Rock Health CEO Summit 2014

I attended the Rock Health CEO Summit in San Francisco. The event was relatively small, made up mostly of startup co-founders and CEOs with a few industry and investor people sprinkled in.

I was surprised when I saw the list of attendees. I hadn’t heard of most of the companies. The ones that I knew were spread across a broad range of the industry and broader range of technologies. Being Rock Health, the organizers did a very good job of creating a snapshot of the attendees at the conference by the numbers.


The headliners were VCs Vinod Khosla and Josh Kushner (Oscar insurance) and Sue Siegel, CEO of GE Healthymaginations. The format worked well, with networking for lunch, one large group session, track-based breakout sessions run by CEOs, and an interview of Kushner and Khosla by a TechCrunch writer. Breakout sessions were divided into five broad categories — funding, customer development, product, regulation, and market segments.

It was a great opportunity to hear from other startups about their experience in different domains. There was a range of companies, especially in terms of stage. The discussions I attended covered selling to patients and doctors and compliance and regulation. I was impressed with the day and I got something from every session.


The session that surprised me was a discussion with Vinod Khosla and Josh Kushner. Khosla has been one of the most active health tech investors over the last few years. He’s also gotten a lot of attention by writing and speaking about trends in the industry, proclaiming that technology will eliminate the need for 80 percent of doctors. He’s interesting even though I don’t agree with everything he says.

My impression changed after hearing him talk. He still thinks technology can eliminate 80 percent of doctors. A paper on his firm’s website contains other more fully baked ideas. For example, he believes that if you want to be a doctor in 10+ years, you should go to school for math and not got to medical school.

I don’t think that’s revolutionary. Doctors want impact at a higher level, such as public health. Specifically what Khosla is getting at is that he feels the future of healthcare is all about data science. The number of data points and amount of data will increase exponentially over time and the ability to analyze and glean insights from that data will be very powerful. 

I think most doctors go to medical school because of the human element. Being a data scientist wouldn’t interest them. It’s not about helping more or fewer more people, it’s relating to people. Some go into medicine because of prestige and other less noble reasons, but most of my friends went into medicine because of the human element.

Khosla was clear is saying that he doesn’t know the answers or possess the insights that would lead to the changes he talks about. He is funding people and empowering them to find those answers. He did not seem as arrogant in person as he does in his writings. He takes a “change will not come from within” point of view. He is looking for smart people with big ideas that are ideally but not necessarily tied to the existing system to get them off the ground.

He was asked if he thought Silicon Valley would fix healthcare, which is something I joke about with other Midwestern startups as we lament the crazy discrepancy between valuations in Northern California vs. the middle of country. Khosla basically said, yes, Silicon Valley is the place that will fix healthcare. But he was clear that Silicon Valley is a state of mind and not a geography — daring to dream big, being willing to fail, and being foolish in the face of norms. What’s needed is an investment community with a willingness and ability to invest in riskier enterprises, the same motivational philosophy that Steve Jobs and Robert F. Kennedy talked about in how to change the world.

It’s the reason why Khosla invested in Oscar. Taking on traditional payers seems like a foolish idea to most people because that’s fully loaded with risk and it requires a ton of upfront investment. But if it succeeds, as Kushner said, it will control the payments so it will control the data, and with the data Oscar believes it can build a better experience that larger payers will be forced to copy.

I flew directly back on the redeye from California to Wisconsin to be with my son, who was having minor surgery. I filled out endless paperwork even though the massively expensive Epic go-live is one year old. I was given a Post-it note with a handwritten identifier to track our son’s progress. I left with five pages of printouts and instructions to call somewhere else to schedule a follow-up appointment. I spent an hour at Walgreens waiting for a prescription because e-prescribing hasn’t made it to the hospital’s surgery centers. I will have to wait weeks to receive a paper bill in the mail.

It really does require a foolish person to think they can fix healthcare.


Travis Good is an MD/MBA and co-founder of Catalyze. More about me.

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