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Authority Magazine: Robin Shah Interview

An Interview With Dave Philistin

Be realistic. I’ve been in healthcare for 15 years and know the challenges the industry has faced adapting to and implementing new technologies. There are security concerns, imperfect data, and a fragmented experience. You need to be able to identify and leverage what works and evolve on what doesn’t. Understand that adoption takes time, education, and persistence.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Robin Shah.

Robin Shah is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Thyme Care, an oncology care management solution providing high-touch, tech-enabled cancer care navigation. Prior to Thyme Care, Robin was a founding member of OneOncology and Vice President of Provider Marketing and Strategy at Flatiron Health. Robin was instrumental in securing a strong future for the cancer center in his hometown of Gettysburg, PA by restructuring the business operations, implementing leading technologies, and helping to build a robust research program, ultimately creating a better experience for patients in his community.

Robin Shah Backstory

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

In early 2007 while I was completing my undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering at George Washington University, I had a life-defining moment with my father. He had come to visit me one weekend, and we went to one of my favorite local Georgetown restaurants. My father had always had a deep desire to bring high-quality, compassionate cancer care closer to home and set off to build that in our hometown of Gettysburg, PA in 2006. After about a year, he had run into some challenges; the hospital was basically trying to shut him down by buying out all of his competitors, cutting off referrals to his practice, and opening up another practice across the street. He had two options: Shut down shop and lose everything he had worked so hard for or fight to stay open. During our lunch, he asked me if I’d come help him do the latter. I had just received an incredible offer to work at the FDA, but knowing how determined my Dad was in building a new, patient-focused approach to cancer care, I knew I had to help bring his vision to life. The following week, I passed on the opportunity with the FDA and started commuting to Gettysburg weekly while I finished my bachelor’s degree. I truly believe that the discussion with my father in 2007 was the catalyst of my career. Helping him fulfill his vision in Gettysburg paved the way for my career in cancer care.

Who Helped You Get To Where You Are Today?

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My father. Throughout my life he has taught me, directly and indirectly, that:

To be successful, no matter what it is, you have to work hard towards it. Even if you’re competing against those who take shortcuts, work harder and you’ll win in the end.

Calculate risk short-term, mid-term, and long-term at every decision point (even if it’s not popular, or people don’t understand).

Push the envelope no matter how “impossible” the idea is.

Enjoy what you’re doing and that in itself will be a success.

Favorite Life Lesson

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Who cares if it’s impossible. We’re here to solve the impossible.” I think of that all of the time when it comes to the work we’re doing. Cancer is complex, difficult, and some might even say impossible, but we all have to continue working to solve the impossible together. With great effort, especially the combined effort of a lot of determined people, much is possible that at first seems impossible.

Three Character Traits That Helped You Succeed

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

1. Solving Big Problems Requires Chopping It Up Into A Number Of Smaller Problems 

Stay with me on this, but a good example of this is having a wedding. That’s your big problem. It’s a hard thing to do — you have a lot of people, a lot of personalities, a lot of moms. If you break it into smaller pieces, you can probably accomplish it a lot easier. When I was planning my surprise wedding, I broke it into four problems: Get the moms aligned, pick a date, pick a venue, and figure out the invite list. These were all negating factors to get to the end phase. The end goal was to have a wedding, and I wouldn’t get to the end goal if I didn’t solve each of the smaller problems in order.

2. Problems Can’t Be Solved By One Person 

If you have a problem, you need to share it with a number of people. You need to be able to trust those people to be able to tackle a portion of the problem. For example, when we started Thyme Care, we needed to name our company, brand it, and come up with our positioning. We had to share that problem with a number of people. Nikkayla Page, our Head of Marketing, was one of those people. I had to trust Nikkayla to execute that, but I also needed to ensure she had my support, access to the right people, and the key information to get the job done. Everyone on the team needed to know the information and their portion of the job to get to the end goal. It’s another example of breaking a problem into smaller problems. You’ve got to break the problem into pieces, delegate out who is going to manage those pieces, and then let those people run with their portion of the broader problem.

3. Everyone Has a Voice

The only way you can build something great is if you allow everyone to amplify their voice in a meaningful way. Early on in our company, we wanted to learn more about our members. Someone on our team tossed out the idea of supporting patients at some of our partner oncology offices, which turned out to be a huge success and validated our offering to our health plan partners. That voice wouldn’t have been heard if they didn’t feel safe enough to share their big idea, and that idea ended up giving us a four month head start on our first contract. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to speak up and share ideas. You never know who is going to have the next game-changing thought.

What Are You Trying To Solve?

What problems are you aiming to solve?

For over 14 years, I’ve worked in oncology supporting the mission to bring high-value care into the community — meeting patients and caregivers where they are and listening to what they need. While I believe making cancer care more accessible for more people is paramount to improving patients’ lives and outcomes, my experiences have exposed me to a bigger issue that affects nearly every individual who’s been close to cancer: the vulnerability and confusion that accompanies a cancer diagnosis. I regularly receive calls, texts, and emails from friends (or a friend of a friend) reaching out because a loved one was recently told by their doctor that they might have cancer. All of them have the same question: “What do I do now?”

