Dr. Rohit Sharma
Zini The Healthcare AI
Q1. Please share your educational and professional journey with us?
I was always a curious mind that loved topics of researching and exploration. I loved science from the beginning. I got admission into Medical school which was very excited. But I did not like the way things were taught. It was more cramming and less understanding. I finished my MBBS in 2011 from Govt. Medical College, Faridkot. I had done a 1 year Internship in the same Govt. Hospital. I did pursue trying to move to US for higher studies, but soon lost interest in the same seeing the process being too lengthy, costly and biased. Later I joined as a junior doctor in some big corporate hospitals of Chandigarh. I also ran a private OPD for 6 months from my apartment. During this time of service as a junior resident, I realized a lot of things that shaped my mindset for the future. I realized things like, most people, rich and poor alike do not have access to any reliable source of information when it comes to asking for medical advice. I also realized there is a lot of mismanagement in the healthcare sector as a whole, which was causing harm not only to patients but also to my fellow doctors. I also realized that what we are taught all our life, as a student, that becoming a top notch doctor with many degrees meant success and ‘Status’ while everything else is a failure was neither true nor the right mindset to have. This is the period that unlocked my mind. I also realized what is more important is to have a positive impact on the world in any manner you can and respecting everyone’s contribution as an equal. I think that my real education was that I gained through my experiences of the real world and not my formal degrees.
Q2. You are a professional Doctor. What did attract you to come in entrepreneurship?
There were a lot of things and it’s a long story. And I did learn a lot of lessons on the way, mostly from my failures and mistakes. But to cut the story short, I would say the most important factor was my innate desire to help people, solve their problems and make the world a better place for all. I did not want to just stay in a system, and wait to reach the top of the ladder slowly over decades and then try improving the system. Instead, I decided to come out of the system, and try to make a better system for all on my own.
Q3. You are working on Zini-the healthcare AI. What is Zini and how it will be useful for everyone?
ZINI is an Artificial Intelligence based Virtual Physician. She is an AI driven medical chatbot. When someone shares their symptoms or health issues with her, she starts to do a thorough patient interview, evaluates those symptoms, and finally figures out the possible diagnosis, to guide patients toward a proper treatment plan. While human doctors are not available in most areas and have a very high fee, ZINI can be made available anywhere, anytime at a fraction of the cost. And because ZINI is available in your phone, you can discuss any kind of health issues with her, sitting in the comfort and privacy of your home. She is especially helpful in cases relating to sexual health, women health and psychological issues, where patients are hesitant to go see a doctor. Timely advice from a reliable source also makes sure there is no unwanted delay in seeking the right treatment, preventing further deterioration or spread in case of infectious diseases.
Q4. World is suffering from Pandemic situation due to deadly Coronavirus. How can AI (Artificial Intelligence) help to fight and cure these type deadly viruses in future?
I believe now is the time, our doctors and healthcare professionals should start adopting these new technologies to amplify their reach and efficacy. AI driven chatbots can act as a first line screening as well as a guiding tool for the masses. Already govt. is using some chatbots to help people analyze their risk of COVID 19 via the Arogya Setu app. Similar chatbots like ZINI can be installed in all government websites to help people get preliminary healthcare advice sitting at home, as it is dangerous to visit a clinic at this time. While solutions like Telemedicine are limited by a constraint of resources i.e Human doctors, these chatbots have no such constraint. They are potentially unlimited resources.
Other than chatbots, the government can make use of various computer vision lead techniques for surveillance if people are adhering to norms of social distancing and wearing a mask. Face ID based solutions can be used in offices post lockdown to avoid touching surfaces like Biometrics etc.
Robots can be a great resource in these times, from sanitizing isolation rooms to dispensing medicines in the hospital. They can help in a lot of ways. Investing in these futuristic technologies can turn out to be a boon for both doctors and patients.
Q5. What kind of hurdles did you face in your journey?
Entrepreneurship is never an easy journey. There are a lot of failures and mistakes. The greatest challenges for any entrepreneur are finding the right team, a team that is not only devoted to the same mission as him, but also respects the organizational structure and systems within the organization. I am fortunate that after about 6 months of searching and a lot of calls & meetings (60+ to be precise) with experts from various fields, ranging from software to AI and Medicine, I was finally able to join together an amazing team of fellow co-founders. Every team member took a bold step in deciding to go ahead with our venture and they are all visionaries and entrepreneurs in my view.
Other than a team, other challenges were difficulty in explaining people as well as investors about this new technology and solution. People have inertia in their mindset. It is very difficult to move or budge them from the status quo. Some thought this was not possible at all, some thought this was only a cup of tea for startups in the US and UK. This led to many difficulties in gathering some initial support in terms of collecting the required data, as well as funding. And although bootstrapped, our team through sheer determination and hard work put all these voices to silence by inventing ZINI in a budget no other country or organization can ever imagine.
