Health Tech: Updesh Dosanjh On How IQVIA’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall…

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Health Tech: Updesh Dosanjh On How IQVIA’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness

Be agile: You probably aren’t going to be lucky enough to get the problem right first time, or start in exactly the right place. Accept you will be wrong more times than you will be right and be prepared to change quickly. Learn and move on.

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 Updesh Dosanjh, Practice Leader of Technology Solutions at IQVIA, a world leader in using data, technology, advanced analytics and expertise to help customers drive healthcare — and human health — forward.

As Practice Leader for the Pharmacovigilance Technology Solutions business unit of IQVIA, Updesh is responsible developing the overarching strategy regarding AI and Machine Learning as it relates to safety and pharmacovigilance. He has over 25 years of knowledge and experience in the management, development, implementation, and operation of processes and systems within the life sciences and other industries. Most recently, Dosanjh was with Foresight and joined IQVIA as a result of an acquisition. Dosanjh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Materials Science from Manchester University and a Master’s degree in Advanced Manufacturing Systems and Technology from Liverpool University.

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’m the eldest son of an immigrant family. My parents worked hard as a bus driver and in factories to give me and my brother a good education. As a turban wearing Sikh, I tended to be the first or only one in many of the places I went to at school etc. We can spend a long time talking about racism, bullying and all those other things that come with being different or even unique, but I’ll leave it at the fact that I always take the side of the silenced. I developed a lifelong love of all things music and pretty much any really great memory I have would be connected to music in some way.

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

Its trite to say that every day has something cool happen, but every day really is better than the last, or at least that’s how I feel. I know I learn something each day and that is always the highlight. The most interesting part of my career has been the enormous amount of people I have met and all the countries I have travelled to and the different working cultures I have seen in all the different industries I have been involved it. I can’t tell you one story because it would be unfair to all the other people and jobs that have helped me to improve every day. I’m looking for a connection with people, to understand why they do what they do, which I think helps me be better at what I do, and if I can make that happen in any day, whether it’s the security guard who lets me in the building or the Managing Director I’m working with, it’s a world of cool stuff for me.

None of us are able to 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?

Everyone helps in some way, even the ones who try to stop you, because they help you gain tools and methods to overcome obstacles. In that vein I remember a meeting early in my career where we had a clear agenda, I had lots of slides prepared and analysis showing how accurate my conclusions were and naively thinking that presenting facts was going to get us to the right next steps, I read that room wrong! There was some internecine warfare going on amongst departments and not only were they happy to blow each other up, they both wanted to blame me for it. That was definitely an early life-lesson in “its always the people…”. So bizarrely that’s both the worst meeting and best meeting in my career as it changed my approach to work

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

Point Break, average film but my motto for life “fear breeds hesitation and hesitation will make your worst fears come true” I just wish it had come out 5 years earlier and saved me some growing pains. I’m a huge believer that the biggest thing stopping you being happy in work or life is fear, so I ask myself all the time, am I making this decision or delaying this decision because of fear. Life is short and hard, we shouldn’t make it harder by being scared of the million things that could happen instead of living and finding out that they didn’t happen.

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?

Competence: I need to know for myself that I have done whatever I can to be as informed and ready as possible, that’s the only way I can ask the same of my team. At the very least I would like to think I know enough to ask the right questions. The team are the experts, but it’s on me to understand what they do enough to test and support as necessary. We learn through teaching, so I think the best outcome of any meeting is for me to get someone to say “oh I didn’t think of it like that” or for me to say “now I understand it better”. In both situations we have learnt and improved. If I want to make people in the team as successful as possible, I need to be smart enough to understand what they do and what makes them special.

Persistence: Its tied to my next one but I think my persistence is something that allows me the privilege to lead. You just keep going. I may not be smart enough to solve every problem, but I’ll work hard enough to find out that I can or can’t solve it. I don’t ever want to finish thinking I could have done more. I don’t measure myself against the outcome, I measure myself against the input. I can’t guarantee results, but I can guarantee effort. I do what I can do and I do as much as I can, knowing I did what I could. That’s all you can take away from this life, you left it all out there.

