Cyrus Massoumi gives us a healthcare founder’s perspective on healthcare on this episode of the Perspectives on Healthcare Podcast with Rob Oliver. Cyrus founded ZocDoc, which helps people book doctors appointments online. He has gone on to form a new company called Dr. B, a telehealth platform to help people get prescriptions. Cyrus was originally from Florida but now resides in New York City. Cyrus Massoumi is a member of Generation X.
Here are 3 things that stood out as Cyrus Massoumi shared a healthcare founder’s perspective on healthcare:
- Technology is the only way to impact all three dimensions of healthcare: access, outcomes, and cost.
- Access is about getting to the medical provider irrespective of cost.
- Simplification of healthcare, where patients are easily navigated to the appropriate modality, is key to improving outcomes.
- BONUS: Healthcare in America is the number one reason for bankruptcy.
You can connect with Cyrus Massoumi and learn more about his organization through the links below:
Here is the transcript of Rob Oliver’s conversation with Cyrus Massoumi. It’s a healthcare founder’s perspective on healthcare.
Introduction to Cyrus Massoumi
Rob Oliver: Thank you, and welcome to Perspectives on Healthcare. My guest today is Cyrus Massoumi. He is a member of Generation X. He is originally from Florida, but his company and he are located in New York City at this point. And he is, in his own words, a healthcare founder. So Cyrus, welcome to the podcast.
Cyrus Massoumi: Thank you for having me.
Tell us about your role in healthcare
Rob Oliver: Absolutely. So tell me a little bit about yourself and your role in healthcare, please.
Cyrus Massoumi: Sure. Well, I’ve started a few healthcare companies and been involved in a number of healthcare initiatives. I guess the first was ZocDoc, which is a company that I started in 2007 and ran for about a decade. ZocDoc helped people book doctor’s appointments online. And one of my biggest regrets from that experience is that through ZocDoc, I was able to improve access to healthcare for people who already had healthcare coverage. But for those who didn’t have healthcare coverage, there was very little that we could do. So I always told myself that I wanted to learn how I could help everyone. And the next healthcare company I started, I wanted to make sure it helped everyone. That led me to join the board of the Public Health School at Columbia University, where I’ve been actively involved, and to start my latest company called Dr. B. Dr. B is a telehealth platform to help people get access to everyday prescriptions. We’ve started with enabling people to get access to COVID antivirals, such as Pexilabid and Munilpiravir. And the challenge with these medications , as many of you are probably aware, is that people have to get these medications within five days of getting COVID, which means that the patient has to have had healthcare coverage, they had to have had a primary care doctor, a doctor had to have time to see them, and they have to hope that it wasn’t a weekend. And all of those things make it incredibly challenging for many Americans to get access to these life-saving drugs. So what we do is we enable people to have an asynchronous consultation with a medical provider generally in under one hour. And we then send the script for if the patient is a candidate to the appropriate pharmacy carrying that medication, and the patient can get on their way for treatment. We do all of that for $15, which is less than the average copay. And if a patient cannot afford $15, we are the first telemedicine platform in the country that treats every patient regardless of their ability to pay. So we will actually provide the service at no cost to patients who financially qualify.
Rob Oliver: Okay. So it seems like you’re ahead of the curve on this kind of stuff. Because as far as the technology to set up appointments online with ZocDoc, it is an amazing and helpful service that’s getting people who have the coverage and allowing them to get in to see the people, see their practitioners without a whole lot of fanfare and difficulty. So fantastic. I appreciate that. And yet here, we’re talking about Dr. B, and you’re talking about asynchronous and yet timely within an hour service. Where do you come up with the ideas, or is there a history on how you’re kind of forward thinking within this arena?
Cyrus Massoumi: I think that, to be honest, it was instilled in me very early in life. My mom really wanted me to be a doctor, and so she instilled in me the value of access to care. She would tell me, it’s really important that you become a doctor, because it gives you great access to healthcare, and having great access to healthcare is the most important thing that we can have in our lives. And I remember, I was five years old when she started telling me that, and I remember a year later, I learned that someone who I was very close with, who’s almost like a second mother to me, didn’t have healthcare coverage. I remember how worried I was for her. And so I think, to my mother’s dismay, I never became a physician. It did resonate with me, the improving access to healthcare. And so my superpowers are that of a technology founder. And so anytime I’ve encountered a problem of healthcare access, I’ve tried to solve it.
Rob Oliver: It’s really interesting. We just had Andrea Van Hook, who is the executive director of RESNA, the Rehab Engineering Society of North America. They’re all about assistive technology, and one of the things that she said is, you don’t need to be an MD to be able to have a positive impact on the healthcare system. And I’m hearing you say something very similar. Does that resonate with you?
Cyrus Massoumi: Absolutely. You just have to have a passion for the problem, really.
