What’s That Rash? LuminDx’s Co-Founder Susan Conover’s Revolutionary AI Is Helping to Answer that Question.April 8th, 2020
Perhaps no field has undergone as much transformation in recent years as the healthcare industry. Advanced technology has unlocked the ability to offer more effective, efficient, and personalized patient care, which has inspired industry leaders to further catalyze improvement in health care. While technology has ushered in a new era of health care, it takes brilliant people to ensure the combination of tech and health care results in revolutionary improvements. In our new blog series, “Meet the Female CEOs Who Are Driving Real Change in the Healthcare Industry”, you’ll hear candid insights from some of the most influential leaders in the healthcare industry. Each interviewee bears a unique story, but all are revolutionizing their respective fields for the better.
Next up in our series is Susan Conover, CEO and Co-Founder of LuminDx. Her company is helping primary care physicians accurately differentiate skin conditions through a sophisticated, easy-to-operate app.
Susan’s decision to start LuminDx largely originated from her own battles with skin cancer, having had Melanoma three times. As someone who has been diagnosed with melanoma three times, Susan knows that a proper treatment plan can make all the difference in a patient’s health. Through LuminDx, Susan’s helping PCPs better serve their patients and ensure they’re given the tools to make the right assessment.
This is part 2 of 5 in our “Meet the Female CEOs Who Are Driving Real Change in the Healthcare Industry” series created in partnership with growth marketing agency Ideometry. Tune in next week for another installment!
Tell us a bit about LuminDx?
Susan: LuminDx is an early stage company that is helping primary care physicians better address skin diseases using AI. Right now, primary care physicians encounter 67% of skin disease cases in the U.S., and 88 million Americans seek help from a doctor for a skin issue every year. Most of these are dealt with in primary care, but unfortunately, about half of these cases are misdiagnosed. This is partially due to the fact that primary care doctors spend less than a week in medical school learning about dermatology.
With the rise of Botox and other cosmetic procedures, it's increasingly hard to get a dermatology appointment. There just aren't enough dermatologists to meet the need for all these different skin issues out there. Patients today will get misdiagnosed and mistreated for years in many cases before they get the right diagnosis.
What LuminDx is enabling them to do is to be able to take photos of that patient in the clinic, answer less than five questions, and instantly see the most visually similar conditions. This process basically replicates the work done through a dermatologist’s first glance at a patient.. We want our app to function like a dermatologist, and have it be very much trained on pattern recognition and be able to recognize tens of thousands of cases in order to refine that visual identification capability.
What milestones has your company achieved so far?
Susan: Right now, we have four full-time employees. We raised our angel round last summer, and we’re opening our seed round of funding very soon. We’re still in the early stages of growing, but our team is just very excited to enable every patient to get the care that they need faster.
What’s the origin story of the company?
Susan: The reason that I started LuminDx is a personal one. I started exploring this problem when I was doing my masters at MIT because I’ve had melanoma three times. Those experiences were sort of a rude awakening in my early twenties of the problems that patients encounter, especially when it comes to being treated for skin conditions. After doing some market research, I realized there was a huge opportunity in primary care to help address this issue.
Who is currently using LuminDx?
Susan: Right now, we’re focused on enabling primary care physicians to better address skin diseases in the clinical setting. One of the most important criteria in medicine is quality. As it stands now, our AI is right between a primary care physician and a dermatologist in terms of accuracy. We want it to reach the level of accuracy of a dermatologist before we fully launch.
We’re focused on licensing many images from large teaching institutions in order to train the AI in the same way that a resident learns. So our focus right now is the R and D component of development.
When I talk to dermatologists, they often tell me that their field is like an art mixed with science. As a patient, it’s just scary to hear that it's like an art mixed with science. I think we’d prefer to just have the science and have them take out the art portion of it. We want to build a world where patients all have on demand care, especially for skin issues and conditions that can be evaluated remotely. But we know that we have a few steps to go before we get there, and so our first step is to help PCPs.
How do you see LuminDx disrupting its space within healthcare?
Susan: In a perfect world, people could take a photo from their home and answer some very simple questions and then, two minutes later, have a drone fly through their window and spray you with the right solution, in addition to delivering a pizza. Our vision is fully patient-centered care.
More realistically, I do think that this can still materialize with the current limitations in place. One of the things that I love most about being in dermatology is that everyone truly relates to it. Patients especially, because skin conditions are something you’re looking at 24/7 and are probably working to have treated as soon as possible. To me, the natural bridge for taking technology that's been used in other industries and deploying it in a patient-centric way is by allowing people to access a lot of different information outside of just skin diseases.
We want to make sure that patients get the care that they need, especially with the epidemics that we’re currently facing as a society. There’s more data than there’s ever been on skin conditions, so it’s just a matter of figuring out how to harness that data. If we can democratize healthcare information and empower patients and physicians to make smarter choices at the moment they encounter health problems, we can better prevent diseases from outbreaking in the first place. That’s the world that I want to live in.
According to a report by Oliver Wyman, women make up only 30% of C-suite executives and 13% of CEOs. Why do you think women are sorely underrepresented in healthcare leadership?
Susan: I will speak about things that I personally know and have data to support. One of those factors that’s really important is that women are evaluated based on prior success and men are evaluated based on future potential. You see that in a few different ways, but one way you see that pertains to the questions that female and male CEOs get asked in meetings. Women are asked about their ability to protect the organization from competitors who may have more fire power. Men are asked about how they're going to win. People make investment choices based on opportunity-based mindsets, not risk-based mindsets.
In practice, how that translates is, if you’re a woman and haven’t been a CEO before, you’ll likely get passed over for someone that has experience as a CEO. Not many people will view you as capable if you’ve never done it before. I think women tend to help out other women a lot, but if none of them are at the level of CEO, then they can't pull up other women. That’s more of a generalization, but you get the idea. I'm definitely of the mindset that it's more cultural biases as opposed to natural biology that’s creating these barriers.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams but aren’t sure where to start?
Susan: You shouldn’t be afraid to jump. You learn a lot from actually trying to start your business versus just talking about it, so just go for it and start the company. I think it’s always good, both in your professional career and beyond, to ask for the things that you want and do the things that you want to do.
The majority of people would love to start their own company, but they don’t do it for a lot of different reasons. I had the privilege of going to MIT and using that experience as a career transition that allowed me to take entrepreneurship classes. I know that's not an option for everyone to go back to grad school, but once you commit to the work you’re putting in and set goals for yourself, things can resolve themselves along the way. You also want to find great partners who you’ve known for years, and are willing to go with you on this journey. Those are the people who are going to be your new community.
Your community isn't going to create itself by default, you have to essentially create it yourself. I also think that accelerators like Techstars and MassChallenge do a lot to support you in trying something new and to utilize the resources available to set yourself up for success.
What’s it been like being part of the Venture Lane community?
Susan: Venture lane is a very tight-knit community. We switched over from a different startup environment in November because my team had heard about Venture Lane and thought we’d do well within the community. The people at Venture Lane will provide you with customized solutions to our specific problems, but will also provide global information that is really important to our company’s growth.
When you have four people in your company, the way you treat each other as well as the people you work alongside both hugely impact the culture and happiness of your company. I’m able to have conversations with some incredible founders and CEOs that I probably wouldn’t be able to have in a less curated environment. I think it really makes a difference when you’re working around people that are not only smart, but are going through similar challenges. I know that’s certainly helped LuminDx work through our own issues, and we’ve enjoyed celebrating our achievements alongside some other incredible companies.
RELATED: Introducing Venture Lane Startup Hub
Part 3 of our series will launch next week, so stay tuned for our next installment.
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