Creating a new future for primary care with Dr. Sameer Sood
The future of primary care is shaped by multi-hyphenated individuals who create their own path because they see the world differently. Dr. Sameer Sood, a family medicine physician, is one of those people. In the following interview, Dr. Sood shares his journey in primary care innovation. He founded FwdSlash to work towards eliminating social drivers of poor health and currently serves as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Anthem.
What’s your career trajectory been like?
Before medicine, I was deep in a tissue engineering lab creating cell-based vascular grafts and contemplating a Ph.D in biomedical engineering. I loved thinking and solving like an engineer but had an existential crisis that made me reconsider how I solved problems. Medicine seemed like a field where I could have a more direct impact on people but I still loved to creatively solve complex problems. Since then, my medical career trajectory has had two parallel paths. One was the classic medicine pathway, the other was in innovation.
In medicine, I’ve gone down the med school-residency path and came out the other side as a board-certified family medicine doctor. However, as a glutton for non-linearity, I took five months off after residency to level set on my values and where and how I wanted to practice. My clinical stints as an attending have been in locums only. I wanted my clinical practice to not just be practice but contribution, experience, education, and perspective building by working with populations who represented the groups I want to create for through my innovation work. My clinical stints included:
A rural, indigenous reservation clinic with the IHS in Ogema, MN
A state-funded Intellectual Disability and Developmental clinic in Louisville, KY
Urgent Care in NJ
Future clinical stints may take me into telemedicine, prison medicine, or back to MN where I felt like I left my family and friends behind
With my other parallel track of innovation, I’ve organically created some outlet for myself in this space from pre-med through residency. I first interned with a healthcare startup in 2011 which I found on Craigslist during my year off between undergrad and med school. They were part of the inaugural class of the Healthbox incubator in Chicago and I had the opportunity to go out there and spend some time with nine other companies that blew my mind with the possibilities of tech. The inventive energy was also contagious. Med school had none of the innovation mindset that I saw in the startup industry or problem solving and design I experienced in engineering. So I created an internal think tank club at my school called Synapse where we attempted to solve curriculum, community, and patient problems with homegrown solutions. We ran innovation events, started an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, and created student lead problem-based learning. I took a year off between 3rd and 4th years to dive further into the change space. That year I did a part-time design thinking fellowship at Harvard which spun out my first start-up called Sherbit Health and worked full-time at a then venture funded startup, now IPO’d company called Accolade. Sherbit was a 3-year adventure where we created an early remote patient monitoring platform and had 2-3 pilots but couldn't land any enterprise contracts given how early the space was in 2016. We exited in 2018 to Huma in the UK. Through the end of medical school and into residency, I helped start and teach an engineering/med student program at our main Rowan University campus and advised/consulted at 3-4 companies across medical devices and digital health. One notably was a backbrace-for-sleep device which ended up failing but provided valuable learning lessons. Since finishing residency, I’ve doubled down on closely advising companies I believe in and have also pursued a mission (more so than a company), called FwdSlash in the community development space that I am carrying out as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Anthem.
What kind of problem are you focused on solving right now?
I am focused on the following problem areas:
AI/Automation of clinical & administrative processes for the sake of efficiency, burnout reduction, and expanded access
Increasing GenZ (AKA the tiktok generation) access to traditional healthcare, specifically in areas of behavioral and sexual health
Lack of digital health and entrepreneurial education to medical professionals
Distributing power and value from health systems, payers, employers to communities (organizations and individuals) where health happens a majority of the time but is not currently valued. Put another way, this is a mission to eliminate disparities.
Why did you create FwdSlash and what do you hope it will accomplish?
I created FwdSlash as a vehicle to change the way we do health. Currently, the efforts, money and value created are trapped within our clinical environments when health also happens in our communities. While billions get spent on clinical services and digital health technologies, our communities remain underserved and poorly designed when really they have so much potential to impact health outcomes via the social determinants of health and reducing health disparities. I believe it comes down to realigning incentives and mobilizing community stakeholders outside of clinical practice to participate in achieving the health of their populations. In short, my hope is that I can figure out ways to unlock healthcare financing for community development, engage diverse community groups like housing developers, grocery stores, barbershops, etc. to work towards community health and leverage health and social data streams more intelligently to inform these efforts. Like I said, this is more of a mission rather than a great business model. My north star is imagining what happens when every clinical, social and retail service that operates in a community can participate in driving whole health and equity.
How do you see primary care evolving in the next 10 years?
Value: Primary care will continue to increase in demand and value in a healthcare system that is increasingly valuing prevention and alternative payment models away from fee for service. Quality and outcomes are becoming more necessary than the traditional high-end tests and services offered by specialists.
Technology and the shifting role of primary care docs: Digital health, AI and automation will augment primary care (and all of medicine) over the next 10 years. It will enable increased population health (1:many vs 1:1 care) management, especially in value-based care delivery models, remote care (telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and hospital at home), and a new role of high-level management of teams of ground level APPs and oversight of AI in managing complex patients.
What’s one resource you wish you had right now that would help you move forward?
Easier licensing and credentialing across states with more flexible ways of practicing: the practice of medicine is a vital part of informing and keeping physicians in innovation clinically relevant. Being able to easily access telemedicine, clinical contract gigs, and flexible work schedules is important to cover provider shortages, keep workday hours free to engage with other innovation stakeholders, and give us a base pay to enable time for the necessary experimentation, learning, and growth in innovation spaces.
If your colleagues could ponder a single question that would nudge primary care in a new direction, what would it be?
If everyone had optimal means, equity, tech, social/clinical heath, they wouldn't be as dependent on doctors and the healthcare system, and some of us wouldn't have jobs.
What would we do differently today if our job as doctors was to aim for this ideal state and put ourselves out of a job?