Episode 69

A Common Data Language

with Mitesh Rao, M.D.
Episode hosted by: Rishi Sikka, M.D.

May 16, 2023

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Mitesh Rao, M.D.
Founder & CEO, OMNY Health

Mitesh Rao, M.D., MHS is the Founder and CEO of OMNY Health, a venture-backed company revolutionizing how healthcare data is shared and valued.



When you start a tech company, you learn about things that you never pay attention to you—things they don't teach you in med school.



Rishi Sikka, M.D.: Hi, I’m Rishi Sikka, co-host of Day Zero, and thrilled to be joined here today with Dr. Mitesh Rao CEO and founder of OMNY Health. Mitesh, thank you so much for being here on Day Zero.

Mitesh Rao, M.D.: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Rishi Sikka, M.D.: Mitesh, I know everybody wants to just get into OMNY Health, what you’re doing, how you’re unleashing and unlocking data for the benefit of organizations and for patients.

But I thought we’d actually start first and talk about how you’ve unleashed your career and then how you’ve unleashed your personal life. And, one of the things that kind of struck me as we were talking, and even though I’ve known you for a while, Is, two themes across both your personal life and your career, one of pivots that have occurred, and then also how you’ve combined or brought together both personally and professionally things that may people, may not think actually fit together.

Mitesh Rao, M.D.: Yeah, no, absolutely. It’s interesting, right? Being first generation in this country, my parents came here from India and they literally came here with not a whole lot in their pockets and their degrees. And so for them, the path they had chosen for a career was really meaningful in core to their personality and core to their, their livelihood, everything that, that was important to them.

My, my dad’s a an engineer on the computer side and my mom’s an obgyn and the two of them I think, From an early age decided that each one of them wanted me to follow in their footsteps. And so it was an interesting childhood. My dad very early on in my childhood brought a computer home and wanted to teach me how to program and teach me some of the basics around it.

And, he had dreams of me going into computer science. And then my mom wanted me to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. And so she wanted me to to follow in, her footsteps. But down the pathway of A career as a surgeon. And it was an interesting childhood because after school, after dinner, after homework was done, my dad would would try to get me to come do some programming challenges with him and learn my way on a computer.

And my mom would would buy whole chickens and cut them up the dining table and make me stitch ’em back together with a needle driver in thread. So sh they both wanted me to follow in there. Footsteps. And so I got tastes of both as a child and I, it was really interesting to see that balance and I think, eventually I decided to go to med school and my mom chalked that up as a victory.

She, remember she turned my dad, she said I

Rishi Sikka, M.D.: It’s a good thing when the wins, by the way, as I’m getting.

Mitesh Rao, M.D.: Yeah it’s so true, right? And then and then now it’s an ongoing debate as to who actually won. Now that I’m on the tech side. So it’s funny it’s come like full circle now where the exposures that I had being in both of those worlds as a child have now come together.

Fascinatingly enough as I’ve established my career and taken it in, into directions that I don’t necessarily think I would’ve predicted early on but I found the balance and found where both of those interests could actually find common ground.

Rishi Sikka, M.D.: One of the other themes as I had said is one of pivots and you. You started out on a certain career track, post medical school, and then, had another sort of pivot, not just in terms of specialty, but also just in terms of how you were seeing yourself down the road.

Mitesh Rao, M.D.: Yeah. Yeah. I applied to one of the few remaining accelerated medical school programs in the country. I did my med school at Jeff, which was a six year program, so two years of undergrad and four years of med school. And so a really accelerated path. And when I came out, I wanted to be a surgeon.

I. Surprise, surprise. And wanted to do in particular trauma surgery. So I went to SUNY Upstate for my residency. And really in my first year of residency, I saw a ton of technology coming through the front door. I saw healthcare rapidly adapting to new modes of care technologies that were being incorporated in the clinical environment.

And I saw how disruptive it was, and what I saw was a struggle of balancing the old versus the new. And that’s really what piqued my interest in thinking about the broader world of healthcare and technology was just watching how these two worlds that couldn’t have been any more different. Were trying to find that common ground and find a path forward.

And that’s what pushed me. To actually apply to the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program, which I did and actually matched in mid residency and when a lot of my class went into the lab to do basic science research after year two of residency, which normally, General surgeon can be a five year path, it can be a seven year path with two years of research.

While they went into the lab, I went to Yale and was a clinical scholar with Robert Johnson Foundation. Got my master’s in health sciences research, and did a lot of research on quality, safety, technology, innovation and really found a passion for thinking through where healthcare was going into the future.

