Dr. Gina Merchant is an innovator and leader with experience in startup environments and market-leading medical device companies, and she is adept at bringing the scientific method to the business arena. For more from Dr. Merchant, follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
1. Tell us something we don’t know. (Anything!)
I am an excellent sandwich maker.
2. Which fiction book would you recommend to researchers and innovators in healthcare, and why?
Oh fiction, that’s hard! I’m a memoir and non-fiction kind of gal… But how about No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. I read it awhile ago but I remember getting lost in it, which is a sign of a great book. He’s a lovely writer, and the story is compelling.
3. What are you working on right now that you’re excited about?
I am starting a project that involves everything from primary data collection (from potential customers, patients and key opinion leaders) to secondary data analysis and literature synthesis. I enjoy the challenge of having to zoom into the gritty details as well as pan out to appreciate and respect the 30K foot view.
4. Who’s doing something that you admire in healthcare today, and why is it so cool?
I’ll pick two. One, I really admire the work of Elektra Labs led by Andy Coravos. The work they do addresses several critical needs in the health tech industry including curating and surfacing fit-for-purpose information about connected health products (e.g., clinical validity; usability; security risk), and providing services for decentralized clinical trials. Elektra Labs is the leader when it comes to defining human digital measurement across the continuum of research and clinical care.
The second company I will highlight is Inquisit Health led by Dr. Ashwin Patel. Inquisit Health is professionalizing and scaling critical and effective peer-to-peer support for those living with chronic diseases. Inquisit Health tests the effectiveness of their program/solution by partnering with academic institutions, and they deliver on their marketing claims.
5. What’s the biggest barrier to getting things done in your line of work?
The biggest barrier I face, and observe others facing, is being asked to play by a set of rules and a culture handed down by the tech industry, which does not transfer well to the health tech industry. For example, product timelines are often too short to bring an effective product to market (and despite lip service to iteration, products often remain unchanged year over year). Also, the right combination of experts and leaders are often missing seats at the table; there isn’t enough investment in the right areas; and, in many instances, the industry needs more regulation. If you lead with the question, what is effective, it is striking how much of the health tech industry is crowded but not actually competitive. Also, it is inane to see so much capital raised, to witness such absurd valuations, and to experience so many untrustworthy marketing claims year after year after year.
I wish we could all align on the long-term value of doing the unsexy dirty work required to bring to market effective, reliable, and safe health tech products. If we could slow down a little bit, bring more humility to the industry, increase diversity in people and ideas, we would be much better equipped to deliver on technology’s promise in the health arena. Having said all of the above, I do believe that as the industry matures, it will inherently become more competitive, and investors, customers, and end consumers will demand better products and services.
6. Imagine you win an award for impacting healthcare. What did you do?
Hmmm… I helped bring to market a competitive product or service that meaningfully changed human behavior in a manner that led to cost savings such as reduced re-hospitalizations or reduced incidence of disease. The secret sauce of the product or service involved the translation of cutting-edge behavioral science methods, which enabled true personalization of the end-user experience.
7. What advice would you give innovators in healthcare?
I would give the same advice to innovators in healthcare that I give to myself every time I need to hear it, which is often: Let go of what you can, and hold on to what you know deep down you should never let go of. For me, that has translated into backing down from strict allegiance to academically rigorous/tightly controlled methods and processes while also being unwavering in my commitment and vocalization of the following: (1) epistemology always matters; (2) documentation saves everyone time and money (and you’re screwed without it); and, (3) innovation often happens by combining fundamentals from across seemingly disparate fields – so don’t get distracted by the shiny objects vying for your attention. Also, to my fellow health tech innovators who identify as female, while you will experience discrimination during your career (from micro-aggressions to toxic workplaces), know that your voice is the voice of innovation, and your voice matters.
About Dr. Gina Merchant
Dr. Merchant is an expert on deriving actionable insights from real-world data across behavioral domains including physical activity, sleep, and therapy adherence. Her work spans small data, tightly controlled experiments to unstructured big data, and large clinical trials. Dr. Merchant leverages novel study designs to address population health problems as well as to personalize the experience to the individual. She has extensive experience applying cutting-edge methods to design for multiple behavior change and to define effective user engagement while working in close collaboration with data science and engineering. Dr. Merchant is an advocate for increasing the presence, participation, and equitable representation of women and BIPOC in STEM and industry-facing roles. Dr. Merchant is dedicated to mentorship and in particular, supporting scholars considering the transition from an academic career path to an industry career path. Dr. Merchant has authored more than 20 peer-reviewed publications, and works at the intersection of public health, psychology, and technology. She holds a Ph.D. in Public Health from UC San Diego/San Diego State University, a MA in Experimental Psychology from Cal State San Marcos, and a BA in Psychology from UC San Diego. Tell us something we don’t know. (Anything!) I am an excellent sandwich maker. Which fiction book would you recommend to researchers and innovators in healthcare, and why? Oh fiction, that’s hard! I’m a memoir and non-fiction kind of gal… But how about No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. I read it awhile ago but I remember getting lost in it, which is a sign of a great book. He’s a lovely writer, and the story is compelling. What are you working on right now that you’re excited about? I am starting a project that involves everything from primary data collection (from potential customers, patients and key opinion leaders) to secondary data analysis and literature synthesis. I enjoy the challenge of having to zoom into the gritty details as well as pan out to appreciate and respect the 30K foot vie