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Physician entrepreneurs seek to innovate medicine

Medical Economics JournalMedical Economics February 2023
Volume 100
Issue 2

Many physicians are becoming innovators and entrepreneurs as they find unique ways to solve problems that can’t be addressed the traditional way.

Physicians are many things: diagnosticians, healers, health counselors and more. But many are also becoming innovators and entrepreneurs as they find unique ways to solve problems that can’t be addressed the traditional way.

Large health care systems may have the financial resources to see more patients, but the doctors working there, like those who don’t, also feel frustrated by administrative burdens, the inability to spend quality time with patients, burnout and gaps in care. We spoke with four doctors who decided not look for an answer outside themselves, but instead to tackle the problem by starting a business.

Finding the answer themselves

Luisa Duran, M.D., is a board-certified endocrinologist and cofounder of Pink Coat, MD, a virtual community for female physicians that offers members access to professional resources and yearlong peer support. Several years into clinical practice, Duran began to experience loneliness, isolation and emotional exhaustion that she felt were connected to being the only female doctor at her clinic. Back then, she didn’t recognize her feelings as symptoms of burnout, but now she knows better.

“Today, I understand that women physicians are at high risk for physician burnout, dying by suicide and quitting medicine far too soon. They have a 60% higher risk compared to women in the general population. I didn’t want to become one of these statistics, so I partnered with my Brown Medical School friend, Dr. Tammie Chang, to create Pink Coat, MD.”

According to Duran, the health care landscape has become so “vast, impersonal and complicated,” that “when I searched for the solution, it didn’t exist … I had to create it.”

Although she still has a full-time practice, Duran has benefitted from the work she and others have done at Pink Coat, which she considers “a necessary resource that complements my clinical practice and helps me see a long-term future caring for patients.” It’s true that she may spend her “evenings and weekends working on Pink Coat, MD,” but that’s because “it’s fun … it doesn’t really feel like work.”

Reducing patient load

Before Amy Loden, M.D., started up her lifestyle coaching enterprise, Vitality Medical and Wellness Consulting, she worked at a health system with a panel of nearly 3,000 patients, something that eventually became unsustainable. “The biggest driver for me to leave … was that I wasn’t doing good care because I only had 10 minutes per patient,” she explained.

Working that way, raising kids and focusing on her marriage became too much for her health. “I was really feeling like a hypocrite, telling people all day long what to change when I wasn’t doing those very things.”

Loden, who is board-certified in internal and lifestyle medicine, decided to open a concierge practice with an emphasis on health coaching to improve patients’ health at a deeper level. She received two certifications, from the Duke Medical Center for Integrative Health and the National Society for Health Coaching.

Now, she helps people understand the “why and … how” of their health. Women with preeclampsia during pregnancy may seeks her support because they don’t want to have heart disease later in life, or someone with insulin resistance wants to stave off diabetes.

“There’s data that shows that people who use health coaches have better long-term outcomes for various chronic diseases,” Loden said, and she “wanted to find a way to treat disease that was innovative and beyond what other people are doing.” As a coach, she can “really drill down and ask what is unique about your situation that will make these changes stick.”

Now that her panel is a fraction of what it was, some 300 or so patients, Loden can spend far more time with each of them. She also offers health coaching programs for members of the community, online group classes that help people improve their health over the course of eight weeks.

And she coaches other physicians to help them identify what they want out of their careers.

Vitality Medical and Wellness Consulting opened in June of 2021, and within nine months there was a waiting list. So not only has the endeavor been personally fulfilling, it has also beena financially sound proposition.

To other physicians who might be considering such a leap, she says: “Just make the jump. You can’t prepare enough; you just have to jump in and learn.” However, she suggests partnering with at least one other physician or medical professional. “You can do it solo, but you don’t have to.”

When the personal becomes professional

Sonal Patel, M.D., a pediatrician and former neonatologist, identified a significant gap in postpartum care as a result of having herself given birth to four children and suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety. Rather than simply being disappointed, she decided to do something about it.

She left her job in an NICU and opened NayaCare, a home health company for mothers. “America’s maternal mortality rate is the worst among developed countries. If you look at other countries, like Norway and Sweden, you see they do better because they provide home visits in the postpartum period.”

Patel found that two-thirds of the women who die after giving birth do so within one month of delivery, although most don’t see an OBGYN until about six weeks postpartum.

To her surprise, the pandemic helped her business thrive, as many new mothers didn’t want to risk going to hospitals or health clinics and were happy to have her come to them. “It’s a new concept, a new way of thinking about health care,” she said. “It’s valuing women’s rights.”

Moreover, Patel can see patients for a longer period of time, reducing the burnout she experienced in the NICU. “We’ve created a medical system that promotes burnout. There’s all the time you spend billing and coding, and you can’t spend enough time with your patients. Now, it’s such a privilege to be invited into my patients’ homes, where I can spend 60 minutes with them.”

Patel sees between eight and 10 families every two weeks and accepts Medicaid so as to be accessible to women of all income levels. The average visit costs between $250 and $300, but it can be more if she’s driving a long distance. She also offers packages that include four visits and unlimited support and lab tests for babies. “I don’t like hidden fees,” she says. “Here’s the flat rate, let’s be open and honest.” Plus, she has a sliding scale for women who are not on Medicaid but need financial support.

To other doctors considering a similar step, particularly one that is mission-driven, she says it’s worth the effort. “You start realizing the value that you’re bringing, and you don’t feel so beaten down. I love my job now.”

She feels that being an entrepreneur opens many opportunities, and taking it one step at a time is key to success. “You just have to set small goals for yourself, and when you achieve them, celebrate the milestones,” Patel said.

Going virtual

The pandemic made many physicians reevaluate how they worked, and Elham Raker, M.D., a pediatrician, parent coach, and owner of Root to Bloom Pediatrics, was no exception. Feeling pressed for time with patients and wanting to spend more time with her own family, Raker took a leap of faith and opened a telemedicine and coaching practice that enabled her to offer acute care (prescribing antibiotics, diagnosing a rash) and to coach parents on their relationship with their children.

“It’s about how to be the parent that you want to be and how to connect to your child. It’s more about reparenting yourself, as opposed to behavioral modification for your child.”

The result? She has more flexibility and thus more time for her kids and more satisfaction about being able to do things her way. “In bigger institutions you’re just a cog in a wheel. It’s very hard to have worked so hard for so many years and then you don’t really get appreciated.”

For her, entrepreneurship is more fulfilling, and increasingly worthwhile financially.

She urges physicians interested in an entrepreneurial option to take advantage of the many resources available online.

“Just start slow, so you still have a steady income.And cut back on your job as your other business grows,” she recommends. “As physicians, we really want to help people, and that sometimes means we sacrifice ourselves and our incomes. In entrepreneurship, what I’ve heard from mentors is, you serve and you earn. ”

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