Rob Oliver: And listen, I really feel the same way myself. I’m not an MD, I’m a patient. And my hope is to get the information, to gather perspectives on healthcare, to be able to take this information and to reflect it back to the healthcare community to say, here’s what medical practitioners have to say, here is what patients have to say. And this is how you take all the information and you can improve the healthcare system and ultimately improve the healthcare outcomes of patients and improve the lives of people living in the community. And I think it’s an effort that we are all together working towards the same goal. So, fantastic.
How do you define quality healthcare?
Rob Oliver: In that vein, what does quality healthcare mean to you?
Cyrus Massoumi: I think of quality on three dimensions. There’s obviously having access, there’s better outcomes, there’s affordable low cost. So traditionally, if you look at any of these three vectors, whenever a policy maker has tried to improve access or cost or outcomes, oftentimes it happens at the expense of one or more of the other two dimensions. And so one of the things that I feel very passionate about is technology is really the only way that you can introduce new technologies that have the ability to impact all of those three dimensions of healthcare in a positive way. What do I mean by that? So if you take asynchronous telemedicine, a platform like Dr. B, for example, you’re able to very efficiently interact with the patient, very efficiently interact with the provider, thereby having a very low cost. You’re able to improve access because you can reliably offer up. People don’t have to wait days or weeks to see a doctor, they can really wait minutes or hours. And you can improve outcomes by using technology to make sure that all the information that is available on the patient can be used in determining how the patient should be treated and making sure that that’s done safely and in a consistent manner. So I think it’s important that we look at the various facets of quality when we’re going to define it.
Rob Oliver: I feel like sometimes the concept of accessibility and affordability can be confused because people would say that if you don’t have healthcare, then the cost of obtaining health coverage is prohibitive and therefore it’s not accessible to those who don’t have the coverage. Can you talk a little bit more about the differentiation that you see between the concept of access and the concept of affordability?
Cyrus Massoumi: Sure. So access, I view, is can I get to the medical provider irrespective of cost? Can I get to my dermatologist? Can I get to my primary care doctor? There are states in this country where to see a primary care doctor in person have upwards of 60 days in order for that to be the case. And so regardless if you have money or not, you’re going to wait. And cost obviously is the other end of it, which if you’re lucky enough that you have healthcare coverage, that’s great. But even Americans who have healthcare coverage today, I don’t think of the metric that we should be looking at is really the uninsured Americans because there’s many Americans now that have health insurance with high deductibles and they struggle to even make the deductible payment. Most of this country can’t afford a $500 hit and if these deductibles are $3,000, it’s the reason why healthcare in America is the number one reason for bankruptcy. It’s the reason why two in five families struggle with being able to afford healthcare, which is remarkable considering the fact that we spend 50% more of our per capita GDP on healthcare than any other country in the world.
Can you give an example of quality healthcare?
Rob Oliver: So interesting. You’ve already done this, but the question is on the list, so I will ask it. Can you give me an example of quality healthcare?
Cyrus Massoumi: Well, I’ll give a different example. And one of the people always asked me since I started to talk doc for involved in Columbia, what doctors they should go to. And the way that I always respond is I would highly recommend they go to a doctor that has systems that are integrated with their other doctors because I think that quite frankly results in much better outcomes. There are numerous cases where if you go to a fully technology integrated system, you hear someone go to see one specialist for one specific thing and all of a sudden they realize that there’s an issue that spans two or three other specialties that the patient is there and a patient for that same health system. So I really think it’s important that if I rewind the clock back to my professional career one of my first jobs was as a consultant at McKinsey and Company. And the first healthcare project I had was actually, ironically enough, a defense contractor that wanted to get into healthcare technology. And the reason why they stated was that what made the U.S. defense systems superior at that point in time had been that our systems were well integrated, that many in many militaries around the world you’d have 20 or 30 percent of the time you’re spending to understand if that blip on the screen is an enemy or a friend. And the American military through the revolutionary military affairs had that information really flowing so you didn’t have to spend that time and they could spend the time acting. And the same needs to be true of healthcare, but it’s not. We need to have all the appropriate information longitudinally at the appropriate time. Very few patients in this country have really that benefit. And so there are examples of Kaiser, for example, being one where it’s amazing VA is actually known for its longitudinal patient data and how that can affect positively the outcomes of their patients.
Rob Oliver: Yeah, it’s so interesting because when I was in rehab 25 years ago following a spinal cord injury, I was very impressed with the team concept that was there. So you had the doctor and the therapist, you know, and the dietitian and the nurse all as part of the same team. But what came next was making sure that the patient was a part of that team. And what I hear you saying is that the data also needs to be part of the team that everybody has access to. Am I oversimplifying that or does it make sense to you?
Cyrus Massoumi: It makes perfect sense.
