By Sonia K. González, DrPH, MPH
Dr. Gupta is the Founder and CEO of Tembo Health, a telemedicine startup seeking to revolutionize healthcare delivery, and is an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at both the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the Zucker School of Medicine. A practicing emergency medicine physician, Dr. Gupta brings clinical insight along with business acumen to provide impactful solutions to healthcare systems and organizations. As a NIH/NLM research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, he developed multiple clinical decision support algorithms to impact real-time clinical care, resulting in improved utilization of healthcare resources. During his time at Northwell Health, Dr. Gupta led transformation teams on several initiatives improving efficiency, quality, and cost across 20 hospitals. While at the Boston Consulting Group, Dr. Gupta focused on healthcare strategy across Pharma, MedTech, and Providers, working with C-level executives to help shape long term strategic initiatives (e.g., growth strategy, organizational transformation, M&A, etc.). While at Imagen, a medical device startup building radiology artificial intelligence algorithms, Dr. Gupta served as both Head of Clinical Operations and Head of Strategic Partnerships, driving product development, managing a physician team of 30, collaborating with engineering and AI scientists on research development, and supporting FDA regulatory pathways.
My formal training is in emergency medicine and trauma; I still spend one day a week in the emergency department at Mount Sinai Hospital providing direct care to patients while teaching medical students and resident physicians. For the past decade, I’ve been leading business and technology teams at places like Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, the National Library of Medicine, Northwell Health, Boston Consulting Group, Imagen Technologies, and now Tembo Health. From an early age, I’ve been interested in the big picture and building things. As a practicing physician, I’m able to make a direct impact on patients and keep abreast of the latest medical literature and innovations. This access helps me drive workflows on the business side with true insights into clinical algorithms.
A couple of years ago, my grandfather needed additional medical attention and we thought that a skilled nursing facility (“nursing home”) could provide the additional care that he required. We found that the nurses were caring and excellent, however, the nursing home lacked adequate physician access. That is to say, the nursing home had zero access to specialty physicians (e.g., cardiology, neurology, endocrinology, psychiatry, etc.). Prior to being in the nursing home, my grandfather received treatment from a team of specialty physicians who managed his 20+ medications; while in the nursing home, he only had access to a single primary care physician. As you can imagine, my grandfather’s clinical condition deteriorated while in the nursing home. I tried to find him a nursing home with more robust physician care to no avail. It was at this point that I realized there was a tremendous clinical gap in senior care and that telemedicine was the most logical solution.
I commenced working on the business plan for Tembo Health about 4 years ago and finally launched the business in early 2018. Our focus is to empower nursing homes to leverage the wonderful nurses to provide care at the top of their license. We accomplish this by reengineering clinical workflows, building technology integrations, and improving communication between the nurses and our specialty physicians. Ultimately, our telemedicine specialty physicians have better access to patient data, allowing them to work smarter and faster. We are excited to be growing across three states and helping more and more seniors.
Tembo Health improves access to medical specialty physicians (e.g., psychiatry, cardiology, neurology, etc.) for nursing home residents using technology. We have a robust platform that integrates across electronic health records, automates collateral data collection from caregivers, and leverages machine learning algorithms to drive efficiency. Simply put, our goal is to provide superior care via telemedicine.
For the patients, it’s as easy as watching TV. By leveraging the nursing home staff and infrastructure, patients are able to engage with live specialty clinicians on a large screen monitor in the comfort of the nursing home. The same physician provides care longitudinally over time, thereby building relationships with both the patients and the nursing home staff.
I was inspired by the idea about 4 years ago from my grandfather’s experience and started working on the idea then. Prior to launching the business model, I awaited regulatory and reimbursement tailwinds to help ensure the business model would be successful.
Once I was ready to launch the model in 2018, I was fortunate to rally some friends and colleagues to provide additional expertise across informatics and engineering to join my mission. Within a few months, we had our MVP product, identified a couple of pilot nursing homes, and were live in the summer of 2018. We took the next year to iterate our workflows, customize our technology, and appreciate the needs of our clients and patients.
Overall, I believe the value of telemedicine is to make healthcare more patient-centric and convenient. Traditionally, patients have to travel to the doctor’s office and schedule an appointment that takes weeks to months in advance, both of which create significant barriers for many patients. We are flipping the process on its head and making access to specialty clinicians readily available on a routine basis inside the home. The average wait times to see a specialist have gone from multiple months to 3 days on our telemedicine platform.
I believe my expertise across clinical medicine, informatics, public health, and business has been the key to my success. It’s often difficult to understand the perspective of various stakeholders, especially within the regulated environment of healthcare. My ability to navigate across these verticals has lowered barriers to entry, accelerating our team’s ability to execute.
NYC has a wonderful pool of talent and resources. The healthtech startup scene is growing and leveraging the world-class health systems that reside locally (e.g., Mount Sinai, NYU, Presbyterian). I’d like to see more innovation and collaboration with the public health system at NY Health & Hospitals to improve access and resources. We are excited to be in discussion with multiple non-profit health organizations in NYC to develop telemedicine tools to provide care for their traditionally underserved constituents.
One of the biggest challenges I see in healthtech is when companies try to force technology on to healthcare without appreciating the nuances of the doctor-patient relationship. In healthcare, it’s critical to focus on driving clinical outcome improvement and cost-effectiveness. The opportunities in healthcare are tremendous and I’m particularly excited about telemedicine’s ability to improve access to healthcare services, especially for traditionally underserved populations. Artificial intelligence also has the capacity to improve standardization and accuracy in healthcare decision-making; for anyone working in AI, my advice is to establish ground truth and data fidelity to help achieve the highest level of accuracy (i.e., high sensitivity and specificity). Whether it’s telemedicine or AI, we need to infuse technology in consideration of clinical workflows and ensure the end-users (e.g., patients, caregivers) have an intuitive user experience.
One of the issues I’ve seen in healthcare is that new technologies are often more expensive and can exacerbate the divide in access to resources (e.g., MRI is more expensive than CT imaging and therefore, less available). In contrast, consumer industry technology advancements tend to lower costs (e.g., flat-screen TV pricing), making it more affordable over time. We are excited to see that CMS has promulgated telemedicine utilization in rural communities first to encourage utilization in traditionally underserved communities. This supports our mission to provide superior access to specialty healthcare services that these communities deserve.
Each of us is responsible to do the right thing.