life lessons learned, I understood what I needed to do to mature professionally. I believe that every career has a confidence-inspiring nudge that changes everything. Dr. Fong was that nudge for me. It didn’t mean that I didn’t have to work just as hard. It was more about recognizing an opportunity and bringing your best self to the experience.

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

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” –attributed to Oscar Wilde

This quote is relevant to me because, as I grew professionally, I focused less on what others thought or expected of me. I became my true self and I advanced in every plane of my life. It’s about confidence. Artists often struggle with the concept of being judged. We all do. But the fact is that the world is a beautifully complex place that thrives on diversity. Diversity demands that we all be authentic and unique. We all have something to contribute, and we need to have confidence in our own personal contribution.

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?

  • Simplicity

Simpler is better. To me, simplicity means a smart approach to “tasks” and a no-nonsense approach to problem solving. I used to burn the midnight oil trying to empty my inbox and clear my task list. The sheer anxiety of chasing such a goal was circular in nature. I’ve learned to simplify my approach by focusing on the “Top 3” most important things at any point in time. In doing so, I’ve seen dozens of tasks hit the floor — at times, with no impact — while savoring the wins that came from delivering well on what counted most. Much of my career was spent developing complex software solutions for business needs. In my current role, I’ve learned that the simplest solutions are the right ones.

  • Resilience

Challenges in both business and life mean that, at one point or another in any endeavor, we are faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, and failure appears imminent. My wife Josiane has inspired me with, and has instilled, resilience. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in her 30s, numbers were not on her side. It is with relentless hope and resilience that she pushed through rounds of surgeries and chemotherapy and is cancer free 15+ years later. She taught me that with hope, nothing is impossible. This mindset carries me through bold pursuits in my professional career with confidence and persistence.

  • Authenticity

There is no need to fake it to make it. Early in my career, I had idols. People who I wanted to be. Over time, I collected too many of these people, quickly realizing I can’t be everyone at once. I learned that there was no one person. Each person I crossed in my professional career taught me something. It is this collection of learnings that continue to define me as a unique person. From these learnings, I strive to be myself. Perfectly imperfect, but unique.

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?

The planet and its living things are extending their hospitality to us. We are simply visitors, visitors to planet Earth alongside many other living beings. I would advise the next generation to greet the hospitality of planet Earth with the respect it deserves. That means we have the responsibility to act ethically. As we enjoy the benefits of society, it is our responsibility to contribute to society. No matter what you touch, leave it in better condition than you found it. Pay it forward every day.

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. :-)

Anthony Bourdain, wherever he may be. His mastery of using words and images to communicate the flavors of culture, politics and climate through food and drink were awe-inspiring. I appreciated Anthony Bourdain as a master raconteur who always made it easy for me to escape whatever needed escaping while learning something new about cultures around the globe. Most importantly, I love nothing more than good conversation about everything and nothing with good people, good food, and drink. Elon Musk would be a good alternate. Is he ok with being second to Bourdain? He’s cool, so I think so.

What problems are you aiming to solve?

My company, Pleio, serves people on their healthcare journey by ensuring that they are heard, seen, and considered. Healthcare is inherently human, which dictates a strong social responsibility in everything we do. The way I look at it, the problem and the solution are almost the same: healthcare companies still label “patients” while also finally embracing the means to be closer to patients so that they can better serve them. The truth is that we are not patients, we are humans first and last. We do not enter a transactional relationship with a drug that is supposed to help us, it is an emotional relationship. Being a patient is only a temporary phase in the journey of being a human. We believe that we need to remember that patients are people first and foremost. We need to connect and communicate on a human level.

Digital health technology and the ability to use data is entering its Golden Age. But seeing tech as the be-all solution is one-dimensional. Not factoring in the human to the technology is sidestepping the reality of who we all are. These two must be melded into one. That is the problem that we aim to solve. We ask ourselves: How do we take the digitization possible with today’s technology and keep it human? How do we ensure that we are connecting on a human level? My team and I obsessively focus on this every day. Accounting for the human factor in technology means including the emotional experience to achieve a more satisfying User Experience.

