Jennifer Joe, MD, is a Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) nephrology graduate turned physician entrepreneur. She is the CEO and Founder of Medstro.com, an innovative social network for physicians. Dr. Joe founded Medstro and its sister site MedTech Boston (a site for news on medicine and technology) just over a year ago. As she works to improve physician communication and innovation on important issues in healthcare, Dr. Joe still regularly works at the VA emergency room and urgent care clinics. Based in Kendall Square in Boston, at the intersection of technology and academic medicine, Dr. Joe interacts and supports new medical technology and has insights on best uses. She has been a mentor and judge at many healthcare hackathons, been a speaker at South by Southwest, and co-hosted events and contests with companies like Google and Mad*Pow.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dr. Joe as a contributing writer for her site MedTech Boston, and have been an active member of Medstro since its early days. It’s been exciting to watch both sites grow in the course of the last year. I sat down with CEO/Dr. Joe to ask her what sparked her interest in startups and medical technology, where she wants her company to go, and what she thinks about creativity in medicine.
V: Why did you start Medstro, the social networking site for physicians?
Dr. Joe: I think I was really disappointed when I took my first step out into career life, after the ten years of training I completed (including medical school, residency, and a fellowship in nephrology). I held five very different jobs over the course of the next year, and I think that was when it just struck me, that medicine was definitely not what I was hoping it would be. I think that resonates with a lot of physicians right now. That was the reason for creating Medstro, because I felt like doctors were being bullied into making decisions that weren’t necessarily the best for the patient, the patient-physician relationship, and delivering the best care. Communication was a big part of the issue. We needed our amazing thought leaders in medicine to come together and talk about it, and figure out what the best solutions forward must be. I started Medstro so that these physicians could find each other and have a platform to communicate.
V: When you started Medstro, were there a lot of physicians around you who were searching for something like this, or did you start it in order to find those other physicians who wanted to connect over social media?
Dr. Joe: When I started Medstro, I think I was definitely siloed because I was unable to find people who necessarily felt the same way I did. And in retrospect, that was also a very audacious step—that I started Medstro without necessarily talking to a lot of people. Connecting on social media, and having it be an important place for conversations and collaborations in a professional way, has been a surprising success. The Medstro New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) forum, for example, has authors of groundbreaking research discuss their work, and it’s like a worldwide journal club. The authors who publish in NEJM are often very experienced people, but sometimes weren’t comfortable with social media in the past. We introduce them to social media and using the site, and they are converted. They are consistently amazed at the conversations they’re having. Physicians around the world will write in, and it’s surprising how many problems in the culture of medicine here in the U.S., like physician burnout, suicide, and issues with delivery of care, are also issues abroad. For example, the forum discussions about women in medicine on Medstro seem to have really resonated with many African physicians. They wrote in saying they have the exact same experiences and are so excited we’re providing a place to talk about it, so they feel less alone and can talk about potential solutions. Doctors shouldn’t feel alone. Even feeling like you’re not alone is a huge step.
V: So you’re the founder and CEO of not just a physician social networking site, but also an online news site on medicine and technology. What’s the story behind starting Medtech Boston?
Dr. Joe: Medtech Boston came out of the idea that physicians are an important part of the medtech revolution that’s happening now, with patient-centered care, user-centered experience, and changes in delivery of care. I felt like there was no existing good way to loop in doctors with the innovation that was happening and bring them into that conversation, which i felt was important. There wasn’t one place to say: Where are all the hackathons this month? Where are all the incubators in Boston? What are the official funding sources I can seek for my idea?
V: What led to your interest in tech and startups in general?
Dr. Joe: Everyone asks, do you have a background in computer science? Were you an early adopter of tech? No, no. I got a BA in biology, I was very boring. My medical school was very traditional, and it was a good learning experience, but not progressive, interactive or flipping the classroom in any way. There was no talk of innovation or technology. When I got to Boston for fellowship, I think it was just bubbling at that time and encouraging lots of innovation in the medtech space. I think we’ve seen that with monthly hackathons for the last two years, since when Medtech Boston started. So I think Boston as an ecosystem has really fostered that love of innovation and entrepreneurship for me. I was lucky that my Medstro CTO is very experienced, my other cofounder Jim Ryan has been doing startups for a long time (this is like his 8th startup), so I have that support. And then it’s Youtube and books on tape—getting a free tech education!
V: With these two sites taking off, what’s your vision for both Medtech Boston and Medstro?
Dr. Joe: My vision is that they’re going to revolutionize the way physicians communicate, and increase the speed at which we find solutions to the healthcare crisis that we’re experiencing. For example, our international and nationwide journal club, starting with NEJM Open Forums, decreases the cost of medical education and makes it accessible to other countries to understand medicine, research, and best practices. Ideas on health policy and the culture of medicine can spread nationwide and internationally. I think health policy and tech discussions and decisions have often failed to incorporate physicians as much as they could. That’s why we have an electronic health record (EHR) that physicians rally against. So I want to make sure physicians are part of that conversation.
V: What advice do you have to medical students and doctors about finding time and avenues for creativity and innovation?
Dr. Joe: I think it’s really hard, and likely un-doable as a full-time physician currently. My mission is to create a system that allows that sanity and peace of mind in the future normal full-time working physician world. I don’t think it exists now; it’s not really possible to carve out time for creativity. But I also think physicians are laying a lot of groundwork—especially like what you’re doing—that not only will create a community, but also empower physicians in their home community to say, “Creativity is worthwhile, and you need to build in time for me to have that as part of my life, so that I can deliver the best care for my patients.” I think we actually have to create that change on a system wide basis, and your generation is pushing it forward. Your generation sees that technology is going to bring us together more than ever to connect and understand.