Today I got to Interview Michael Vassar from Metamed Research. I hope you enjoy it!
Ari: Hi and welcome to the podcast. Today we’re talking with Michael Vassar of Metamed Research. Hi, Michael.
Michael: Hi, Ari. Nice meeting you.
Ari: You too. Thank you for taking the time. So first of all, please tell everybody what Metamed is.
Michael: Metamed is a research company that enables your doctor to connect with a team of scientists, mathematicians, other researchers in order to find out what the evidence says about your condition or problem or set of systems or complaints or basically anything else in that general domain. Doctors can also use it to research reports before medical conferences. Basically, anywhere where there has not been previously division of labor between medical practitioners and medical primary and secondary literature review that that has evolved between trial lawyers and law firms where they have lots of people go into files or whatever. We decided to make that happen.
Ari: So you’re basically providing on demand access to some very intelligent minds in the medical field potentially. Where are you getting these people from? Is it a system you have? Where are you getting them from?
Michael: We’re getting on demand access. It’s not just access; it’s having them look through the data. On average, when you meet with a primary care physician that you get 8 to 11 minutes of time. When you speak to a specialist you get half an hour, maybe an hour. These are enough time to notice if there is a pattern that the person is seeing many times before but it’s definitely not enough time to do an investigation of your particular case. You wouldn’t do that with a lawyer or you probably wouldn’t do that with a financial advisor, if you use one. In that sense, we take it for granted that miraculously the doctors supposed to already know everything that’s relevant to you.
Ari: Which with 26 million journals is not very usable. At what point does someone come to you? Do they have a whole bunch of blood tests and scans and data and you have a problem that nobody’s been able to figure out? At what point do they involve Metamed?
Michael: Basically anyone who has either a serious illness essentially terminal or long term and is not confident that the medical systems ability to solve their problems, in the normal retrospect. Anyone who would do their own research online using visions like me or other online resources: WebMD, Wikipedia, is probably better off having people with special life skills in this domain. The research has shown that doctors with specialized training can find articles more than places quickly than doctors in general. Doctors in general are a lot more qualified to evaluate the evidence in the literature than most of the general public. And in many ways, statisticians and scientists can prove the supplement and having work together on a team for a while can supplement that further. It’s really kind of extraordinarily unlikely that your comparative advantage as a productive citizen is in doing medical research. It is probably a better idea to hire a professional for that like most information work.
Ari: So now this team, I’m assuming they can potentially find a good course of treatment that might work but then can they recommend specialized tests or even determine if some sort of new unproven technology may work in your instance?
Michael: They can definitely point to go to unproven technologies. They can also evaluate them, meaning assess the evidence, etc… they cannot recommend anything. They send reports to you and to your primary care provider and to any specialist you want to send the information to regarding the details of the literature and our analysis of the literature. Exactly what we think, exactly why we think it. We don’t say what to do, that’s between you and your doctor although we will help you find another doctor, if you would like to do that.
Ari: Where is the team based or is it distributed all over the place?
Michael: Our team is distributed. It tends to be in the major academic centers: Harvard, Yale, and New York but it’s distributed in a number of places. We’ve got Don Talman who spends in state in Virginia. We have some people in Austin. That’s actually pretty much it. That and the bay area.
Ari: How did you assemble this team? Are people coming to you or are you just trying to find people to fit every niche that you need?
Michael: We are basically looking for, more than anything, doctors who are dissatisfied with the way medicine is actually practiced. It’s impossible within the existing system to do anything remotely resembling what you do in medical school. So I’m having insurance companies deciding what to do with having to deal with your patients in 8 to 11 minutes when you’re told you’re supposed to be in for 2 or 4 hours for an interview. Familiarizing yourself with the patient and the case. We also worked with scientists, microbiologists, computer scientists. We generally have a high opinion of the physics and computer science world because they have very versatile generic skills.
Ari: You mentioned you get 10 to 12 minutes with a regular doctor and 30 minutes with a specialist, how much time are you getting with your team and what does that cost?