We aim to look at both ends of the patient experience. We wonder why nearly 50% of all people leave their doctor’s office and check their smartphones for information? In a recent Accenture study on patient views, the highest need a patient has (53% of those surveyed) supports the concept that more education leads to people achieving a better understanding of their medications. Including the patient in their medication decisions and connecting with them during that journey is crucial. That’s what we focus on at Pleio — being able to get to people at their greatest moment of doubt, offer them a human introduction and share the information that makes a person gain more confidence in what they are about to let into their body and lives.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Basically, we are saying that every digital journey should have a human aspect to it. One of the strongest examples of people rebelling against the idea of “being a patient” is the astounding fact that nearly 50% of people stop taking their medications at around 100 days. 100 days. It makes no sense, it seems self-destructive, right? Half of all prescriptions are not taken as prescribed and 33% of prescriptions for chronic conditions are never filled according to the CDC. And why? Primarily, people get tired of feeling that they are their sickness; they’re tired of carrying the baggage of being a “patient”; they want to be the person they are, not the prescription they take. This is a tangible human challenge.

At Pleio, our focus is on providing a more human experience through technology support. Every day. To do that, it all comes down to not removing the human from the digital equation or the human from the tech equation. And while this seems like common sense, this is where we get the chance to put the stake in the ground to say that a truly impactful digital experience doesn’t remove the human component, it is informed by it.

Our backend platform enables better communication with those we call. Our GoodStart Program connects trained team members with people who are prescribed medication for a variety of reasons. What we find is that GoodStart patients refill 3–10 days earlier and refill more, with 19–35% improvement in persistence through three refills. We help patients make lasting behavioral change.

Coaching our GoodStarters to be better at communicating, at engaging with the person, at supporting them with a kind hello goes a long way to engaging them with their health decisions. The call between the GoodStarter and the patient is just one more source of data, the one that sets the tone for maintaining the human-to-human connection.

We’re promoting the human-to-human connection, what we call H2H. We’re calling patients as soon as they pick up their prescription from the pharmacy. That friendly outbound initial call is powerful. It is known that this is a major moment of doubt. People want some help. One example is when we offer our GoodStart Minutes text messages, “Would you like a positive health message for 21 days?” And the person says, “Yes, I’d like that.” 85% of people complete their 21 days. Well, there’s an empowerment piece there because the patient is listening to an offer, digesting it and then accepting it, and then they receive those texts. Once again, the behavior looks transactional, but it is emotional. Here is a nice simple, human question: who wouldn’t appreciate simple positive messages for 21 days?

With consumers feeling more and more of a digital disconnection, it’s important to enable human-to-human technology. Ultimately, we need to connect with the patient on a personal level. But the data guides us in writing better scripts, in marking emotional peaks and valleys, in identifying what has the most impact through the words that we use. We discover which messages have the most payoff so we’re not wasting words, so that we know when the awkward silence means more, so we know that when a pause is needed. We know when there’s an awkward giggle, what the that awkward giggle in a call really means.

Can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Privacy. Yeah, privacy. Life Sciences compliance represents some of the most rigorous privacy standards that exist. But I think it’s a question. It’s important that we generate conversations around maintaining patient privacy while complying with state and federal regulations. Part of helping someone, or part of being helped is the ability to let someone come in and help you. So, yeah, there’s a privacy concern. The privacy concern is inherent, it’s inherent in general health, it’s inherent in even helping yourself. Think how hard it is to share a new diagnosis with anyone. The first thing you have to do is admit you have a problem and help yourself. I think it comes down to you being a little bit vulnerable.

We’re living in a time of heightened alerts around privacy because there’s so much data out there.

How do you think this might change the world?