Q6. You are a Doctor, Writer, Entrepreneur, Speaker and many more. How can you play all roles simultaneously in your life?
I believe when you are passionate about something, it just comes naturally. It does not feel like something you ‘have to’ do but something you ‘want to’ do. Something you are excited about every morning and content about every night before going to sleep. My innate desire is to create and invent things that will help or have a positive impact on the human race for thousands of years to come even after I am gone. In addition I am a chronic, tireless curious researcher and innovator from the very beginning. I just love learning new things, travelling, exploring. I have always wanted to be a part of some deep research or creative opportunities. And everything I do today is just an extension and fulfillment of these innate desires in me. It just feels like I am fulfilling my desires and that makes me feel happy.
Q7. You are interested in Healthcare Industry. What kind of problems do you face in current Healthcare Industry and how will you remove it?
I am interested in many research oriented sectors ranging from healthcare, biotech, space exploration and quantum computing. Currently the focus of our company is the healthcare sector. As being from the sector from the very beginning I know this sector needs a lot of improvement on many levels. The most important part is lack of availability of resources, i.e doctors, and clinics in most areas. Millions of people in rural areas have their nearest hospital more than 100 km away while many in cities have a lot of hospitals but then they have to wait hours to get a 2 minute appointment. Where do patients go now? They make do with whatever is available at hand; they go to a chemist or worse a quack for medical advice. According to a survey conducted by us the greatest problems people faced were in descending order, Cost, Waiting time/ delay and Lack of proper explanations by healthcare professionals on the issue. But all these problems are actually very multidimensional and no one stakeholder can solve them on their own. Healthcare sector is an interwoven web with many stakeholders. And everyone has their own interests and priorities. It is very difficult to align all of them to get best results for patients. We need all stakeholders to sit together and decide on solutions to be implemented across many verticals. Starting from the process of selecting our medical students, to their cost of graduating, to the way medical education is delivered or how doctors are assigned a stream or field of specialization. From increasing public awareness on things to making sure everyone can afford their healthcare costs. Finally of course making a higher availability of doctors and a very active evaluation as well as adoption of new technologies and innovations has to go hand in hand. As you can see the list is endless and a LOT needs to change and improve. I am in continuous talks with government officials to contribute my suggestions and do my part with this startup. We need active collaboration of all stakeholders and active implementation of new decisions to upgrade the healthcare sector of our country.
Q8. How do you handle stress in this fast and competitive life?
Meditation, going on long walks, is having some personal time, reading a good book or learning something new. All these help me blow off my steam or feel relaxed and easy after a long day.
There are a lot of things to handle as a startup founder. Your team, their active collaboration and communication, creating good systems , timelines, accountability systems, raising capital, managing finances, business development, and your relationships with your vendors to your customers. This can get stressful at times. But the feeling of satisfaction you get when you give the world something useful and fruitful is beyond words. In the end, when you love your process, when you feel that you have done something fruitful and helpful for other people and when you maintain a proper work – life balance things work out pretty good. We all are on different trajectories, timelines and missions in life, we should respect everyone’s path and timeline and never compare our journey with anyone else. Help & support others if you can, and try to do the best you can in your journey. That’s my view and mindset.
Q9. What do you do in your free time? Do you update yourself in terms of education?
I love travelling and exploring new places, I love hanging out with my old friends. In my private time i love reading books to educate myself or using the internet to get some more ‘infotainment’ that makes me learns new things in an entertaining way. Spending some good quality time with your friends and family surely helps.
Q10. What was the role of your family or colleagues in shaping your visions and goals?
My family was always involved in a scientific background. My mother has been a Zoology and Genetics professor and lecturer in some of the most reputed institutions of Punjab. My father served as a senior medical officer in Government hospitals. Further coming from a family of doctors did help me a great deal in solving a lot of challenges and nudging my work in the right direction while working on ZINI.
To share a thought, when working as a clinical doctor, I was always impressed by the clinical acumen and spot on accuracy of my father. His ability to diagnose a case was exceptional. Whenever i saw a case, i could not understand, the symptoms were quite vague and it was difficult to diagnose the condition for me, i would consult him, and he would ask such excellent questions, because he had all possibilities in his mind. He would ask 3-4 spots on questions, answers which would almost shortlist the possibilities in a moment. Order the right investigations and boom; you have a diagnosis, a treatment plan and a prognosis (possible outcomes on choosing different treatments) ready on the table. His patients love him and trust him the most. His OPD is usually over filled to the brim. There were a few other doctors as well in my professional life who I was really impressed with Dr. Ranveer Kaushal (my maternal uncle), Dr. Vidushi, Dr. Deepak Bhagle, Dr. Shuchita Nanda, Dr. Mahl, my father Dr. Yashpal Sharma to name a few, who were always exceptional. They were genuine, genius and always patient centric. I always thought, ‘their patients are lucky to have them.’ But at the same time i thought, why every human being can’t have access to exceptional talent and sincerity. Why can’t every human being get access to a good doctor whenever they need one? My father can help 100,000, maybe a million patients in his lifetime through his OPD. There are 8 billion people on earth and billions more will come. A good doctor cannot physically help them all. But a virtual one can. I strived to make a virtual doctor who can learn from these exceptionally good doctors and become available for all mankind. I wanted to have a doctor as good as my father, available for everyone, whenever they need such accurate medical advice. And hence i invented ZINI. She is today learning from these experts and becoming ready for the future generation of doctors and patients. To teach, to recommend and to guide everyone on their healthcare needs.
