Health Tech: Eric Feinstein On How Clarapath’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our…

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Health Tech: Eric Feinstein On How Clarapath’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness

I would tell young people not to be OK with the status quo and don’t be afraid of failing because when there is a failure, it’s never actually a failure. During that process of developing something, you’re laying the groundwork for something else, perhaps even more important than the original goal. This is the foundational tech that you build on. I love building things and it’s been exciting to see our business come to life (through all the ups and downs). It’s about being intellectually curious and having fun with that process.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Feinstein, CEO of Clarapath.

Eric Feinstein is the President & Chief Executive Officer of Clarapath, a medical robotics company headquartered in Hawthorne, NY, catalyzing change in the way pathology laboratories process biopsies. Eric brings a variety of perspectives and experiences to Clarapath both as an operator and investor in medical devices, healthcare services, software and healthcare IT. He is also a former Investment Director at Northwell Ventures (the corporate venture arm of Northwell Health) and has worked with many private equity and venture capital firms making investments into consumer, healthcare, and medtech companies.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I grew up in Connecticut with one sister and my parents were in the medical field. My father was a physician and general surgeon and my mother was a nurse in the Emergency Department. I was extremely active growing up, playing many sports such as soccer, lacrosse, and golf. I was always outside building or doing something, fascinated by how things work.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One of my favorite experiences and one that I have found very translatable in my business life is ice climbing and mountaineering. When you’re climbing at high altitude it gives you a different perspective. If you’re leading teams of climbers, you’re totally and completely focused. You’re thinking about the next move and listening and observing the ice pick going in. You’re taking in all of those inputs–observations of weather, crunching sounds of snow, measuring snowpack, etc. — and making decisions based on all these variables. It forces you to keep moving and making decisions, while having plans B, C, D if A doesn’t work out. It’s when you stop making decisions that you start getting into precarious situations and start introducing additional risk.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There have been so many mentors and colleagues that have had a positive impact on me and have contributed to where I am today. My parents and wife, athletic coaches, and professors/teachers who taught me to give 150% all the time, even in the face of adversity. Interestingly though, it’s several of the poor managers and leaders that have played a very large role in getting where I am today because they’ve shown me what I did not want to do and how I did not want to lead. For example, early in my career, I was working at a large private equity firm and the empathy, compassion, communication, and basic respect toward others were traits in short supply. I vividly recall pulling into the parking lot one afternoon as I saw a colleague struggling, dropping a towering set of boxes with sensitive material inside. I offered to help bring a few up to the office so she wouldn’t struggle. As we both walked toward the entrance, we saw one of the senior partners walking in. He clearly made eye contact with us both and could have waited another 20 seconds to hold both doors open, but instead he proceeded to hurry his way through the door without even offering to lend a quick hand. That stuck with me — basic common courtesy, and respect for folks that were not professional equals. I said right then and there that I would never work for a company that reinforced that kind of culture.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is by Teddy Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I like this because I think it really describes the innovation space — or really any industry where people are sitting on the sidelines and trying to cut you down from spite, jealousy, or insecurity (which happens far too often in organizations). It reminds me that those critics don’t matter because we’re here doing the work, trying to make a difference. That is better than not trying at all.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Perseverance and grit: You get told no all the time or you get told something you don’t want to hear. You must have the ability to keep going as you face adversity along the way.

Emotional Intelligence: Having the EQ to understand your surroundings whether the organization is big, small, political, fact driven, collegial, etc. You need to understand how everyone’s motivations and personalities are different and that people require different things to be successful.

Humility: You have to be OK saying I know what I know and I know what I don’t know. Be willing to take constructive feedback, as well as have team members in your organization that are better than yourself.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?

For more than a century, doctors have been examining patients and taking tissue biopsies in order to determine the presence or absence of disease. In the beginning of that process, the tissue is sent to a lab where it is processed by a histotechnologist. He or she dehydrates and preserves the tissue, then embeds the sample into a paraffin wax block, uses a microtome to cut it into extremely thin cross sections, floats those slices on the surface of a water bath, and lifts them onto glass slides. The slides are baked in an oven and then further processed through different chemicals so the samples have contrast. After all that, the specimens are analyzed by a pathologist. It’s a tedious process, often taking many hours per sample.

With the growing prevalence of chronic diseases including cancer, increased awareness and interest in early disease detection, the occurrence of epidemics and pandemics like COVID-19, and many other factors, demands on labs are increasing. Like all professionals, histotechnologists have limited work capacity and varying skill. Labs are facing a critical shortage of histotechnologists and an ever increasing number of samples that need to be processed. It is estimated that half of this workforce will retire in the next five years and there is an insufficient number of younger people coming into the profession.

The manual and subjective nature of sectioning tissue samples opens up several challenges for labs, which in turn affect patients (human and animal), as well as drug research..

Operational Challenges for Labs:

  • Inconsistency. Not all histologists are created equal. It takes years of training and experience to master the craft and be able to discern a 4 micron cut tissue sample, which is a sliver of the diameter of a human hair. Inconsistent, manual cuts often miss tissue, leading to the need for recuts, which costs labs both time and money, and causes delays in diagnosis and patient care.
  • Inefficiency. A histologist can only prepare so many samples in a day. With increasing workloads, labs often struggle to keep up with demand and as a result, biopsy turnaround times are delayed. Patients are forced to wait for answers and care is delayed.
  • Expense. Skilled human labor is a major expense for labs and the histologist workforce is rapidly shrinking. A study found that by 2030, the number of active pathologists may decrease by approximately 30 percent compared to 2010 levels. Adding to the challenge is the growth of precision medicine, which relies heavily on diagnostics.

