Five Things I Learned with OhanaHealth by Sarah MacDonald

As a part of my Ohana Health Experience, this summer I interned with Healthy Bytes, a start up that provides services and a software platform or dietitians who want to accept health insurance. Ever since I returned to school, I’ve been doing some accidental reflecting on my internship as I explain to my friends what exactly I did this summer. What’s most striking to me is that even though the field I worked in was very narrow, the breadth of my experience was wide. I did learn a lot about health insurance but I also learned the importance of to measuring the impact of a change you make to your business and why I should be excited about the changes in healthcare right now. Here are five key take aways from my summer.   

First, trying to be perfect isn’t productive. A start up doesn’t revolve around the product itself or service that you’ve created, its success hinges on how a client uses the product. The creator’s vision of use is often slightly different from a real world application. Sometimes, a feature of your product that you believe is secondary is often the most well received by the target market. Devoting all your energy to creating a “perfect” prototype is less effective than always searching to improve your customer experience. Being open minded to different uses of your product allows you to look at making changes as an opportunity rather than the consequence of a failure. Constant evolution is a good thing, a necessary thing, and directing energy towards a perfect first product hinders you from developing an attitude where improvement is always the priority. 

This entrepreneurial frame of mind in which the goal is never a finish line but an always upward trajectory relates to another takeaway: never stop learning. This goes beyond just being a scholar of your industry - paying attention to current affairs or new technologies that could directly or indirectly impact your field - but engaging with your coworkers to understand the skills they use in there work. At Healthy Bytes, I worked as an operations and a marketing intern so my day to day tasks had little to do with the technical aspect of the start up. However, one of my favourite things to do was to listen to our data science interns explain what they were working on and what that involved. As a result, I learned how big data could be used to stream-line the insurance billing process, about the challenges involved with writing a computer program to sort inconsistent information and made some great friends! 

Don’t be afraid to be specific. My conception of the “tech start up world” before actively participating in it was that for a start up to be successful it had to incorporate many spheres of content and uses. I realized though my internship this summer that start ups that provide value to both clients and investors don’t try to solve multiple problems; they’re typically highly specific. In fact, mastering one service allows you to streamline your process, reach more clients, and increase your chance of excelling in your sphere. Moreover, specificity fosters collaboration. During my time at Healthy Bytes, I witnessed several partnerships arise. These partnerships only occurred because each party had mastered a unique skill or service. The amalgamation of two honed skills allowed each business to grow. 

I knew before this summer that the US medical system wasn’t meeting the needs of its patients  but I never understood the source of its inefficiency and short comings. More importantly, I knew healthcare was changing, but could never articulate in which direction. However, the Ohana Healthcare 101 module neatly detailed the history of the American healthcare system, how it functions on a daily basis, and how this is incongruent with the needs of the current population. In short, it was a wonderful eureka moment. I understood that while excellent at treating disease and trauma injuries - leading causes of mortality a century ago, the health care system doesn’t effectively prevent and treat chronic lifestyle diseases. Instead of acute treatment through an operation or medication, individuals need preventative care. The question now is how can medical professionals, innovators and patients work together so that this shift in attitude occurs. Just learning the term behavioural change and how to apply it to the medical context was enlightening, particularly as a pre med student. Instead of feeling depressed about the current state of healthcare it actually made me enthusiastic about how more attention is being placed on keeping patients at their healthiest instead of just mitigating sickness.  

Finally, content will never be glamorous all the time. It’s important to acknowledge and accept this fact so that when faced with a tedious or gritty task you don’t start doubting the value of your work. Health insurance isn’t riveting content. In fact, it’s sometimes - okay usually - frustrating and laborious. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed working at Healthy Bytes which I attribute to working with people who were passionate about creating something, who had self deprecating senses of humour and who made me feel valued for both the operations labour I could do as well as my thinking skills. My ideas or questions were always carefully considered, which made me feel like I was gaining more from my time at Healthy Bytes than I ever could have given. It sounds cliched but it’s true: it's okay if what you’re doing isn’t always interesting, as long as you're doing it with interesting people.