Michael: As much as you like. Like a law firm, you need to buy a minimum of a certain amount which will allow us to do a diligent and proper job and beyond that you can extend your packages, if you are interested. This could be a quarter million for a thorough review of all things in your health and explanation of how to optimize every aspect of your metabolism and deal with every complaint that you have. Down to 5000 for maybe 5 hours of doctor time and 5 hours of scientist time, bunch of discussion with your doctor and integration, preparation of some reports. Maybe that would be 10 to 15 hours of scientist time depending on your exact problem because we also have a ….. We’re not billing as a law firm by the billable hour but rather by the approximate size and duration of the project because we don’t find that clients are interested in paying that way. We’re actually, internally, we’re making a bit of a law firm. We’ll average out to $100 per billable hour for a junior researcher, $200 for a senior researcher, $400 for like doctors and scientists with unusual qualifications.
Ari: That sounds pretty accessible to me considering what you’re offering which is really amazing. First of all, congratulations that you just got some funding with Field Foundation, which is great. That will enable you guys to do even more of what you’re doing. How long have you been doing this? How many people have you worked with?
Michael: We opened up in August. We have a dozen clients so far, we’ve got about a dozen more ongoing now.
Ari: Without divulging private information are you able to say kind of generally are you seeing a lot of cancer or other things like that?
Michael: Well I can’t about who our clients are or any details about the cases. We do have cancers, lime disease has become a problem, obesity is obviously a common problem. The general low energy and there’s a large mix of other stuff. We had one person who we didn’t end up working with after some discussion but I’m not actually … probably violating if I were to say so, so I’m not going to. I just realized that you can actually describe an extreme or weird case, where you can tell the basics.
Ari: It’s no problem, I understand. I was asking kind of more generally . . .
Michael: We’ve had one person, it’s probably not legal to talk about, so I’ll just stick with a bunch of cancers, a bunch of Lyme disease, obesity, fatigue, and a lot of existing problems.
Ari: Okay, sure. Interesting. What are the plans now that you have been funded? Are you going to grow the team? What are the big plans for the future?
Michael: We have a team already on display on our website. I think certainly high priority is getting a number of employees or rather get a number of clients up to the point where it makes sense to have an office and more managed structure rather than working as (inaudible 9:56) Hopefully, internationally both exploring the possible opportunities and also possible employee opportunity and also to explore the global medicine world which looks like the united states is somewhere between the middle third and the bottom third of global health systems; and I mean global. I really do want to explore German, Indian, Singapore, Thailand, especially Singapore for the medical practices and uses there and the potential clientele.
Ari: That was really cool. The health and wellness is such an important thing to me and to my personal journey but also the people that I deal with on regular basis. What I say to a lot of people is I’m not a data scientist but I collected a lot of data. My theory is that once you collect enough data something should pop out. It’s amazing that you’re giving access to people who are going to see those things right away basically after someone else . Which is really just an amazing use of outsourcing, I guess I would say. It’s wonderful that you put this together this way. What I like to ask at the end of these interviews is what would you consider to be your top three personal productivity tips?
Michael: Most important productivity tip I know is to tether yourself to reality checks. Have business plans and expectations for exactly where you’ll be week by week. To have and immediate feedback from the marketer. To do arithmetic every time you have a chance and expect it to pretty much work. Basically every time you make sure that you are staying in touch with reality, the more time the better. Most of the time when people are working, as far as they can tell, they aren’t actually doing anything productive. If you can get 50%, it’s not like your chance of success is going to be 2 or 3 percent in your company. I think it’s going to be like 50 to 60 percent. Another thing is exercise half an hour every day of intense exercise, an hour a day of not intense exercise. Just always stay for themselves even if for a few days. You might get extra time for one day, like in your exercise, but if you do that three days in a row, you’ll just be sleeping more or less productive and almost immediately losing that extra time. Finally, if you do have to stay up too late beyond your regular time, within an hour or two, taking an anti-inflammatory is, in my non-professional opinion, is a good way to reduce inflammation which is a large part of not sleeping enough or staying up too late will make you feel worse the next day and reducing quality sleep.
Ari: Wow, I think that those are really great and very actionable tips. Thank you for those. Again, Michael, thank you so much for your time telling us about Metamed. I hope that you guys help a lot of people.
Michael: Thank you, Ari. I hope that I can help you out some day and many of your friends as well. Thank you.