Q11. What is your advice for future entrepreneurs who are looking up to build their own startups or ventures from scratch?
Building a Startup is an adventure in itself. It is a journey full of ups and downs, highs and lows and a lot of drama in between.
There are a lot of things that can go wrong. In Fact there are a billion ways that can lead to a failure but a very few that lead to success. Hence, it is crucial to take care of a few important things when starting out.
No. 1 is the TEAM. You need a Good team. Find a good team, the team is everything. It took me 6-9 months just to assemble a good team. Then comes a good leadership and a clear mission statement for your venture or product. If you have a good team and you are clear on these things, in your startup you have overcome 80% of the battle already. A good organizational structure and hierarchy along with proper communications systems in place are the other challenges that must be overcome and made sure of.
I use a lot of real life analogies to compare a startup with. I would share 2 such examples.
1st is the Pyramid analogy, where I compare a good startup to a Pyramid. The 5 vertices of a good startup are the “Leader / Entrepreneur, the Innovators and the team, the sales people/ businessman of the company, the faith person (who boosts our faith at every step) and finally the investor/ lender, who infuses the needed capital in times of need.” All these vertices rest on a clear idea, a clear vision and a foundation of a strong and valid mission statement. If a company has these, it is up for a long and prosperous journey.
Another analogy is used where I compare a startup/ company or business is with a human Liver. You can get Jaundice for 3 reasons. Pre-hepatic, Hepatic and Post hepatic. I will try to be as simple in my language as possible. So ‘Pre hepatic’ Jaundice occurs when the liver is working perfectly fine, but the supply to the liver is blocked. Supply chain in business is your vendors and suppliers. Your support systems. They must be healthy and reliable. The 2nd way you get this disease is called ‘Hepatic jaundice’ when the liver itself is damaged. This relates to your internal operations and inner working of the team. This has to be good and organized. The 3rd way one can get jaundice is what is called ‘Post hepatic’ Jaundice in medical science. This is when your delivery or excretion of bile is obstructed from liver. Just like when everything is perfect in your supply chain to internal operations, but you are not able to promote and sell it to your customers. A business is like a living body constantly trying to stay healthy and that means running every system and process in perfect sense.
In short there are a lot of variables, but the most important thing is to have a good hardworking team that listens to their leader, a good organizational structure with proper systems and sequences in place and a leadership with a clear direction and goals in the mind are very helpful. A passion and devotion for your mission is what keeps you going in the hardest of times. And last but not the least, some luck and timing can always make a big difference.
Q12. What do you see as the future of healthcare and medicine for our country and the world?
I believe the healthcare sector can be upgraded massively by incorporating new solutions and technologies in years to come. I envision a future where an AI driven bot is made available in every village. These autonomous OPDs, or ZINI OPDs what I call them, can be run with a AI driven virtual physician, and a team of low skilled healthcare workers. Every village can have 1 autonomous OPD where patients can get primary health care advice at a low cost. This will help solve the problems of access and affordability big time. Virtual Physicians can run a thorough patient interview; Medical devices can be further used to gather information on GPE, like Pulse, BP temperature, blood sugar. We also have remote bluetooth enabled stethoscopes available nowadays. Basically all 3 steps, of primary health care from history taking (patient interview), GPE and SPE can be made available today to everyone using automation. In future techniques like Computer vision can make reading and analyzing investigations like Lab reports and scans faster and cheaper. Some companies are even working on advanced tech like 3D bio printing that can help rebuild tissues and organs, by just downloading a file and giving a print command. Just imagine the Boon for billions of patients. Someone loses their eyesight because they lost their cornea or retina, just print a new one. Someone needs a new heart or liver, just print a new one. Looks Sci-fi today, but I am an optimistic one. I am hopeful that we will have this future sooner and not later.
Healthcare sector has a lot of opportunities to grow and to help a lot of people. I would like to urge government bodies and policy makers to help growth and innovation in this sector by promoting funding and infra support for our students, scientists and startups. Looking forward to a hopeful new future.