Leah Houston, MD
Leah Houston, MD is the founder of HPEC, and a board-certified Emergency Physician. While practicing emergency medicine across the US for nearly 10 years she recognized a common problem: uncompensated administrative burdens related to physician employment and credentialing are a leading cause of administrative waste and physician burnout.
She realized that Blockchain could solve the obstructive regulatory problems in healthcare with its distributed ledger technology, by creating a decentralized community of physicians. She began working on the project and named it HPEC – the Humanitarian Physicians Empowerment Community. HPEC is building a platform that will give every physician a self-sovereign digital identity attached to their credentials in order to create a democratic digital physicians guild. HPEC will streamline the current antiquated and laborious process of credentialing, reduce administrative waste, improve access to care and give physicians sovereign ownership of their data and employment rights. The organization will also create an opportunity for physicians to communicate more efficiently about policy, and practice in order to improve patient care.
In presenting a solution that has the potential to alleviate the administrative waste for health systems, government and practicing physicians she is a recognized and requested national speaker on the topic of decentralized identity as it relates to healthcare. Her work was featured as a part of the first HIMSS Blockchain and Healthcare Textbook, published in 2019. A lifelong advocate, innovator and investor she has also spent lobbying for public policy and healthcare reform. She understands the problems that plague the healthcare system from the inside and out, and has dedicated her time to repairing the current global healthcare crisis. HPEC will restore physician autonomy to the practice of medicine, will begin in the United States and expand.
Leah, can you start off by telling us about yourself and why you chose the medical profession?
I always knew I wanted to help people I thought long and hard about which jobs I could do that… where I knew I would be helping people all the time. I also really love science I love thinking critically and problem-solving… I thought about teaching, I thought about bench research. It was my high school physics professor; Mr. Parisi, who recommended the practice of medicine to me, and for that I’m very grateful, because it has been a perfect fit in many ways.
Can you tell us what drives you to be as passionate as you are in fixing healthcare from a provider perspective?
It was always about the patient. To be able to alleviate suffering- especially in an emergency setting is a reward in and of itself. The system, however, was so broken that those moments where my efforts felt like they were making a real difference became fewer and further in between. I felt the pressure from administrators to click boxes and collect meaningless metrics, while my patients waited in overcrowded waiting rooms. After going through all of that training, I realized that the autonomy and critical thinking component was not as prominent piece to practicing medicine as I thought it would be… in fact as the years went on I realized how much of my time was taken from me and re-appropriated to data entry. It was unacceptable to me… and when my identity was stolen… that experience sounded the alarm to me that something was terribly wrong. I realized that we as physicians were just a number… a credential… a medical license… an ability to write a prescription… The system didn’t care about me, and it didn’t care about my patients – we were all being used. They found a perfect formula to extract money from human suffering- from the suffering of patients and physicians. When I saw a solution I knew needed to build it and make it a reality.
Tell us a little bit about your company HPEC and your ultimate goal?
The HPEC mission is to restore physician autonomy through self-sovereign digital identity (SSI) technology. This technology will allow us to create a Decentralized Autonomous Organization of physicians – where each physician who is verified will get a digital identity that automatically validates and authenticates their credentials in the digital world. In doing so we plan to:
1. Streamline the verification and credentialing process for physicians, eliminating uncompensated administrative burdens, and minimizing the security risk that the current licensing and credentialing process places on a physician’s professional identity. This tool will improve practice and employment mobility, and will allow for secure direct patient communication so physicians and patients can interact directly without third party interference through many avenues including but not limited to telemedicine applications. HPEC aims to reduce waste and redundancy in the healthcare system while also alleviating physician burnout and abuse which contributes to the current physician shortage.
2. Give each physician with a secure digital identity an ability to communicate with fellow physicians and participate, and vote in a secure, confidential and decentralized digital democracy. This gives physicians a voice- improving communication around healthcare policy and practice. Physicians can weigh in from a consumer reports perspective, and collectively advocate for patient safety. Physicians will be able to use their points to spend the revenue that is generated on the network, giving their voice actual monetary value. When applied collectively or legislatively to policy or practice it will provide means for actionable change around system inefficiencies, redundancies and barriers to high quality patient care.
Our vision is to create an open, censorship free healthcare marketplace with the participation of the physicians who choose to participate in the network. To improve healthcare outcomes and quality of life, while also decreasing healthcare costs. Making it easy to care for and advocate for patients free from third party interference. The technology will use the “power of the crowd” to democratize and monetize the skills of the physician community- and will do so while keeping it physician owned and run.
What’s the one or two accomplishments that you’re proud of?