Optimism: People have told me I am unfeasibly optimistic, maybe I’m the dog in the burning room meme, but I like to think that optimism is really a belief in the outcome of my persistence. I’m looking for the positive in every situation, like Batman once said “every trap has its own escape”. I remember I had convinced a client that we needed to invest a rather large sum in doing a practice run of an update. No one had ever done one of them before in the industry and I had suggested it based on my experience in other workplaces. So, we all go together from around the world to do a step-by-step walkthrough of how the update would work for a live production system. 1 minute in, the entire system went down and even the power stopped, fun times! You can imagine the horror on people’s faces, the engineers many who had travelled to a client site for the first time, the client who had spent all this money and we hadn’t even got over the introductions and pouring the coffees out and we had a disaster. I turned to the client and said “looks like now is a good time to discuss that 5 year roadmap we talked about…” I knew the team would fix the issues and that’s why we were doing the dry-run, it was uncomfortable in the moment, but we did agree a roadmap and once we were back on track it meant the real thing went smooth as silk and the team delivered the industry’s largest and most complex upgrade project to that point as planned.

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 on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?

When you take a medicine of any sort, you run the risk of having a side effect. What the pharma industry and regulators are trying to do is balance the risk of side effects against the benefits the medicine can provide. To do that, the industry needs to collect as much data on what happens to patients when they take a drug as they can. A clinical trial, however large, is never going to capture every patient scenario or mix of drugs they take or even what they have eaten. DNA wise we are all the same, but there are 7 billion unique petri dishes walking around out there and what happens when you take a medicine for the first time or the 15th time is unique to you and your circumstances. So to make drugs as safe as possible or the risks understood as clearly as possible it a key part of making medicines more accessible. That requires data, it requires patients telling us when something happens to them. Unfortunately, even with all the work that regulators are doing to make patients aware, only about 10% of what we can “Adverse Events” in the industry are getting reported. That’s a huge volume, a large pharma company may get over a million reports a year across all their drugs, but its still much smaller than it could be. So what are the problems, I’m going to focus on 2, 1 related to companies and 1 to the patient:

Volume of data means that companies invest a lot of time simply transforming data from the received format to another, this is expensive and prone to errors. Getting the data about which product had which side effect wrong could be the difference in finding an issue with the product or not. So time spent manually handling data is time taken from doing analysis and adding little value and often adds errors that can skew analysis

Any product that goes to market is expensive to develop and then managing the safety profile and making sure it continues to be safe as you reach greater and greater patient populations is expensive. So, the better I can understand which patients benefit the most and which have the highest risks, the better I can help the patients who need the drug vs. the patients who are helped less. The more specific I can get, the closer I get to helping smaller and smaller groups of patients. Surely companies want their drugs to go to as many patients as possible you would say, which is true, but due to a lack of data there still is too little granularity of exactly which patient under which circumstances can be helped. With enough data we could find that a patient taking the same drug last thing at night will have better benefits and less risks than taking it in the morning. This kind of analysis is time consuming, and difficult because we might only have 10% of side effects reported, not only that, but we also only have side effect data, we don’t have benefit data. No one is collecting information about Patient A who took the pill at night and felt better than in the morning because once a drug is out of trials we don’t have the mechanisms for collecting that data. So we don’t receive all the risk data we could and we have little to no mechanisms to collect benefit data or how the benefit occured

How do you think your technology can address this?

The right platform can change all this. AI based technology can address multiple issues in the current processes and environment:

Transform data instead of people; faster, cheaper and more accurate, so I have better data faster and with more time to do analysis instead of wasting money simply collecting and transforming data

Analyze data: not only can I get data to the scientists faster for their analysis, but AI can do trends and other analysis in real time as data comes in, allowing me to focus on the things that really matter while also creating new insights we may not have today because of capacity or capability

Automation of data capture: if I make it easy for people to report events I can increase my volume of data, but since I automate the process of analysis, I do it without crushing the team with workload they can’t handle

Detection of issues: AI allows me to automatically monitor social media and other uncontrolled sources for AEs, ones that normally might not get reported, I can go and find them rather than waiting to be told about them, increasing the amount and range of data

Integration to passive monitoring: Everything we have talked about so far refers to people sending us information or noting it somewhere for me to find. But the future is about monitoring patients in real-time and collecting those huge amounts of data and analyzing for AEs or patient improvement. There is nothing stopping us today from say monitoring a patient with a respiratory condition and in real time tracking there O2 levels and even seeing how those respond when they take their medicine and how it might relate to other factors or even track whether they become more mobile so its not just direct data but inferences we can make. Why don’t companies do this, because legacy platforms don’t have the connectors, capability or capacity to process huge, unstructured data sets in real time to make the data useful

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

It started more as an intellectual challenge, the industry is way behind other industries in processes and efficiency and I wanted to see if I could effect change in a very conservative and heavily regulated industry. I just wanted to create better processes. But as I understood more about the value part of the work I realized there was a huge opportunity to link siloed data across the organization and healthcare industry and bring it to solving the problem of how to get drugs to the largest possible population while keeping them safe and conversely, how do I create a way for the industry to cost effectively serve smaller and smaller populations, often underserved because the cost of managing safety for drugs would make them prohibitively expensive.