Quality Challenges That Impact Patients:

  • Error prone processes. Tissue sample slices are extremely thin and brittle and can easily fold during the water bath process. They are also prone to cells coming loose and attaching to another patient’s slide, which could lead to erroneous diagnoses.
  • Highly subjective. Sample quality is heavily influenced by the technician, and by nature, no two technicians are the same. There is no gold standard for the profession.
  • Possibility of harm. Histology is the central element of diagnoses. While it’s often difficult to detect errors in the process, 6 percent of detected errors lead to patient harm through inaccurate diagnoses.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Technology, specifically automation, modernizes the practice of pathology by providing standardization and consistency. It provides both operational benefits and improved quality, leading to better care for patients and more efficient labs. Automation helps to balance supply and demand issues, as well as address the growing labor shortage facing pathology. This helps labs operate more efficiently, delivering higher profit margins, while also providing higher quality patient care and access.

Automating pathology and providing standardized, consistent samples and digital imaging enables more accurate lab outputs. It removes subjectivity and reduces the potential for human error, partially by removing manual cuts and water baths from the process, in turn reducing risks of patient harm. With consistent, uniform samples pathologists can accurately diagnose without the need for repeat biopsies, helping to get patients quicker test results and more immediate access to care.

Standardized, consistent samples and digital imaging also enable telepathology, 3D reconstructions of tumors, and create possibilities for matching genomic data with pathology data, leading to remarkable advances in medicine.

Clarapath is leading the way with an automated and robotic device called SectionStar that consolidates nine labor intensive microtomy steps into one piece of equipment, resulting in better quality slides, faster turnaround times, and lower costs for labs.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I was inspired by Clarapath and the SectionStar story for two big reasons. One — the pathology and histology space really hasn’t evolved much in 100 years; it is archaic. That was amazing to me. I had seen innovation across many other disciplines in healthcare (such as surgery), but this was like going back in time. And two — it was in desperate need of change because of the general labor shortages that I was seeing at Northwell (NY) and across the nation, even as the number and complexity of cases were rising. It was hard to believe that anywhere you go in the world, this process is the same. Further, every drug that gets developed, goes through this same histology process — it literally cuts across everything we do in research, with our pet friends (cats and dogs), and with our own human care.

How do you think this might change the world?

The ability to have and democratize pathology across the world with rapid turnaround time, whether you’re in a rural village in India or an industrialized society in NYC, is really exciting and will change the world. It doesn’t matter where you are on the globe, with this type of automated sectioning and robotics, you will always have access to a pathologist for diagnosis.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

No. In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite. The Clarapath technology should give people peace of mind that they will have more accurate biopsy results, fewer quality control issues, and faster results. Leaving this to the status quo is riskier as we’re running out of people to perform the key tasks that are needed to prepare a slide of tissue.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

Understanding the existing frameworks and processes to make sure you understand the status quo and what happens if you don’t change it.

Understanding the stakeholders in your industry. For example, in healthcare those are the patients, providers, payers, clinicians, administrators, government, medical device companies, pharmaceutical firms and more. Every stakeholder is pulling in a different direction. You need to understand their motivations and find congruence.

Understanding the problem in detail so you can clearly see the ways toward solving it. There is seldom one way or a straightforward answer.

Understanding the complexity in a cross functional way and how you might leverage technology, physics, material science, AI, and more to solve the challenges you see.

Communicating the innovation and then getting it into the hands of people to train and use so they can make an immediate impact and see the benefit. Translation of different “languages” into one common language is critical. When I use the phrase “language,” I mean different disciplines and industries which all operate uniquely — pulling things together and integrating can be more challenging than coming up with the invention!

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I would tell young people not to be OK with the status quo and don’t be afraid of failing because when there is a failure, it’s never actually a failure. During that process of developing something, you’re laying the groundwork for something else, perhaps even more important than the original goal.

This is the foundational tech that you build on. I love building things and it’s been exciting to see our business come to life (through all the ups and downs). It’s about being intellectually curious and having fun with that process.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I can imagine a few:

  • Jeff Bezos — I’d love to talk about what he laid out 25 years ago and how he built it step by step. It is fascinating to read his annual letters from the beginning of Amazon to where they are today.
  • Warren Buffet — I love his focus on building the fundamentals — staying calm and focused during periods of uncertainty.
  • Theodore Roosevelt — I think he’s fascinating because he was so seasoned and experienced in so many things in life — Politician, Navy Commander, World Explorer, Humanitarian, Activist.
  • Ed Viesturs, author of No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks — A veterinarian by training and world famous mountain climber — he was the first guy to climb all 14 of the world’s highest mountains without supplemental oxygen. I’d love to talk about those experiences.
  • Tom Hanks or Al Pacino — Both fascinating individuals playing an incredible range of roles and their ability to bring them to life for the audience.
  • Joe Satriani — In my mind, Joe is one of the best musicians and guitarists within the past 30 years. Music, particularly Joe’s (which is primarily instrumental) has this amazing ability to send you into different states depending on the track. Even with no vocals, it is filled with emotion and lyrics that a listener can provide — the creativity is inspiring.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can see more about Clarapath at and on our social media handles on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

Thank you!

Health Tech: Eric Feinstein On How Clarapath’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.