- Dr Asif Qasim
From Chalk and Talk to MedShr : Digital Health Entrepreneur’s Journey
Over the last two days I’ve been in Rzeszow in Poland at the e-Learning Journeys Conference, meeting people from around Europe who are passionate about the power of online and digital platforms and tools in education. It really resonates that many of the challenges that face school pupils are similar to those faced by medical students and doctors, including the very real issue that the apps and tech that people use in their personal life are years ahead of the learning technology they have access to.
It has given me the time to reflect on my own experiences of teaching and learning, with a keynote on my journey as an entrepreneur and educator.
Born in Yorkshire, England in 1971, the year of decimalization and the move from pounds, shillings and pence, I grew up with school days that had changed very little over the last century. This was a world with three terrestrial TV channels, rotary dial telephones and classrooms with rows of wooden desks.
That chalk and talk method of teaching was delivered by schoolmasters, many of whom were Oxbridge graduates, and wore a suit and gown in the classroom. It served me well, and perhaps it suited my mentality in that the classroom teaching stimulated me as an avid reader to learn more – especially books, libraries and television. And the latter – TV – was certainly a way to see wider horizons and encounter people and theories that were not available from textbooks – everything from documentaries to overnight Open University programs all crammed into those three channels.
Like most children in the eighties I used an IBM PET at school for very simple computer studies, and I was lucky enough to have a home computer from the age of 15. My Dragon 64 was in the second tier of home computing, behind the Commodore 64 and BBC Microcomputers – all plugged into a cassette tape recorder for games and simple programming. For some of my friends this was the time they became hooked on computers – for me this was just a distraction from what I saw as real academic work.
Medical studies in Cambridge in the early nineties were traditional, especially compared to more integrated courses like Nottingham where students had patient contact from the first term. We had two years of basic science – most of which was alongside the Vets and Natural Scientists, then a year when you chose your subject. For me Neurophysiology gave me the privilege of being taught by Nobel Prize Winners Hodgkin and Huxley, but at that time computing was mainly for word processing. It meant students wrote and printed their own reports and these rather than using a typing service as my sister had done ten years previously.
I had a Mac – that was bought or loaned, I don’t remember – from a cousin. It had two main purposes: Tetris and documents. Data was stored on Floppy Discs, and their main purpose was to transport documents written in my room, to the College Computer Room for printing.
In hindsight I see that that Computer Room may well have held some of the most amazing talent – people who went on to study AI and computing at MIT in the early days. They used electronic mail to communicate on green text screens with students and professors at Yale, Harvard and Stanford. It seemed pointless – like a private phone line between academics.
In that context Tim Berners-Lee and the world wide web, born in CERN in 1989, was the paradigm of academic communications. That it has grown into an extraordinary, immense, life form that intertwines with so many aspects of our lives in testament to his vision that “This is for everyone” – and the code was open, there were no fees or subscriptions. And the US universities that were keen to charge were pushed back.
1997 was a big year for me on two fronts. My first mobile phone – a Nokia that fit into my pocket – and fundamentally changed the way I communicated. And my first laptop computer – a Rock PC – that my consultant helped me to buy as an academic. Connected to the internet with a dial up modem it brought websites and email to my home. We all became aware of the awesome power of the web to handle data, coupled with many fears of how that would work, who would control it, and how it might change our lives.
As a doctor using a computer at that time revolved around emails to colleagues, web searches for publications and PowerPoint presentations. Much of the dependence on Microsoft Office – especially Word, Excel and PowerPoint was embedded at that time – and even as better software and apps have come along, they are still the mainstay of most offices.
It was as a PhD student, back in Cambridge in 2002 that I began to feel the power of the web to connect people and effect change. There were some big networks like Friends Reunited, MySpace and the start of LinkedIn that showed the potential of online communities. Niche communities like Naseeb Networks were flourishing years before The Facebook was launched in 2004.
I’ve always played a lot of sport and like most people this became harder after leaving university. In part it is because of a lack of time – a day job gets in the way of sport! The bigger issue for me was finding people to play with at a time that suited me. At school sport was organized and you could find friends to play with. University offered every sport at every level and there was always a match or a training session to go to.
Comenplay.com was my solution – an online network to connect individuals, teams and associations to play sport and exercise. There was a clear public health message but the core objective was to help people to play more sport. The ecosystem that exists now for Start Ups did not exist, certainly in the UK, and so the design and build process was long, complicated and expensive. We partnered with Sport England, sports associations and teams and grew to about 30,000 members. Comenplay was a multi-sport platform with global ambition that ultimately failed because of all those typical self funded tech company reasons – lack of runway, revenue, audience, growth and so on.
I learned a huge amount from Comenplay.com and it was from there that I built G-cardio.net – a successful web platform for cardiologists in 2007. After 7 years, a huge amount of work on product-market fit and market research we launched MedShr in 2015. So there the story begins. ..
MedShr is a global, private network for verified medical professionals to discover, discuss and share clinical cases and medical images in all specialties. Join the community of over 350,000 members worldwide: http://medshr.it/joinfree
About Dr Asif Qasim
Dr Asif Qasim is a Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, NHS Clinical Director and Founder and CEO of MedShr based in London, England. Dr Qasim graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1995 with prizes and awards for research and clinical medicine. He has published papers in peer-reviewed journals on a range of interventional and general cardiology subjects.
After successfully building a case discussion network for cardiologists, Dr Asif Qasim launched MedShr in 2015. MedShr is a global, private network for verified medical professionals to discover, discuss and share clinical cases and medical images in all specialties. Join the community of over 350,000 members worldwide: http://medshr.it/joinfree