How do you think this might change the world?

The hope is that we make the process of collecting, analyzing and connecting data so simple and low cost that we could monitor 1 patient in the same way we monitor 1,000. There is lots of talk in the industry about personalized medicine, but monitoring and safety profiling can’t handle that today with today’s systems and processes. Imagine a world where your watch tells you its time to take your medicine and then tracks what happens to you so we can in real time tailor your dosage and do all that while maintaining your individual <> drug safety profile. Every patient taking the right medicine at the right time, in the right way. My belief is that world is coming despite all the barriers that exist today, so I don’t we are changing the world as much as enabling what is going to happen anyway. We can get there the hard way or the easy way, lets hope we take the easy way there.

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?

I think I’m more a Terminator/Skynet type when it comes to AI, it may only be a matter of time! But within the Pharmacovigilance space anything that helps process adverse events faster, accurately and more effectively is going to be a good thing for the patient. I think the one risk is something we have already seen, with larger and more accessible datasets, there is more chance for the uninformed or the malicious to twist data for their own ends, the release of AE data about Covid vaccines is the right thing to do, unfortunately we have all see how it can be misused. I’d hate to think that data used to make medicines safer will be used to stop people taking the drugs they need. But that’s a risk we have to take to make medicine more accessible and have more informed patients

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.)

Have a desire to make a change: Find a cause you want to address and look for how you can make things different. Just because you can’t see how to solve all the problems doesn’t mean you can’t start. There is a lot to be said for the “snowball effect”. Take your broad vision and decide what you can do today, then tomorrow and then the day after. With our current platform I first need to address the problems companies have today, that gives me the right to have the broader conversation and take them on the journey to a world that is radically different than today

Understand the problem: Most people invest a lot of time in solving a problem, but don’t invest enough time in understanding the real problem. Root cause analysis is the secret. Once you know the real problem, its likely the solution is simple. I was working to improve production in a factory and spent lots of time doing all the smart things you need to do to improve throughput and then found all my hard work was creating another problem, everything was just sitting in a warehouse because the fitters only worked on weekends when offices were closed and the real problem wasn’t a lack of manufacturing as I had been told, but the fitters having enough vans to take the kit to site and getting it built in time. It’s a lot cheaper to buy a couple of vans than a laser guided cutting machine. Once I understood the real problem it was an easy fix

Be agile: You probably aren’t going to be lucky enough to get the problem right first time, or start in exactly the right place. Accept you will be wrong more times than you will be right and be prepared to change quickly. Learn and move on.

It’s easier to ease change than make change: I’d love for company after company being ready to flip their entire working model and leap into a different world, but we all know that’s unlikely. So focus on tech that makes it easy for people to believe they can change. If I go to company today that’s struggling to meet their workload and say “great news I can find you another 30% or 40% more data” its not going to go well. So the first thing we needed to do was create a platform that allowed them to drop their current workloads by 50% or more. Now we can have the next level conversation

Will users feel they are making a difference?: Is what you are doing something you can show to a user and say that by doing this not only can they do what they do easier, but it will help them make it a better world. People want to be better citizens, we want to feel we are doing a good job and a job that makes the world a better place. Help them see how your technology will allow them to do a good job AND make the world better. I’m hoping that’s what my users are taking out of the conversations we have. I can help you do your current job better and create a platform for you to help more people.

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?

The simple answer is that it’s their world and do they really want to keep leaving it to the generations who have made the mess we are in to fix it? My children and others out there, they have so much information and understanding that my generation didn’t, that doesn’t excuse the mess older generations made but makes it a little more understandable. Young people truly have an opportunity to shape the world they want; they aren’t limited by data being hidden in libraries or solutions being handicapped by lack of funding. I’m so positive about what future generations can do and hope they will take the chances to build a better world.

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. 🙂

Is it too boring or obvious to say Tim Cook? There is a tremendous opportunity around the Apple Watch and how it could be linked to automatically collecting patient data and helping make medicines safer. I’m very conscious that only about 10% of adverse events get reported and they get reported after the fact, so there is still a huge and untapped pool of data out there that could help us understand the real-time interactions between patients taking a medicine and its physiological effects to better understand the risks, what other factors might come into play and best of all, how we might be able to prevent issues happening by connecting directly with patients and not just through healthcare workers.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The usual places such as Linked-In and @Twitter. I’m always happy to discuss any topics/questions when people reach out.

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

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