Putting the human at the center of the health equation will change the world! Health is not about treatments — it is an attitude and belief in what is possible. It reminds me of the quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in which he said, “The human voice is the organ of the soul.” When we call patients participating in the Good Start Program, we often hear a deep sigh of relief or a grumpy moment that turns into a laugh. It is the magic of caring.

Society is moving towards greater inclusiveness and equity — and in health, addressing and embracing these values is crucial to give people the respect, the kindness, the care, and the confidence so that they can craft the healthiest life possible.

We envision a world where all patients are seen and heard. Not “messaged” or “app’d”, but actually heard. Haven’t we all seen how the very notion of health has evolved in the last few years? The mental shift from “patient” to “person” in pharmaceutical companies has begun. That is big and bodes well. Understanding is not belief; we need to think more globally about what being a healthy human is.

As a society, we are moving from the old belief that Patient + Pill = Health to something far more universal. Health is a concept that now frames our entire lives. It has become an umbrella about how we live — our emotional health, our financial health, our physical health. True health is the balancing and attention to all aspects of your life and making technology more “human” is adding that third dimension, creating the outcome of a healthier me, a healthier outcome, a healthier life. This is not a visionary statement — this is human decency at work.

I could pontificate on solving the problem of people taking their meds more than the 100 days, or asking better questions of their doctors, or any number of positive actions. But that misses the point. The world changes when we all realize that it is not about the condition you suffer from, but the compassion you received in your moment of need. We build a better world through better health.

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

The short of it is, I have spent all of my career in technology, creating, selling, building products that I never really completely understood. Then quite honestly, going through a period where a family member became gravely ill put me on a new path that was more rooted in purpose. As I described earlier, my wife Josiane battled pancreatic cancer in her 30s. The prognosis was grim, and it was a very uncertain and scary time. It is during such times that our priorities tend to shift, and we see what really matters to us. I always loved and valued Josiane, but suddenly I understood the value of doing something that matters … of making a difference in life. And then, it was as if the universe acknowledged the shift, and I got a call to work in the healthcare space. What I had experienced helped me understand what people really needed — and it was just more humanity in how they are treated.

What we do is elegantly simple and solves a very real need. It’s kind of like setting the stage for a big event. We send out the invites, we determine the theme, we dim the lights, we order the right food, we invite the right people, but we’re not the DJs, we’re not the caterers, we’re not the celebrities that we’ve invited. We just literally set the winning conditions for a great behavioral experience. We want everyone to have the knowledge, not the doubt, that lets them not think about being a patient, just a healthier human.

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. Identification of your most valued audience is key. Good technology connects users to actions while maintaining privacy. For example, our technology flags that a prescription has been filled, and that is where it does its magic. We identify people at the pharmacy, and while it seems transactional, it is an emotional moment. Our tech accelerates our ability to speak to them when they have so many questions.
  2. Driving that human connection at the start sets the right tone. Nobody wants to be counseled by a robot. We’re human first and we all want that human connection. The technology can facilitate those communications. Our technology enables us to measure users’ sentiments — how they feel as they begin taking a new medication. This emotional insight creates a deeper connection from the first moment we reach out to help.
  3. Start with a clear goal. We craft journeys built primarily on a human-to-human foundation with one goal — to have a better understanding of what a prescribed medication is meant to do. We know that helping to instill this knowledge builds confidence and confidence breeds success.
  4. Customization and personalization drives better results. Providing empathic support is an overwhelming task and tall order. Our technology is designed to help provide guidance and support for those who interact with patients. The key is making it personal. We keep the consumer front and center with a deep understanding of what they are facing.
  5. It’s not a one and done scenario. Technology presents us with incredible potential but to make it work for us as a system, we need to establish its continuity. In the case of Pleio, we see that feeling heard and supported frames all our success with people. It’s not a fleeting experience in the world of health. Smart devices and the consistency of connecting with both uplifting and informative messages allows us to interact in many channels and many ways to reinforce the positive behaviors around taking medication.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Please visit us at the Pleio website: https://www.pleio.com/. You can also find me on LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-oleksiw-805520/

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

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