The lack of interoperability between siloed systems is one of the biggest challenges in healthcare. It’s unrealistic to believe the solution is moving to single instances of systems within complex global manufacturers and large provider networks where acquisition is critical. There will never be a “single source of truth.” Instead, at Soom, we’re applying technology that has worked in other industries to create a knowledge graph that connects these disparate systems, scores data for accuracy and creates interoperability.
As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Charlie Kim. Charlie is the President and CEO of Soom, a technology company that is harnessing the power of big data to save lives and improve patient outcomes. He has quickly established the company as a pioneer and global leader in utilizing barcode technology to bridge information gaps between data sources and physical products, solving both master data management and unique device identification (UDI) challenges for the medical device industry. Charlie has over 20 years of experience as a successful business leader with expertise in emerging technologies and supply chain management.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The genesis of Soom is very personal. In 2012, my youngest daughter was born with a health condition that required a medical device to help her breathe. The following year, the device was recalled due to a manufacturing defect, but we were never informed. Our doctors were never informed. I quickly learned that my family’s situation was not unique — incomplete information in the medical device supply chain makes it difficult to inform caregivers of recalls.
This difficult but fortunately not tragic event proved to be a career-defining moment. I recognized that I had the expertise to solve this supply chain and data problem. Using mobile scan and cloud-based technology, I could connect product data with individual medical devices, giving users across the healthcare value chain complete, accurate product information. And so, Soom was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There are so many stories, but I’m opting to share a funny start-up life fact or fiction story. Our team would regularly watch the HBO series Silicon Valley. It is both comically and horrifyingly accurate in its depiction of start-up life. My favorite episode, which aired when Soom was first incorporating image recognition into one of our apps, is the one where the character Jian-Yang demonstrates his SeeFood app. We watched that scene repeatedly, laughing and feeling somewhat pleased that we were ahead of the show. “Hotdog. Not Hotdog.” is still a running joke on the Soom team.
Can you tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the healthcare field?
I have experienced healthcare from many sides — both personally and professionally. That combined with my background in emerging technologies and supply chain management affords me a unique perspective on how to solve critical data issues facing the industry. The fact is, healthcare is at a technological crossroad. On one side, data gaps in the medical device supply chain threaten business performance and the safety of patients. On the other side, technologies like blockchain and barcodes hold the keys to solving some of these pressing issues. My work and the work of Soom occurs at the intersection of this crossroad.
What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
At Soom, we’re rethinking how technology can advance the quality of safety of healthcare for everyone. The work we’re doing isn’t happening anywhere else. That’s because our proprietary platform and knowledge graph enable us to connect, share and distribute data throughout the global supply chain. This means medical device manufacturers, healthcare providers, patients and caregivers alike have clarity and confidence in the medical devices they use. The Soom team has always believed that what we are doing is unique and innovative. We received confirmation of that when clients started to use our software and saw the immediate value. But recently a Gartner analyst started to follow us as a Cool Company. That proved to us through third-party validation that in an excellence driven market where innovative companies are going to lead, Soom is a completely unique leader.
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? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?
Our solutions tackle some of the biggest challenges facing in healthcare, including interoperability (that is, the exchange of information across databases), inequality and the consumerization of healthcare.
Sweeping medical device regulatory changes are underway in both the United States and European Union. This includes implementation of the FDA’s unique device identification (UDI) system, as well as the upcoming EU medical device regulation (MDR). At their core, these regulations aim to improve medical device safety and effectiveness. But for many manufacturers, compliance can be expensive and time-consuming. Soom’s patented platform makes UDI and electronic instructions for use (eIFU), a requirement of MDR, compliance simple, cost-effective and futureproof.
What’s more, our technology easily enables manufacturers to go beyond the minimum requirements of these regulations. For example, our eIFU solution includes first-to-market capabilities like mobile scanning and single-step language selection; these features bring to life the regulation’s larger goal of improving patient engagement and safety.
