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Meet the CEO: To Be Creative You Need a Blank Mind of a Newborn, Says Eric Schulze, Founder of Medical Imaging Startup Lifetrack Medical Systems

Meet the CEO: To Be Creative You Need a Blank Mind of a Newborn, Says Eric Schulze, Founder of Medical Imaging Startup Lifetrack Medical Systems

  • Lifetrack Medical Systems builds software platforms for the entire healthcare ecosystem.
  • Initial focus is medical imaging in emerging markets
  • Founder Eric Schulze is an expert in radiology, informatics and radiology operations
Eric Schulze, Founder & CEO of Lifetrack Medical Systems
Find Lifetrack Medical Systems on HealthTech Alpha

Founded in 2012, Lifetrack Medical Systems says that it builds “simple, elegant, powerful, and intuitive software platforms for the entire healthcare ecosystem.” It starts “with medical imaging in emerging markets where the needs are greatest, and the resources are scarcest.”

Lifetrack has clients in Nigeria, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, The Philippines, Brazil, the USA, and the UK. The company’s RIS/PACS architecture incorporates integrated decision support features and automatic feedback loops and enables efficient quality diagnosis. The software is used for Radiologist training and capacity building in those countries where there is a scarcity of Radiologists.

Its founder Eric Schulze is an expert in Radiology Informatics and Radiology Operations with specific expertise in RIS/PACS integration over nationwide and international networks. He has additional skills in Software design and architecture with experience in building and leading teams of software engineers.

Eric was previously a co-founder of a teleradiology company that enabled remote radiology reading, including Xrays and CT Scans. Even before that, he had registered patents in PACS and was a chief radiologist at a hospital in Texas.

About Eric Schulze’s Early Life

Just like Bruce Springsteen, Eric Schulze was born in the USA, but he describes himself as a third culture kid. As well as Texas and Manila where he lives today, he has lived in San Diego, San Francisco, Louisiana, Texas. Boston, Hawaii, and Singapore.  When he was eight, he also spent some time in Bangalore, when his father, a sociology professor, was carrying out research. 

Eric says he is what sociologists call a third culture kid. He is at home wherever he lives. But he believes that his life-time in experiencing different cultures forged in him characteristics that made him the entrepreneur that he is today. He says that it is essential for young people to get out of their comfort zone, and become exposed to problems they didn’t know existed.

Eric received his BA from the University of California at Berkeley (with Honors in Molecular Biology), his MD and PhD from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) with his PhD Thesis in Cell Biology in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics. He completed his Radiology Residency at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). He has multiple publications in the biological sciences, including the Journal Nature.

Before he joined the entrepreneurial scene, he was as a radiologist at a hospital in Amarillo, Texas. He recalls that this area of Texas is “massive,” the size of some European countries, thinly populated, with hospitals scattered across the region. He used to work at night time and would have to travel into the hospital when there was an emergency, such as a car accident.

It was from this that the idea of remote radiology occurred to him. He says that area of Texas was flat, and therefore internet access was relatively easy to supply from occasional towers. 

Eric became Medical Director of Avreo, where he designed and implemented software for RIS PACS integration. During this period, he registered his first patent for an efficient method of rendering diagnosis of radiology procedures.

In 2003 in co-founded 247 Radiology.  Eric says that he was the CEO, CTO and CIO, his partner “was the finance guy.”

But Eric moved West, literally chasing the sun. He realised that it was possible to read cases from anywhere. He uprooted to Hawaii (which also boasted superb internet access because it was on the route of internet cables linking Asia to the US).  He could now work in the afternoon and evenings on cases that emerged where it was night time.  But the move West continued, to Singapore and Manila.

“We were doing cases from 100 different sites across the US each night.”

247 Radiology was sold in 2011 to an NYSE buyer.

An Inside Look Into Eric’s Personal Life

Eric Schulze says that he loves his work.  He refers to his grandfather, who used to say that the “luckiest man loves his work.”

As a radiologist he says he loves the “Sherlock Holmes,” nature of the work with every case different. And as a software architect and entrepreneur, he loves being creative. He says that in medical imagery, you have to know the field very well, but to be creative, you need a “kind of blank mind,” like that “of a newborn.”

He says that he likes being able to re-imagine what other people are doing. 

He refers to research he read about creativity, which found that creativity is partly about the ability to suppress the obvious. And that he says happens to be what he is good at, and cites having seven patents to his name as evidence.

He once came across a quote that “you either read what people write, or write what people read.” He cites this as the best advice he has received, an approach that fits in with creativity, of thinking originally and not being over-influenced by what others are thinking. Taking this idea into the field of radiology, Eric believes that people are typically so aligned with current practice and what others are doing, that they find it hard to come up with new ideas. He says “they get stuck on an evolutionary dead end”

It is in keeping with this idea of how creativity works, that Eric cites as his recommended book: the E-Myth revisited. The book looks at why most small businesses don’t work and what can be done about it. The author, Michael. E. Gerber says that “common assumptions, expectations, and even technical expertise can get in the way of running a successful business.”

He also cites any book by science fiction author Robert Heinlein. The combination of Eric’s love of creativity and the emphasis he places on thinking unconventionally, has similarities with a certain Elon Musk — who rates two books by Heinlein in his list of 12 favourite books.  Maybe it should come as no surprise then to learn that Eric cites Musk as his greatest inspiration. He sees other similarities. Tesla competes with some of the world’s largest companies — automakers. In the early days of the company, competing against such Titans seemed impossible. Lifetrack Medical Systems competes with companies like Phillips and GE.

He says that if he had his life over again, he wouldn’t do anything differently, because he is happy with where he is and “you never know” where he would be now, if he had done things differently when he was younger.   There is a country song entitled ‘Bless the Broken Road.’ Part of the song relates:

“Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart, they were like Northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms.”

