The Future of Healthcare: “Paper is fallible, do you still use a phonebook? Of course not. But your doctor might still use a pen and paper.” with Dr. Will Kirby, CMO of LaserAway
Paper is fallible. We need to immediately do away with all forms of physical documentation and commit to only using electronic records. Do you still use a phonebook? Of course not. But your doctor might still use a pen and paper. That’s worrisome. The best studies have a large sample size and long-term data. So by going 100% electronic we can readily mine the objective information right in front of us and utilize it to formulate better diagnostic and treatment paradigms.
As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Will Kirby. Scientist, professor, and physician, Dr. Kirby has a devoted fan base spanning a vast demography. He is a much sought-after key opinion leader and influencer in the aesthetic dermatology space and is frequently cited as one of the nation’s leading dermatologists. His medical acumen coupled with his business savvy makes him a much-respected thought-leader in the healthcare space.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been enchanted by science, but I was a late bloomer — I didn’t know I wanted to be a doctor until I was almost done with college. And even as I was finishing medical school, I was still unclear what path my health career would take. See, I recognized that most medical specialties were really bimodal in that they fall into one of two main categories: They are completely devoted to the diagnosis in that they are solely cerebral or they are focused on the physical treatment so they are only technical. But I wanted a career that allowed me to be part of both the diagnosis and the treatment process. I wanted to be both cerebral and technical. To wit, I have an artist’s mind so I felt like I had a personal obligation to find a creative outlet and I’m drawn to engineering and physics… so by combining these four core strengths I was delivered at the doorstep of the only medical specialty that allows one to utilize their brain, their hands, their artistic urges, and a their desire for technical creativity: dermatology.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Sure! I have a ton of experience working with lasers and at the risk of self-aggrandizement, I’m widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in the field of laser tattoo removal. So here is the interesting story: About six years ago I was asked, by a major device manufacturer to consult on a new laser they were building. I reviewed the data in detail, I tested the device clinically, and I told them the truth: I believed that they had created a flawed machine based on theoretical technology, that they should have brought me much earlier in the process, and that they absolutely should not take it to market in the current iteration. You can imagine how well this negative and unsuspected news went over with the executive team. They informed me that other storied dermatologists they hired disagreed with me and they asked me to change my findings. Very candidly, I was second-guessing myself because all the other dermatologists on the project had a different view then mine, and if I’m being honest, I was feeling intimidated and insecure because of the pedigree of the company and the other physicians involved. But I ultimately stuck to my guns because I trusted myself implicitly. As such, my consulting contract was promptly canceled, I was insultingly dismissed, and the company fast-tracked the launch of the product. And what happened? Well soon after selling countless devices to unscrupulous dermatologists, the complaints quickly started rolling in. The other dermatologists that previously endorsed the product started to distance themselves because, just as I had predicted, the device wasn’t able to deliver the results that were promised. Then the lawsuits began. And then the executives started being fired, and now, just a few years later, this device that costs nearly a quarter of million dollars each is more of an academic novelty than the clinical workhorse that was promised. I did the ethical thing and I slept well at night because of it. But that’s not the story! Right now, along with some close friends and business associates, I’m in the final stages of building a proprietary laser tattoo removal device that, when launched, will be the most clinician-friendly device available. The big picture here is this: Try your best, never give up, and stay true to yourself!
Can you tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the healthcare field?
I’m a board-certified physician, and an associate clinical professor of dermatology at two medical schools, and I’m also the cosmetic director for a dermatology residency program where I train residents about laser physicians as well as the art and science of all aspects of aesthetic dermatology. I also serve as on the editorial advisory board of two medical journals and I’ve authored and co-authored major medical text book chapters. Most importantly though is my clinical experience; I’m the Chief Medical Officer for LaserAway, the nation’s leading aesthetic dermatology group — we have more experience implementing aesthetic treatments than anyone. They say that books make you smart and that experience makes you wise. It took a really long time, but I now have both.
What makes your company stand out?
LaserAway has 52 clinics currently and we are on track to open at least one clinic per month for the next few years. No aesthetic dermatology group in the nation has a bigger footprint and better clinician education. No aesthetic dermatology group in the nation has more experience or better medical leadership. No aesthetic dermatology group in the nation has a better understanding of marketing or a better corporate culture. It is my strong contention that LaserAway will be the torchbearer for the future of aesthetic dermatology.
Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
The word “doctor” is derived from the Latin word, “docere” which means “teach”. So even though healthcare practitioners are healers, I think it’s even more important that we recognize the time-honored tradition of teaching. The single biggest unaddressed “pain point” is lack of transparency and the way to combat confusion and to shed light on issues on opaque issues in the medical field is through teaching and education. Which begs the question, what is the best way to educate the masses about healthcare? Well, we know that modern society has a short attention span and we know that everyone has a mobile device so the answer is staring us right in the face: social media. LaserAway curates high-quality, easy-to-understand social-media based educational videos on an extremely frequent basis. I’m highly confident that the biggest innovation we’ll see in the next decade isn’t some currently undiscovered technology but rather a revisit to the ancient art of teaching and the expert utilization of technology to propagate healthcare education.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
1) Intelligence is sexy. For so long I was embarrassed to be smart. What a toxic notion that is! But truly felt like it was a crutch to be well-read and inquisitive. I wish someone had sat me down a lot sooner and said to me, “nothing is sexier than intelligence”.
2) Don’t be afraid to start a fight. I bit my tongue for a long time because I saw so many easily intimidated individuals but since then I’ve made many positive contributions to my field by challenging the status quo and engaging some of the old guard in arguments. You’d be surprised what you can accomplish with a healthy dose of skepticism and a big mouth.
3) Positivity is contagious. Surround yourself with positive people because you’ll accomplish much, much more than you would otherwise. I’ve been in a negative work environment that I should have abandoned much sooner than I did, and it was because I thought it would just spontaneously correct itself. I now love going to work because I get true happiness from my colleagues and I only wish that someone had explained to me earlier in my career that I should seek out positivity because it’s an asset on your life journey.
Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Why do you think the US is ranked so poorly?
Many other countries have better access to healthcare, more efficient administration of healthcare, and better healthcare outcomes. But why? Better coordination of care overall, an emphasis on primary care, better affordability of care, and doctors/hospitals won’t like to hear this next one, a movement away from fee-for-service payments. So those are all areas where there is room for significant improvement in the U.S. But let’s dig a little deeper: Preventative healthcare isn’t a sexy talking point for politicians and it isn’t lucrative for big pharma so it gets relegated to the sidelines. See, everyone knows that it’s much easier to prevent a problem than to correct a problem yet, in the Unites States, we tend to focus on the correction of existing issues rather than addressing preventable ones. It really is that simple — we, as a collective, need to place a premium on prophylactic care and we need to ensure that this type of care is available to everyone. So how do we do that? To improve healthcare we need the government to curtail healthcare fraud, remove the inherent monetary rewards that accompany unnecessary procedures and medications, and make primary care the top priority. Naturally it’s much more complicated than this in practicality but you get the gist. So how will we do this? It is going to take a disruption in the current healthcare paradigm. Maybe a charismatic, passionate politician will come along, maybe a Silicon Valley-based company will lead the charge, maybe generative Z will get fed up with the hand they have been dealt. If other nations can do better, so can we. And we this discussion has been going on too long — its’ time to make a change.
You are a “healthcare insider”. If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system?
Let me preface this part of the interview by loudly stating that I’m not so egotistical to think that I’m going to be able to overhaul the US healthcare system here in the next few minutes. That’s laughable. But I do have some ideas that we should, at the very least, consider, debate, and consider incorporating in the very near term. And I tried to focus on doable, inexpensive items to contemplate rather than large, thinktank agenda points that will take massive resources. Here we go:
1) Paper is fallible. We need to immediately do away with all forms of physical documentation and commit to only using electronic records. Do you still use a phonebook? Of course not. But your doctor might still use a pen and paper. That’s worrisome. The best studies have a large sample size and long-term data. So by going 100% electronic we can readily mine the objective information right in front of us and utilize it to formulate better diagnostic and treatment paradigms.
2) Overdiagnosis (and thus overprescribing) is rampant. We need to recognize and acknowledge that too much healthcare isn’t a good thing. We need to scale back the subliminal desire and the financial incentives to find a diagnosis and a cure for every little, benign biological process. Let’s start that discussion today.
