Head of Product at OODA talks integrating tech, AI and how young women can break into the field

Integrating technology into the complex world of health is one of the biggest challenges hospitals and patient are facing as we move into the future, according to Head of Product at OODA Health Sophie Pinkard. Her experience working for some of the major players in the health IT world including Castlight and Imagine Health have given her an inside look at the industry and what is next.

We asked Pinkard about starting a career in healthcare and technology, the future of the industry and the challenges she sees coming down the pipeline.

Q: Could you tell me a little bit about your background?

A: I grew up just outside Washington, DC, and attended Stanford for college, where I majored in engineering. My first job was at the Advisory Board, a healthcare research and consulting firm in DC, where I worked on revenue cycle business intelligence products for hospitals. It was a great introduction to the world of healthcare technology. After that, I returned to Stanford for business school, and worked at Applied Strategies, Castlight Health, and Imagine Health, all in product/analytics roles. I am currently the head of product and part of the founding team at OODA Health.

Q: What advice would you give to young women who are interested in starting a career in healthcare and technology?

A: I would give the same advice to anyone looking to enter the field — I recommend learning as much about the space as possible and following healthcare news closely. Healthcare in the U.S. is such a complicated and changing ecosystem, and it's important to understand the relationships between payers, doctors and hospitals, patients, employers, government entities, and all the other companies involved.

Q: Where do you see health IT going in the next five years?

A: There is a lot of buzz in the industry right now about the potential for AI and machine learning to transform a number of different aspects of the healthcare system. I think there will be many different players exploring whether AI can remove some of the inefficiencies that currently exist. And at the same time, healthcare is fundamentally a human-centric field, and there is increasing realization that we need to re-orient healthcare delivery around patients and the providers that care for them. I believe the most successful AI applications will be those that focus on optimizing patient-provider interactions, not replacing them or inserting intrusive technology into them.

Q: How can young people start tailoring their skills to meet these needs?

A: Understanding where the current challenges lie in the healthcare system, and why those challenges exist, is critical. To solve these challenges, we'll need a wide variety of skill sets and talents — clinical expertise, data science, problem solving, design skills, relationship building, etc. The advice I would give to young people is to figure out what you're good at and like to do, and then hone in on what problem in healthcare your skill set can help solve.

Q: What were the biggest challenges for you breaking into the health IT field?

A: Healthcare IT is a large and highly complex space, and in many areas, a significant amount of domain expertise is required, so there have often been steep learning curves for me. In addition, many healthcare technology platforms are legacy systems that use outdated technology that can be extremely difficult to modify or replace. Because of this, the rate of technology change is often slower than in other industries, which can sometimes be frustrating.

Q: Is there anything I haven't asked yet that you think is important to add?

A: The biggest challenge I see in the healthcare technology space isn't the development of the technology itself, it's how to integrate that technology into a very complex system so that it will actually be used to solve a problem. Understanding and addressing the people and process aspects of healthcare problems is just as important as designing and building great technology.

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