Eric says this song sums up his attitude to how his life has turned out.

Eric up says: “I have never done anything the way you are supposed to.”

He also believes that his life spent living in different places helped forge him. “I would never have come up with the ideas behind Lifetrack if I had hadn’t lived outside of the US, but I would not have had the technical knowledge and training in problem-solving and software architecture if I had grown up outside of the US.”

But he says it is essential to “get out of your comfort zone so that you get exposure to problems you didn’t know existed.”

And maybe not surprisingly, for a science fiction fan, Eric is a believer in technology and rapid technological change. He cites as an example a wristwatch that is also a phone — “That’s like Dick Tracy,” he says, drawing a comparison with a famous cartoon detective, who was once played by Warren Beatty in a movie.

“I love popular science,” he says, and he is optimistic about how technology will improve humanity’s lot. 

Journey of Lifetrack Medical Systems 

After 247 Radiology was sold, Eric looked for his next opportunity.

He says that he spent ten years in his last company “trying to get something to work that shouldn’t,” and after the sale thought that “by now someone must have come up with something.”

He found, however, that no one had.

It was something of a puzzle, to Eric the opportunity was obvious, but then he says that “when you have been in the trenches for that amount of time, you learn where the bodies lie,” so to speak. You gain an understanding of the “nitty-gritty,” where the problems lie.

Part of the problem, it seems it was old technology. The computers that were used to read Xrays, CT or MRI scans used 386 processors or Pentiums and relied on servers for the heavy lifting. He realised that the existing tool kits lacked sufficient power.

There was another issue. “I read a paper,” he says that two-thirds of the world’s population lacks access to basic diagnostic imaging, such as ultrasound or X-ray.

This point was highlighted at an investor’s event, when he asked for a show of hands concerning how many people had ever had X-ray imaging. It looked as if virtually everyone raised their hand, so he put the question the other way around and asked people to raise their hands if they had never been subject to X-ray imaging. Not a single person raised their hand.

It was this juxtaposition between the fact that two-thirds of the world had never had X-ray imaging versus the experience most people he mixed with had, that provided the inspiration for the company. Eric says that he found this finding “stunning.”

Part of the challenge was a lack of people with required skills.  Not only was there a lack of radiologists, there was a lack of appropriately qualified professors to teach radiology.

Eric and his team at Lifetrack Medical Systems met this challenge by teaching the skills remotely.  Local radiologists in the making, or radiologists who lacked sufficient training, would read image reports, which Eric and his team read, corrected, with track changes and sent back.

Eric draws an analogy with Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, which he famously described in his book Outliers. He says, that after four years these individuals who had been trained in this way were top standard.

Lifetrack Medical Systems solves two problems. Firstly, it makes more efficient use of resources, for example, by enabling efficient remote reading of imagery that saves radiologists time otherwise spent in traffic.

Secondly, it has helped build capacity in countries, so that instead of a “helicopter drop” of radiologists into a region, which he says isn’t sustainable, they train radiologists.

The fundamental motivation behind the company, however, is the shocking statistic that two-thirds of the world’s population do not have access to medical imagery.

The company has completed a Series A funding round, with investment led by UOB Venture Management (UOBVM) through its Asia Impact Investment Fund (AIIF), advised by Credit Suisse. Philips, and an existing investor Kickstart Ventures also participated.

At the time of the investment, Diederik Zeven, General Manager, Health Systems, Philips ASEAN Pacific said: Access to precision diagnoses can be challenging in some parts of the world. We are committed to partnering with Lifetrack Medical Systems to improve access to advanced radiology services for patients in regions with a developing health system, such as ASEAN and South Asia, so that patients can receive optimal treatment via their local caregivers, wherever they are.”

Clarissa Loh, Senior Director at UOBVM, said, “In many developing areas in Asia, Access to affordable medical imaging is constrained by the lack of qualified radiologists. Lifetrack’s solution seeks to overcome this challenge, and with our investment through the AIIF, we hope to help bring affordable diagnostic imaging to more people in this region.”

Thoughts on COVID-19 Pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Eric says that we didn’t know how deadly it was, but we knew it was a new virus with no effective treatments. 

For the company, business was almost non-existent at the peak of the pandemic, but this wasn’t an issue as Eric and his team were building the infrastructure for their solution.

He says that now we see the light at the end of the tunnel, but one side effect of the pandemic is that it helped people see the benefits of the Lifetrack solution.

The concept of reading medical imagery remotely has gained additional traction as a result of lockdowns. Additionally, Eric says that the pandemic also led to people focusing on the cost benefits of the Lifetrack solution.

He said: “Our sense is that we did the right thing by continuing to fixate on quality.”

Partnership During Unprecedented Times

Eric says that partly as a result of COVID-19, there are lots of companies in the Philippines which are looking at providing primary care outside the hospitals. But Eric wonders whether telemedicine provides the answers — he believes that there is still a need for the human touch. By contrast, the need for distributed radiology is clear. “I think there will be a big movement,” he said.

About the Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort

Lifetrack Medical Systems is part of the Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort, the only acceleration programme built to scale digital health startups to be the next generation powering healthcare innovation in the New Normal in Asia. In 2020, Galen Growth is working with 25 HealthTech startups which will benefit from Galen Growth’s long-established and unmatched curated community of investors, corporate leaders and innovation teams and other essential stakeholders through our proven multi-channel tools. For more information, visit Galen Growth’s HealthTech Cohort webpage or read this article on the launch of the Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort.

Read our previous interview with Dr Siaw Tung Yeng, CEO & Founder of MaNaDr here.

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