And that. Was something that I don’t think I ever anticipated, but it changed everything and I owe a lot to the program. I owe a lot to that time where I had a two year cushion to really think about where I could best apply myself in the growing field of healthcare. And I came out and I realized, with this.

Interest in thinking about the future of healthcare. I had to find a balance in clinical practice too because love seeing patients. I love practicing medicine. And so I ended up switching into emergency medicine where I could still get that feel of trauma and critical care yet have a little bit of a balance with time to be able to explore other interests.

Rishi Sikka, M.D.: If I recall, the next major pivot you, so you finished residency, you had senior roles at Northwestern, and then a senior role. At Stanford, which again, that, that tech thread and in that milieu pulled again, and that sort of served as a springboard then that you were gonna become a, an entrepreneur.

Mitesh Rao, M.D.: Yeah, and I think one of the. Really important things about emergency medicine in my life is that it has put me at the front line of healthcare, seeing sometimes the rawest aspects and the most challenging environments and people that are most vulnerable. And I got to feel firsthand the amount of stress on the environment what it’s like to try to practice with limited resources and ever shrinking resources.

So that, that sort of. Boiler room, if you will, really forges, I think a lot of interesting perspective and allows you to take a bigger picture view on some of the challenges that healthcare faces. So between that and my, my experience in the quality and safety side I saw more challenges arising in the healthcare environment.

In particular, the big piece that really struck me during my time at Stanford was I kept seeing. Opportunities around data. I saw huge potential for the industry to actually come together, right? The broader industry of healthcare around real-world data and what data could do to transform the lives of patients in the rare disease space.

Building novel therapeutics, thinking about quality, safety. Thinking about how do we improve things like medical devices. A lot of what we were doing was reactive around data because data was so challenging to get access to. And so I saw this potential for what I thought of at the time as a missing piece of the architecture, a missing piece of infrastructure that could enable not just provider organizations like health systems and community groups to be able to tap into their data.

And really understand it at a nuanced level, but also to think about the broader world of partnerships and what those partnerships could do. Because it’s that old phrase of the rising tide raises all ships, we’re stronger together. And healthcare often suffers not just from siloed data, but siloed perspectives.

And that’s what I wanted to really tackle. That was the, call it the turning point in my head where I said, okay API should actually start a company and think about building this missing piece of the architecture that I think will be incredibly powerful and life changing for so much of the country.

Rishi Sikka, M.D.: So that, that kind of brings us actually to OMNY to OMNY Health and succeeding. Tell us a little bit about what it is OMNY Health does. You’ve had tremendous traction, it seems. Every time I talk to you it’s another milestone, another accolade. I know you closed a around a funding recently, which is no small feat in this environment, but tell us a little bit about OMNY and where you’re at.

Mitesh Rao, M.D.: Yeah, no, I’m happy to. So what we set out to build was that common language of data and what we saw as a network where every organization across the healthcare spectrum could collaborate through that data. We started the company in January of 2018. We had a, it was three guys and a terrible slide deck, an absolutely official slide deck.

Envision we, we were all. Somewhat experienced veterans in the space, a vision of what was missing and I think a compelling story around it. And so we initially raised some venture capital backing and really spent about a year and a half, two years in stealth building out two parts to our company, which was one was the platform that would allow data to be.

Quickly normalized and brought into a common data language and digested into a usable format regardless of the variability in IT infrastructure, which is, one of the common problems in healthcare is that Data is very different between organizations, sometimes even in the same emr. How people code data, the common lack of a common data model, that’s an incredible challenge, not just internal to an organization, but when you start thinking about partnerships on a national level.

So we, we built the platform, we built the ingestion engine and and then we set out talking to health systems and especially groups around the country saying, look, we’ve built. What we think is a missing piece of the architecture, which will pair well with a vision of data, and how data’s gonna drive everything in healthcare.

Come join our network. And it’s I’m proud to say that it’s grown considerably. We now cover we, we have data covering all 50 states and 56 million lives on the platform with partnerships across some of the largest IDNs and nonprofit health systems, community systems and now AMCs, ncis, children’s Hospitals, where we’ve helped these groups start to think through.

Data as a national fabric of communication and innovation and how we can really drive a lot when you bring it together on that level. So the company has grown quickly and we’ve already done incredible work. Powering some of the most cutting edge research now and rare disease helping build drugs, molecules and safety and efficacy work around areas that are traditionally neglected.

For patients. And the other piece to this too is with a national data network, being able to help connect, connect resources, connect opportunities to parts of the community that are traditionally don’t get access to those pieces. So you talk about health equity, you talk about diversity when it comes to access to things like clinical trials and the latest treatment opportunities.

