My Goals for Digital Health (in NY)


digital health

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” – Spencer Johnson

I know that it is bold to put your goals and dreams out there, but hey I’m a New Yorker, and we are bold people with big dreams, and we have the drive to make things happen. (+/- Coffee)

Every day, I wake up and ask myself 3 questions:

1. What are the things, and who are the people, that make you want to dream with your eyes wide open?
2. How can I make an impact in the world?
3. How can I make reality better than my dreams?

About me:

I’m a proud native New Yorker. New York isn’t just the place I was born and the place that I live and work. It is the place that continues to give me an education and a life full of beauty and vibrancy. The electrical energy of the city runs through my veins and I am inspired by it.

I am a NYS-licensed physician who trained at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn and at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. I became a doctor because I wanted to help people stay healthy and be able to fully take part in their lives. I went to the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education at City College because in particular, I wanted to serve the underserved. I worked on the upcoming NYS Patient Portal for New Yorkers because I believe that information is powerful and that health information should be accessible. I also believe in building something that gives people more than they ever expected.

My goals are:

1. To make NY a digital health and life science capital
2. To create a NY digital health fellowship that would be the first of its kind anywhere
3. To create something like an MIT Media and Innovation Lab but for healthcare

NY as a digital health and life science capital

After the Valley, New York is the country’s second leading tech hub and amazing things are happening here. I’ve been to numerous lectures, meet-ups, and demos inclusive of NY tech week, data week, Maker Faire at the NY science hall, Open Data meet-ups, digital health conferences, NY3DP, New York Tech Connect life science events and have met makers, designers, developers scientists, small business owners, students, who are all contributing to the ecosystem. In terms of life science, there have been multiple IPO’s on the NYSE in the last year and there are multiple incubators focusing on the field in Long Island, Buffalo, in Harlem (Harlem Biospace, and Kiiln- which will be New York’s first step-out life science incubator and has all female founders), as well as the opening of the New York Genome Center. In terms of digital health, there are several incubators and dozens of companies that are working hard to address issues in healthcare from insurance exchanges to pricing transparencies to medication adherence to the management of chronic disease.

Private public partnerships and a very supportive government have also added to the ecosystem and have drawn people from other places in the country and from across the oceans to New York, because they realize what a special place is it is for innovation, the sciences, design, and digital health. New York has always been a place where thought leaders come to and are born, it was the birthplace of women’s suffrage and in the late Mayor Koch’s words, New York “is the place where the future comes to audition”.

I believe that New York will become a digital health and life science capital because of all that is here, but most of all because of the people who are here. It is their spirit, their ideas, their talents that will make this happen. It is also their willingness to take a risk and say yes to the future that will further drives us there.

Digital health fellowship for technologists, healthcare providers and patient advocates

I believe in the power of technology as a tool to connect us, a means of communication and access to information and a broader world, as something that could potentially lead to cost savings in a healthcare system beleaguered in complexity and high costs. However, I think that the power of people trumps even the power of technology. It is only as good as the people who create it. In the past, a lot of technologies seem to have been created in isolation of those who were ultimately going to be using them, they were bulky, ran counter to workflow, and would crash all the time. They didn’t reflect a deep and nuanced understanding of what and how people who used such tools went about their day. I’m a doctor by training, so it would be like me building a house. I can guess what a person would want at a basic level (bedrooms, bathrooms), but maybe I wouldn’t know how the house would be used (by a single person or a large family and there is a difference). I believe in the concept of participatory design, the idea that the people who will be using the technology should be involved in its development because the end product would be a better fit and because in the process, those involved, would be able to learn from the process of creation and testing, as well as learn from each other.

What I see fellows doing:

•use open data to design research projects and outreach initiatives (let’s collect data and really find out what we need to address, what resources we have so we can have better resource allocation, and let’s see if our initiatives are actually working)
•learn from each other by working on such projects
•be ambassadors of digital health (a lot of people don’t know what it is and how it could help them, let’s get out there and show people from patients to healthcare providers)
•act as innovation leaders and scouts (there is a world out there, and I believe in the bi-directional transfer of information. we can learn from each other, developing world-> developed world and vice versa)
•act as bridges to people who want to get into the field, learn more about the ecosystem in New York (so many bright and talented people that I’ve met want to get into the space, but they aren’t sure how) or as sounding boards for entrepreneurs
•engage in hands-on work (testing technologies out, talking to parents, seniors, hospital systems about needs/feedback, or what about take your developer to work day at the hospital? Or Computer Science 101 for doctors?)
•teach in academic settings
•act as idea agents and agents of change (what if we used facial recognition technology or fingerprint technology now available on smartphones to login to accounts/secure data? what if we changed how we do things, how we talk about and what we expect when it comes to healthcare?)

Healthcare innovation lab

I am really inspired by programs and initiatives by Cleveland Clinic, UCSF, TED and TEDMED, Futuremed, Singularity University, The X prize, and MIT Media Lab. I would love for there to be a place in New York where the future is being created every single day. Where what if’s turn into how. Where the word can’t doesn’t exist. I would love to see a place where academics, healthcare providers, designers, artists, data scientists, geneticists, nutritionists, chefs even, could work together to develop new ideas and new technologies. What if we finally could find a cure for the common cold? What if we found a way to develop 3D hologram medical avatars a la Star Trek? What if we crowd sourced ideas from people all over the world to come up with solutions? (I bet there would be some really good ideas). What if we invited people doing interesting things to test some of our work or for them to teach us what they do (nanomedicine, architectural design with health in mind, bioinformatics using computer algorithms)?

I believe in the talent that exists here in New York. I believe in the will of the people who are burning the midnight oil and who make this town run. I believe in a present and a future that holds community, collaboration, communication, and health in high regard.

Join me, and share your ideas.

Let’s make this happen. Let’s change the world.

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by IntelFreePress

About the author: Dr. Charlene Ngamwajasat

Dr. Charlene Ngamwajasat is the creator and writer of the blog Just Curious. She practices in New York City, specializing in internal medicine. She describes herself as a physician who loves to travel, read and experience new things.

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