We’re also bringing mobile scanning direct to consumers this summer with the launch of our SoomSafety app. SoomSafety sends patients and caregivers push notifications about important safety recalls for the medical devices they use.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Communication is an ongoing and repetitive thing. You must simultaneously reiterate and evolve your messaging to board members, investors and clients. To do that you must learn to truly listen, but also stay true to your mission and core beliefs.
- Aligning value proposition doesn’t mean telling someone what is Soom’s value. It means understanding their needs and aligning your value proposition with those needs. Again, this goes back to communication and listening.
- One of the hardest things about starting a company is hiring and parting ways with friends/people you have a personal relationship with. It’s not as easy as saying never do business with friends and family because your rolodex is only so deep. Growth is hard.
- Scaling beyond the passion and dedication of the core team is one of the greatest challenges. To scale you must grow, but hiring beyond that core inner circle of founders and team members is hard. It’s a hard learning curve for everyone to balance cultivating a culture of true passion for a company and growth.
- Selection and acceptance of investment money is another important balancing act. It is critical to evaluate and balance between the need for cash versus taking in “smart” cash. Taking on the wrong investors can have a significant cost.
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. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly
The U.S. healthcare system is challenged because it is run as both a government and a private business. This creates the opportunity for inequality of coverage, an area where the U.S. rated poorly in the Commonwealth Fund study. As a result, healthcare becomes a privilege. However, while I respect the Commonwealth Fund’s mission, I would argue this study is dated and the metrics evaluated are not necessarily universal to global healthcare.
The U.S. has led many of the greatest breakthroughs in healthcare, such as mapping the human genome. These advancements are what bring people from all over the world here seeking outstanding healthcare and treatment. Yes, our system faces challenges — we are certainly behind in providing quality, accessible care to all. But once a foundation for affordable care is in place, the U.S. has the technology, money and resources needed to make the system work — to deliver better outcomes, equity and efficiency. Being a part of these solutions is what drives me to do the work that I do.
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? Please share a story or example for each.
- The lack of interoperability between siloed systems is one of the biggest challenges in healthcare. It’s unrealistic to believe the solution is moving to single instances of systems within complex global manufacturers and large provider networks where acquisition is critical. There will never be a “single source of truth.” Instead, at Soom, we’re applying technology that has worked in other industries to create a knowledge graph that connects these disparate systems, scores data for accuracy and creates interoperability.
- Consumers are demanding choice and the power of knowledge in healthcare. This consumerization of healthcare is the wave of change that is needed. When you see nontraditional players enter a market you know that change and innovation is imminent. Amazon and Google are entering the healthcare space. This is not unlike the waves of consumer demand and innovation we’ve experienced in other industries like transportation and automotive assembly.
- Consumers want control of their medical records and they want to choose their care. Look at the rapid growth of the Apple Health app and HL7. Younger generations are choosing control over privacy. At Soom, we believe in choice, but for those who seek information and control, we want to empower them with technology that unlocks needlessly hard to find information.
- Healthcare is shifting from general to targeted care — consumers are also driving this change. The industry may be slow to respond, but healthcare does change based on consumer demand. At Soom, we are driven to be an innovative and easy solution for change in an industry that is historically slow to adopt technology or embrace change.
- The US is leading in a lot of areas of healthcare change and the world is watching and following. Examples of this are targeted care and the FDA’s Unique Device Identification (UDI) laws. These UDI laws are now being mirrored throughout the world and are a critical step to opening information and ultimately improving patient outcomes and saving lives.
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?
Corporations and leaders must embrace the fact that healthcare change isn’t project based. It’s a cultural change. When governments enact change — like the U.S. is doing with UDI laws — it’s not enough for corporations and providers to simply meet the minimum requirements. They must go beyond the requirements and embrace the spirit of these laws, which is often to improve the safety of healthcare. Think about it: What would you want if you were the patient or your loved one was the patient? Healthcare may be a business, but it is personal to each of us. Humanizing this work is what will truly drive change and innovation.
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 an avid reader of non-fiction. I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business and Wired Magazine and I’m a huge believer in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I always enjoy connecting on LinkedIn. You can find me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/charlie-kim-1841314.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!