And that’s really what we’re looking around is democratizing data and democratizing access to innovation across the country. And that’s really the core purpose behind the platform.

Rishi Sikka, M.D.: That’s it. Incredible story, and congratulations on the success. Not just personally, but also just for your organization and the impact that you’re having on patients and entire communities at a time when that is so needed. You’ve been making these connections obviously on an organizational level and a data level.

What are some of the connections or new skills, or. New parts of you that you’ve had to develop as you’ve gone from being a physician an academic physician, a physician leader to now a CEO.

Mitesh Rao, M.D.: Yeah, it’s the learning curve is really steep. It’s fascinating when you start a tech company you learn about things that you never pay attention to and they don’t teach you in med school for sure. Learning about finance, learning about hr, there’s just how to fundraise. There’s so much that you take in so quick.

And I’ll say this, I always try to encourage physicians to go into entrepreneurship and there’s a few reasons behind that, but I think, first and foremost being in medicine. Whether you are a physician, whether you’re a mid-level, whether you’re a nurse, you have to absorb so much information and process it so quickly and be able to start to apply it into your day-to-day that natural skill becomes ingrained in how you approach new challenges.

That’s the first piece. The second thing is that we’re so used to dealing with limited resources, dealing with the stress of an ever-changing environment. You have a level of resilience that actually makes it. Really beneficial as a skillset when you become a founder, because I’ll tell you, the early years of running a company, it is an emotional rollercoaster.

There are days early on when you know you think you’re gonna be a billion dollar business, and then by lunchtime you are scared you’re gonna go outta business. And then by dinnertime you’re just happy you survived the day. And those early phases, which they call the Valley of Death it’s takes a lot of.

A lot of resilience as a founder to forge through that and get to growth stage, which is where we are today. And that I think is is something that is an innate skill that a lot of physicians have. The ability to not just process data and make decisions quickly, but also the ability to deal with that level of stress both psychologically and, emotionally and not let it phase you.

And still be able to make those key decisions. And so that, that has helped a lot. And I used to always say that my only regret was I didn’t do this sooner, but the truth is that I needed that experience that I’ve had at each step of the way to form the foundation. That phrase of, I took the path least traveled and it’s made all the difference.

It really has made all the difference and is what allowed me to build a company at this stage of my career. And to be, what I think is. Have the right level of experience and wisdom as a founder.

Rishi Sikka, M.D.: You were talking a little bit about the value of despair or tough times that you’ve gone through. The, these are tough times as, as well from a macroeconomic standpoint. Wake up a wake up on a morning and your bank might not be there. You you have high in, high interest rates, an inflationary environment.

Certainly, the healthcare systems are not doing well financially. Anything that’s changed either for you from a decision making standpoint or from a leadership standpoint as you’ve come into this economic and and overall environment.

Mitesh Rao, M.D.: Yeah, so I think about it from two perspectives. From the company perspective, it’s been an interesting environment for venture-backed companies, right? The funding environment is tight. The cost of capital has gone up. The phase of easy money that we were in for the last few years is gone.

And I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I think that’s actually a good thing because it is, it’s helping forge some of the best companies and the best founders right now. Forcing people to buckle down and actually focus on building great businesses. The idea of, hey, I wanna actually raise less and go cash flow positive a few years ago would’ve been madness.

And now it’s music to everyone’s ears. And so that’s, that I think is actually a benefit. I think in the economic downturn we’ll see a lot of really great companies become even better. And and the end of the day we’ll all be better for it. That is one of one sort of key piece on the other side of the industry.

You’re absolutely right. It’s and it’s a sort of a hard constellation of events that are aligning here where cost of good sold. For health systems is going higher than that percentage increase is higher than the inflation rate. And the cost for staffing is going up dramatically, right?

Physician salaries, nurses salaries it’s becoming challenging to. Meet that financial bottom line when reimbursement goes down and pixes tend to get more challenging. A lot of organizations are trying to figure out, what does the future look like and how do we balance an approach that goes beyond how we’ve traditionally functioned as an organization?

And I do think that there is a silver lining to that because it is helping a lot of organizations think about the future, maybe in a way that was a little bit. More peripheral before and now it’s coming front and center. And organizations are thinking a lot about data and they’re thinking a lot about how they can build partnerships and what does that look like and how does that support the bottom line, but then how does that open up new opportunities?

