Interview: Jefferson Health+Design Event

A few weeks back I was invited to participate in a meeting with two start-ups at the Thomas Jefferson’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College. Jefferson has developed a unique program at the Medical College focused on design thinking (JeffDESIGN). It is the first of its kind in the nation. The focus is the application of design thinking to solve healthcare challenges. The design program is the first-of-its-kind for a U.S. medical school and includes “interactive workshops co-facilitated by designers, architects and device makers.”

The JeffDESIGN Director is an inspiring and innovative ER physician, Bon Ku, MD, MPP – also a collaborator and friend of our agency.

I’d previously had a great conversation with Alex Davis, Group Account Director, about connected health and partnerships – so invited her to join me for the event. Now… these were not your usual start-ups. These innovators are hacking health from the inside out as medical students who observe opportunities and challenges in patient care and seek to solve them. They are our future doctors.

I sat down with Alex after the event to ask her about what she thought and found her insights to be worthy of sharing.


RS: What was the most inspiring part of the evening?

AD: As I listened to the two groups of young medical students who were creating products and companies to help patients (all while going to medical school), it shifted my perspective on how we think about the challenges we solve for our customers. The shift was to really look more closely at the ultimate customer (the patient or the doctor) and the challenges they actually have.  Plus, just the nature of their inspiration and ambition to help people was infectious.

RS: Aside from the student innovators, who else inspired you that night at Jefferson?

AD: It’s not every day you hear a small, Brooklyn based company declare with absolute confidence their plans to roll out at least 100 new medical devices in the next year to help solve the biggest problems of today’s healthcare experience, but that’s what 10xBeta did. 10xBeta shared this declaration and some of the work they are doing with the audience .

10XBeta is a partner of Jefferson’s and helped the two student companies in the design and creation of their products

Their goals converge with our agency’s because they place the person being treated at the center of their objective. Questions like, “What is causing this person to have a poor treatment experience?” are great starting points to uncovering solutions that will actually make a difference in not just better treatment outcomes but people’s lives.

RS: Digitas Health calls that Helping Not Selling . . .

AD: Yes! When I think about how the next generation of innovation medical device creation and rapid prototyping in particular has the potential to move the healthcare space into an almost Sci fi-like frontier, I cannot help but think about what this means for the giant pharmaceutical companies we partner with on a daily basis. How can we facilitate connections between emerging biotechnology and established pharma brands? They each have the capacity to influence and benefit each other in ways that will not only help the bottom line, but ultimately the customers they serve on both the HCP and patient side of the equation.

RS: We have seen that Philly is an emerging center for health tech innovation entrepreneurs. What is Digitas Health’s role in this emerging community of disrupters?

AD: Our agency is keenly focused on educating people about disease and treatments and we do it very well. We adapt to the ways people consume information. There is an opportunity to help emerging technology companies uncover the true relevance to patients and pharma. We are experts in branding and positioning — our skills can help the next generation of disrupters.

RS: So, we are entering Planning season… any inspiration for our colleagues and clients as a result of the evening at Jefferson?

AD: As an account manager, who was privileged to listen to the latest prototypes in development by Jefferson med students in partnership with 10xBeta, I feel it is now my duty to seek out emerging biotech opportunities that can enhance the relationship the brands I work on have with the people they touch. Going into 2017 planning, I’m committed to achieving just that!


As we head into planning season, I share Alex’s takeaways in the hopes of bringing forward opportunities to focus very carefully on the patient and practitioner needs in order to bring our clients more sustainable and meaningful solutions.

When we look at hacking health ideas, partnership opportunities, and approaches that focus on empathy (what is happening because someone has or treats a condition) perhaps we can begin to provide content and services with truer relevance.