We founded Thyme Care to be that trusted insider and to make it possible for individuals living with cancer to get the answers they’re so desperately seeking and to have immediate access to high-quality care without having an oncologist friend. We make sure our members have everything they need as they go through treatment — from finding an oncologist, transportation to appointments and managing symptoms so they stay out of the emergency room. There are so many hidden challenges that can make or break a successful care plan or improve health outcomes.

The Role of Technology

How do you think your technology can address this?

We are utilizing technology to extend the reach of our Care Team and enabling them to do things that were previously time-consuming, difficult, or nearly impossible–creating efficiencies and allowing them to focus on getting patients the highest quality care in a timely manner. We do this by ingesting data from across the healthcare system and providing actionable insights in real-time that our Care Team can act on. The more data we’re able to collect, the better we’ll be able to identify patients at critical moments in their journey and address their needs through personalized interventions. The Thyme Care approach isn’t possible without the technology running in the background.

Creating a Better Cancer Journey

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

A few years ago, I got a call from my childhood best friend telling me that his mother was just notified that she had pancreatic cancer and that she needed to see an oncologist. Unsure of what to do, they scrambled to get an appointment, only to find out that the next available appointment was four weeks away. You don’t need to have been directly impacted by cancer to understand how they both felt; they were anxious and couldn’t imagine waiting another month for answers.

So I became the navigator they needed. I immediately reached out to my network and within 48 hours she saw an oncologist, got answers, and was ready to start treatment. I’m thankful I could help, but it was so disturbing to think that if they hadn’t known me, my friend and his mother would have been stuck waiting for answers.

I started talking about this issue more with my colleagues and friends working in oncology, and realized I wasn’t alone — we are all receiving these calls multiple times a month. People are desperate for someone who will candidly tell them the score: what to do, where to go, how to get there; what this symptom, this medication, or those terms mean. There had to be a better way, and I had to help.

A year later, alongside an incredible team, I announced the launch of Thyme Care, a company dedicated to creating a better cancer journey for all.

The Future of Cancer Navigation

How do you think this might change the world?

By focusing on the patient-first and closing critical gaps in their care, we’re already changing the experience and having an indelible impact on the lives of individuals navigating cancer today.

Every day an individual isn’t being treated is valuable time that can alter outcomes and increase anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. With our network of high-value oncology partners, we are able to help patients be seen quickly, ensuring access to quality care regardless of personal connections or financial situation.

We engage individuals early in their cancer journey, often prior to receiving a diagnosis, and continue to support them throughout their treatment. Our Oncology Nurses paired with our intuitive technology enables a smarter approach to symptom management and helps members adhere to treatment plans, avoid preventable hospitalizations, and achieve better outcomes — all while eliminating unnecessary healthcare spending.

When one Thyme Care member received his third cancer diagnosis, we stepped in and discovered he did not have transportation to his appointments, had no cell phone, struggled to walk, and was fearful of losing his home due to growing medical bills. Our team was able to mobilize immediate support: We helped the member secure grants to lessen his financial burden, coordinated a transfer to a high-value treatment facility that qualified him for free transportation, assisted in securing him a free wheelchair and cellphone, and enrolled him in-home assistance programs.

We know there is a massive need and growing desire for these services. As we continue to partner with more health plans and providers, we’ll be able to directly impact more individuals — improving access to quality care and outcomes.

Technology Drawbacks

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Fundamentally, we believe that patients need a combination of smart technology, human support, and empathy to navigate the healthcare system. So Thyme Care is a little different in this instance because there will always be a Thyme Care Partner or Nurse Navigator involved in the process.

How to Create Successful Social Impact with Technology

Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

1. Focus on the Solution 

I touched on this above with my thoughts around breaking the problem into smaller problems. I am a firm believer in this approach as progress should be celebrated. By tackling one problem at a time, we can showcase the impact we’re making along the way — and the lessons we’re learning from.

2. Understand People’s Challenges at a Personal Level

You will only be able to truly deliver value to your customers by deeply understanding their challenges, needs, and desires. You’re building technology to make their lives easier, not yours. In my case, I noticed those challenges when colleges reached out for guidance for friends and family with a cancer diagnosis.

3. Find People Who Are Also Passionate About Your Cause

A great example of this is our partnership with Vineeta Agarwala and Andreesen Horowitz. They’re perfect business partners for us — Vineeta is a cancer survivorship clinician and has a deep personal passion for improving the cancer experience. She has not only contributed financial capital for our business, but she’s helped craft our corporate culture of advocacy that puts the needs of individuals living with cancer first and foremost.

4. Be Realistic

I’ve been in healthcare for 15 years and know the challenges the industry has faced adapting to and implementing new technologies. There are security concerns, imperfect data, and a fragmented experience. You need to be able to identify and leverage what works and evolve on what doesn’t. Understand that adoption takes time, education, and persistence.

5. Work Hard and Stay Curious

 I was humbled in that conversation with my father years ago, and it will forever stick with me. What I’ve been able to accomplish in my career wouldn’t have happened without hard work and constant curiosity.

Make A Meaningful Impact

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

In the digital-first world we live in today, everything we build will provide a compounding effect on the future. Take this opportunity to make a positive impact for future generations.

Who Would You Share a Private Meal With?

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

Dolly Parton. She’s literally the sweetest human, an incredible artist, and she has donated so much to cancer research. And we have the Nashville connection now, so I’m sure we’d have a lot to talk about.

How Can Readers Follow Your Work?

How can our readers further follow your work online?



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