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  • Ivan Beckley

Genuine technological change in healthcare requires patience, strong morals and a multidisciplinary

Around this exact time last year, I shared the most amazing news. DeepMind Health had offered to sponsor my MSc studies, with an accompanying offer to join the company as an intern once my studies had finished. One year later, MSc completed and internship complete, it feels only fitting to complete this chapter as it started — with a blog post. This time, though, I’ll be sharing a brief reflection on my experiences from this year, from analysing complex health data for the first time to understanding how DeepMind functions from the inside. To make this post as simple, engaging and insightful as possible, I have selected three core learnings from my adventure over the past year that I hope you find useful:

1) Clinicians who are able to complement their clinical skills become change-makers

When I entered medical school, I thought of nothing but studying and practicing medicine. But, from my time this year, I have realised that, to achieve my ambition of creating positive large scale change in healthcare, I was missing one critical thing as part of that plan. That is to compliment the clinical skills I would gain from my medical training with an additional set of skills beyond medicine. This is why I embarked upon my MSc in Health Data Science at UCL.

During my MSc, it was an amazing experience to understand how even the small clinical knowledge I gained during my previous 3 years at medical school began to drastically inform my data science work: from the statistical models I built, to the way in which I structured my data tables, to the variables I would investigate for a potential interaction effect within my logistic regression models. Where my clinical knowledge really complimented my growing data science skills was during the evaluation and interpretation of results from my analyses. Using my brief medical background, insights became informed not only by the data itself but my medical training. As such, the simplest correlation of variables or statistically significant results unlocked new questions and potential research in a way that my peers couldn’t quite imagine.

Whilst at DeepMind Health, this essential combination of clinical skills with additional skills and experiences beyond medicine became clear when observing every clinician at DeepMind. They all had phenomenal clinical skills which sat at the foundation of all their work. But they equally all had additional set of skills and experiences acquired either from further study or research, self-directed learning or working in government/businesses for a period of time, that allowed them to blend the skills of the outside world with their medical training. It was honestly beautiful to see. In my observations of DeepMind clinicians, it become clear that by complimenting their clinical skills they became change-makers for the healthcare system — able to effect and influence change in a way I have always hoped to be able to achieve with my career.

The insight here is simple. During this year I have learnt that, to increase our chances of becoming potential change-makers in healthcare, as a clinician or as an individual with clinical training then we should begin to build a career that develops additional skills and experiences alongside yet beyond medicine.

2) Genuine technological change in healthcare requires patience, strong morals and a multidisciplinary team

If I were to say that my patience in front of a computer had not been tested writing hundreds of lines of code, I would be lying! This is especially true for data science — although there is beauty in being able to manipulate thousands of digits and values, there is equal frustration when those digits and values are missing, highlight error, lack any obvious pattern or structure. All this and more, I was challenged with during my MSc assignments and dissertation. Much of the difficulty in uncovering valuable insights from data is dealing with the ugliness of data in its raw format.

Constantly iterating, and checking, iterating and checking.

The amazing thing is that this very same patience working with health data, coupled with strong morals and a multidisciplinary team is why DeepMind has and will continue to create phenomenal change driven by technology in healthcare. At DeepMind Health, there is an excepted understanding that to create change in healthcare, patience coupled with the highest standards of morals is required. Not only this but this is a view held by all walks of talent and backgrounds at the company, from design to information governance.

This insight therefore is to say that despite the clear opportunity for technology to influence healthcare, without patience (a willingness to invest many years getting things right), strong morals (a commitment to the highest standards) and a multidisciplinary team (a team of people with contrasting yet complimentary backgrounds and skills) then technological change in healthcare will not be as impactful as it has the potential to be. These qualities are at the core of how DeepMind Health operate. The Nature Medicine paper recently published in collaboration with Moorfields Eye Hospital is a perfect example of what can be achieved with these qualities in place. The DeepMind Health research team worked for over 2 years (patience), with the challenging decision to create a interpretable and generalisable system (strong morals), built with user researchers, engineers and clinicians all involved in the process (a multidisciplinary team). The most exciting thing is that this is only the beginning!

3) Patients and the public have to be at the heart of everything

When faced with data during my MSc it become easy, unfortunately, to forget that each data point is often reflective of an individual. An individual with a mind and body, thoughts and feelings. Arguably for meaningful insights to be delivered, we don’t want to focus too much on the individual and more on the sample or population. Yet at DeepMind I experienced a recognition that both the individual and the population are important.

At DeepMind, patients and the public are at the heart of the technological change we hope to create. In every work or project that I was involved in at DeepMind Health this was the case. Wonderfully this engagement not only added value but often transformed our initial thoughts into more improved ideas and concepts. Doing this is not easy. It requires attention, willingness to listen and in fact all of the qualities described in my above insight.

Organisations like Understanding Patient Data and others regularly advocate this engagement with public and patients, and from my time creating health data models and working alongside this engagement at DeepMind, it is clear there is no other better way. Without including patients and public directly in the technological work we enable, we will undoubtedly lose track of our true north — which is a better, more effective healthcare system for all.

So that is it!

In all, my MSc studies and internship with DeepMind Health, has been a year I will never forget. From the newly developed skills to the insights into the nuanced mechanism of enabling positive technological change in healthcare, this has been an experience that will remain with me for the rest of my life. It has set ablaze a deep desire to truly work towards technology that enables the healthcare system we all hope for, for the betterment of all our family, friends and the whole of humanity.

I honestly cannot thank the DeepMind Health team enough. They took a chance on a young guy from South London with crazy dreams for a better world. I hope more companies and organisations might do this more, and invest in young talent.

To all the wonderful people I have met at DeepMind: the conversations we have had and the work you have inspired me with — thank you! I will never forget my time with you all and I hope this story will inspire some of you to reach out for your ambitions and grab it — or better yet create it. You have to be bold and take a chance but importantly you have to be genuine and willing to work for it. I promise you it will be worth it. Here’s to returning back to medical school and working towards a new and positive future for healthcare! It’s been truly amazing!


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