And for us it’s been a lot of rapid growth because that’s the business we’re in. It’s opening doors for organizations to think about the future of healthcare and how they can start to build. New routes forward. And we’re doing that for a lot of the country now. And I like to say we’re making a difference in that space and helping benefit not just the organizations on the providers that we partner with, but that’s trickling down to patients.

It’s benefiting communities. And and that’s a value piece that I take a lot of pride in for our company because we’re doing that on a national level now.

Rishi Sikka, M.D.: I so appreciate your leader perspective of taking in some of that sort of negative energy and trying to. Of turn it around as a positive and not in a Pollyannish way, but in a genuine, in a genuine opportunistic way. Speaking of genuine opportunistic, tell us a little bit about what maybe the future holds for OMNY Health over the next 12 to 18 months.

Can you give us a little bit of preview or I don’t wanna put you on the spot of a crystal

Mitesh Rao, M.D.: no.

Rishi Sikka, M.D.: cause it never works out for anybody, but just tell us a little bit about what you’re looking forward to over the next year or two and what we might be able to expect.

Mitesh Rao, M.D.: Yeah. Yeah. As you mentioned before we were lucky enough to raise in a challenging environment and raise well, and so with fresh capital, we are growing the team. We’re expanding pretty rapidly now in order to accommodate the incredible amount of interest we have in joining the platform.

We estimate, I had set a goal of us being around 75 million lives by end of year. Probably be that by end of summer and probably closer to a hundred million lions by end of year. It puts a, that’s a great thing. It’s a very positive challenge. It also puts a lot of responsibility on the company to, to grow, to match that piece.

And so it’s not just scaling and it’s not just scaling a business, it’s scaling myself as a leader as well. Because we’re size wise as the company, we were 30 people at the end of last year and now we’re 40, we’re going to 50, we’ll be close to a hundred next year. So that pushes me to constantly be evolving and thinking of myself, the next phase and how do I scale as the business scales.

But we are on a rapid growth trajectory, which is amazing. We’re starting to do a lot of partnerships now around supporting things like democratizing access to clinical trials, thinking about slab. We’re doing a lot to support things on the regulatory side and starting to look at how we can help support groups like the fda.

And then we’re thinking through a lot on the research components of how we can start to empower a lot of our organizations to expand their internal research capabilities as well. I think we found the right model, which is great. It’s starting to hit that traction point where we’re growing quickly and we take that responsibility very sacred.

The three pillars I always say of our business are around security, compliance, and trust. And that trust piece, we’re patient-centered first and foremost, and that’s an important balancing part. We built this I, I built this, the initial vision of this company and what’s evolved now as the company’s taking it forward.

Centered around how do we do things the right way? How do we make sure the benefit goes to everyone? How do we democratize access to data? But then also how do we democratize access to that value And and how do we support a country that’s gonna be going forward into rapid phases of growth in healthcare, but also challenging economic environments.

Rishi Sikka, M.D.: Speaking of journeys as we, we close you alluded to this a little bit before, I’m sure that there’s probably some physicians, some nurses other clinicians who are listening to this podcast and, they’re thinking, oh gosh, I have an idea.

I have a notion of an idea. Maybe they even got a little bit of a business plan written up, what would be your, what would be your advice to them? What would you say to them?

Mitesh Rao, M.D.: I, as I mentioned before I will encourage anyone and everyone to take an idea that they have and really start to flush it out and then come to that decision point of, do I take the plunge? Do I take the plunge to actually take that idea and turn it into a reality? If we don’t step forward with solutions, if we don’t move forward to change things and to try to improve things, that change will never happen.

And it’s It’s part of our duty, I think, in healthcare to really start to think about not just the current model of how we provide care, but how we can always improve it. And that push to innovation, that’s everyone’s responsibility. And I try to make myself as available as possible to anybody who has an idea, anybody who wants to talk about things and think about, where they can take something into the future.

So I. I will always offer, say, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’ll always spend time because when I had an idea, it was the people who I talked to who encouraged me and helped me solidify that idea. And if I didn’t have those people to be sounding boards, my idea would’ve just been an idea in the back of my head and it would’ve never come into reality.

So I owe that to people. I try to pay it forward and And I think that responsibility piece it’s my responsibility to encourage others to also be able to push innovation to the next level.

Rishi Sikka, M.D.: Oh, that’s just tha thank you for sharing that. It’s just, I think, a continuation of that mission-driven piece that’s so apparent in you and what you’re. Building from an organization standpoint. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for everything you’re doing with OMNY Health and can’t wait to hear more about what the future brings for OMNY Health in the coming months and years.

Looking good. Fingers crossed.

Mitesh Rao, M.D.: Thank you, Rishi. Appreciate it.

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