3) Primary care needs to be positioned front and center. Catastrophes occur — No secret there. But they are typically preventable. What branch of medicine prevents emergencies and long-term negative health sequela? Primary care (family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and OB/GYN). So while freak health accidents do occur, I’d be remiss if I didn’t strongly state that we need to emphasize primary care.
4) Mental health and emotional wellness need to be emphasized. Just because something can’t be measured doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And the healthcare industry does a poor job addressing items that are difficult to quantify. So, we need to bring a new level of equanimity to the “mind/body” balance and ensure that both get equal billing.
5) Put technology to work: Technology is created to make our lives easier and if it isn’t doing that then you are using it incorrectly. Telehealth (formerly called telemedicine) is a means by which we can enhance and distribute healthcare electronic telecommunications technology. If you can’t put a patient and provider in the same room, the good news is that you can use technology to connect them from anywhere across the globe. My team uses it on a daily basis because its cost-effective and unbelievably efficient. Telehealth affords those that would not normally be able to access healthcare (because of location, socioeconomic condition, time constraints, etc.) to reach healthcare providers more easily.
You asked for five but I’m an over achiever so here are a total of ten changes…
6) Break the “Ivory Tower”: The historic, over-romanticized view of medicine is a white, older, male doctor dictating edicts to an uninformed patient. This is antiquated. Allied health care professional (registered nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners) are the future of healthcare and their incorporation into healthcare facilities should be strongly welcomed and encouraged. Their presence affords a much more diversity and inclusivity in the medical workplace. And the only people intimated by their presence are those who benefit finacially from their absence.
7) Try meditation. Our society is over stressed and there are wonderful self-soothing techniques that remain mystery to most. Meditation is free and it can help you better regulate your thoughts, behavior, and emotions. It is astonishing that that the least expensive, safest, and most readily available treatments are ignored.
8) Diseases of the middle ages are returning. We need to closely monitor virus contagions, educate our communities about vaccines, and take all available steps to ensure that we don’t have a biological wildfire on our hands that we can’t extinguish. See, diseases that were once considered eradicated are reemerging. The treatment of preventable childhood illnesses puts a tremendous strain on our healthcare facilities and at considerable cost. Moreover, lack of prevention puts our most vulnerable (babies, the elderly, the immuno-suppressed) unfairly at risk.
9) Teach sleep hygiene. How many people do you know who complain of being tired? There are simple steps that you can take to improve your sleep. Lack of adequate sleep is associated with a vast number of health issues and, in my estimation, proper sleep habits are one of the least expensive and easiest ways to improve your life starting tonight!
10) Social media is an addiction. I realize the irony is that your readers are probably accessing this message on their mobile device but there are very, very real addiction issues that we are only now starting to understand involving social media. I strongly suspect that in the next few years we will have real data implicating social media as a source of anxiety, depression, and unhappiness. I’m personally trying to closely monitor and limit my social media access.
Thank you! It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities and leaders do to help?
Neither I, nor anyone else, has a perfect answer to this question. That said, I do think “healthcare” should be renamed “selfcare”. Lead by example; start with yourself and try to improve one tiny aspect of your health every single day. If every single person took the extra few minutes every day to improve his or her own personal physical and emotional well-being, then it wouldn’t be long before we started seeing a groundswell. Drink more water, shun vices, walk more, eat less mammals and fowl, hug more, delete half your social media apps, take the stairs… it sounds corny but these are simple, inexpensive things that you can do right now! And hopefully your actions will rub off on others!
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
I’m not here to plug medical podcasts or healthcare websites. There is an unsubstantiated myth that you can only gain inspiration from elements in your existing field. But that’s a myopic viewpoint. After all, how can comfortable, existing resources inspire professional growth? I travel emotionally not just outside of my typical professional lane but as far as possible from the norm that I can. See, I’m of the mindset that wide-ranging interests have helped me become a better physician and thorough the incorporation of seemingly unrelated fields like gardening, cooking, and even comedy, I’ll continue to evolve to personally and professionally allowing me to cast a wide net which, in turn, helps many more patients than I would be able to if I never strayed from medicine. My sincere message is that the medical community needs to do things differently and revisiting the resources we have today over and over simply isn’t cutting it.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Well, I’d rather you minimize social media use. So instead of looking me and LaserAway up on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, please instead eat some vegetables and then head outside for a leisurely jog before you meditate!
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!
The pleasure was all mine and I truly appreciate you including me in this important conversation.