Rob Oliver: Okay. Good. Well, every now and then I get a moment of clarity, so I appreciate that. We’re just glad that it happened today on this podcast.
Explaining your role in healthcare
Rob Oliver: What do you wish people understood about your role in healthcare?
Cyrus Massoumi: You know, I think that part of the strategy that we are taking with Dr. B is to offer what I believe to be the most affordable way to access healthcare for many patients across the country. That means that we do not have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on Super Bowl ads, subway ads, billboards, et cetera. So I believe that if everyone knew about the services that we have rolled out and will continue to roll out with Dr. B, they’ll find that they’re more efficient and more affordable than the status quo and it would make many people’s lives better. So I think what I wish they knew is just awareness for the company. I wish that every American knew about it because I think it would make healthcare in America significantly better.
Rob Oliver: Yeah. I mean, word of mouth is extremely important, but sometimes I feel like it will only get you so far because it’s got to start somewhere. And listen, I’m a keynote speaker and I was just talking to someone about marketing the other day and his thing is, well, my best marketing is to go out and speak. And I said, well, that’s really good, except how do you find the places to speak if you need somewhere to speak before you can speak? And in some ways, what you’re talking about is having your clients share the word with other people is extremely valuable, but it starts with having clients to begin with to be able to share the message. Does that resonate with you at all?
Cyrus Massoumi: Yes, I think that’s true. But fundamentally, even at an early stage in a company’s life, you can note that word of mouth can be incredibly powerful. Already at Dr. B, we launched only a few months ago, about a quarter of the patients that interact with us are coming through word of mouth and we’re starting to see that increase. So I agree, but I still think that it shouldn’t be a precursor to starting and offering a service that’s valuable and affordable for everybody.
Rob Oliver: Completely agreed. It’s a cycle and like any cycle that exists, you need to start in order for the thing to move forward at all. And so don’t let those issues be an obstacle to doing something of value. So fantastic.
Looking towards the future of healthcare
Rob Oliver: What excites you about the future of healthcare?
Cyrus Massoumi: So I mentioned I didn’t go to medical school, but I have two degrees in finance. And one of the things that I’ve been really worried about for a long time is just the cost of healthcare in a macro level. We talk about inflation a lot over the last 18 months in this country. Healthcare’s had inflation this high for the last 40 years, and it’s not sustainable. You’ve got 3 trillion. When I first started ZocDoc, healthcare was under 2 trillion, now 3 trillion, going to 4 trillion. I mean, it’s really starting to pile up in terms of how much money we spend. And the only, if you sort of play that out, it is clearly unsustainable. And so I want to have a sustainable healthcare system in this country. And the way to do that is, in my opinion, to make sure that patients are receiving the appropriate type of care, meaning through the appropriate modality at the appropriate time. I think there are some things that very efficiently can be managed through telemedicine, whether it’s sync or async. There’s some things that can be very efficiently or needs to be done in an in-person office. But if you’re starting using the most inefficient method to handle 90% of what’s happening, there’s no way for us to contain costs. So what I’m excited about is the simplification of healthcare, where patients are easily navigated to the appropriate modality based on what they need. And the information across those modalities are available to all practitioners in a clear, structured way that enable the patient to have the best outcomes.
Healthcare quality improvement strategies
Rob Oliver: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. You’re looking for the most efficient use of what’s available. So, yep. All right. Last question for you. What is one thing medical professionals can start doing today to improve the quality of healthcare?
Cyrus Massoumi: So I think that as we’ve seen with COVID and the disparate outcomes in certain communities and the high death rates in the United States, healthcare is the problem of our generation and it’s not going to be changed easily. It does, in some sense, need to be disrupted. And when I started my career as an entrepreneur, when I was at ZocDoc, I had this formula for success, which was great people, hard work, focus, and time. And if you had those four elements, you could succeed at anything. What I realized over time is that hard work, however, was only temporary. If you really need to have someone who’s purpose aligned, that person could then continue that hard work in perpetuity of what they’re working on was the most important thing, the reason for breathing. And so I think that my wish for healthcare professionals is that we focus a lot on this purpose alignment broadly and make sure that the people that we’re bringing onto our teams, even if they don’t have the domain expertise, as much domain expertise in healthcare, if they had significantly more purpose alignment for making healthcare better, I would take that person any day of the week. And I wish that more healthcare institutions thought like that.
Rob Oliver: Yep. I think the word that I would use for purpose alignment is passion. That may be somewhat synonymous, but it’s the idea, someone who has an outlook, someone who has a heart and a thought process that is dedicated to the purpose. And because of that, they’re able to sustain the hard work and not experience the burnout in the same way. So yeah, definitely. Listen, Cyrus, thanks so much for being with me today. I appreciate you taking the time. I appreciate you sharing and I respect your perspective on healthcare.
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