I am very proud of having completed medical school, and residency. That was by far the most difficult from a discipline perspective. I am very proud of that. I am even more proud of the steps I have taken to stand up against the systematic corruption that has robbed me and my fellow colleagues of the joy of the practice of medicine that we worked so hard for. Walking away from the years of dedication in order to fix the system was difficult from an emotional perspective. I hope to return to Emergency Medicine- but I have to fix the system first.
What advice do you have for other up-and-coming leader medical professionals?
If it feels wrong deep in your heart stop. Stop immediately. If reading this is giving you a knot in your stomach remember that now is not too late. NO is a complete sentence. You can start saying NO today. Don’t think twice and don’t look back. Don’t make or listen to excuses. Don’t take bribes and don’t do anything that violates the Oath of Hippocrates that you took. Do not contribute to, or participate in furthering the agenda of those who seek to destroy or further corrupt the sacred physician patient relationship. If you reach an advanced age and like the person you are when you look in the mirror you will die with that fortune which is far greater than any monetary reward one could have.
Are you active on social media professionally? If so, what platforms work best for engaging your followers?
I have found Twitter to be a great platform for sharing ideas and thoughts. It can get toxic sometimes, but I like it. I am on all platforms however… I am still trying to figure out Instagram though!
What’s the major difference between being an Emergency Room physician and running a business? Any comparison?
I feel like I am constantly mitigating risk and “triaging” emergencies vs non-emergencies in both roles. Of course the threat of potential loss or harm to human life isn’t as much in your face in entrepreneurship, but I am fully aware that my decisions affect a lot of people. The bigger we get the more impactful those decision are. I feel an immense sense of responsibility in both roles – but in very different ways.
Who was your biggest influencer?
Every stage of my life I had mentors – but bringing it full circle, it was certainly my mother who provided the most important pieces of wisdom to the most critical moments of my life.
What is the most challenging part of your work as a the CEO of HPEC?
We are a startup, so right now learning how to be a CEO is the most challenging part of being the CEO… Deciding what to spend our limited capital on, and who to bring onto the team… making the right decisions while protecting the company and the physician investors who put their trust in this idea and in me.
What do you have your sights set on next?
We are currently building our Minimal Viable Product (MVP) so I am excited to see it and share it with the physician community.
What is a day in your life like?
I wake up in the morning sometime between 5am and 7am depending on what time I went to bed. I do a 5 minute meditation and go downstairs to make a coffee and while it is brewing I jot down my punch list for the day and then I get to work. I try to tackle the most important items before noon, but I’m also taking calls with potential investors. Some of the most recent tasks set of taking my time have included completing our crowdfunding application, participating in discussions about self sovereign identity use cases that are applicable to the coronavirus pandemic, designing our new website, designing the wireframes for the MVP with our CTO, and working on some outreach content to make sure the world knows about what we are doing. I’m kind of like Forrest Gump… I eat when I am hungry and sleep when I am tired. I do cook simple meals. I will work out while on the phone watching webinars or listening to an audible or podcast I try to multi-task when I can. About once every 10 days or so I need a break and take 1/2 a day off and do something to decompress. I try to get at least 7 hours of sleep, and I rarely need to set an alarm – that is what my body needs.
Do you have any hobbies?
Not anymore! My hobby is now HPEC.
What makes you smile?
Seeing others overcome their fears or being kind to others makes me smile. I do also love to laugh, and I enjoy comedy – I like going to stand-up as far as movies go… Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley kind of stuff.
What are you never without?
Unless I am in a power outage or at a Vipassana- Internet. I need to stay connected to get work done.
What scares you?
The thought of making a decision that causes harm to others.
What’s your favorite vacation spot?
Very difficult question. Somewhere between the Marais district of Paris and the Redwoods of California.
List any other work, published articles, interviews or accomplishments:
- PopHealth on SoundCloud
- Apple Podcasts
- Google Podcasts
- The Digital Executive (Coruzant Tech)
Hippocratic Hustle Podcast with Carrie Reynolds @HipHustlePod
September 17, 2019: Twin Global Data & The Digital Transformation of the Healthcare Experience – speaking engagement Chicago, IL.
April 1, 2019: Dr Me First with Dr. Errin Weisserman
March 7, 2019: Physicians Guide to Doctoring with Dr. Bradley Block @physiciansguide
February 23, 2019: Chronically Human with Brad Miller @BMill247
January 19, 2019: Heartland @HeartlandInst @HCUnmaskedfilm
Doctor Jarrett 12/18 – @doctorjarret
Paradocs – @TheParadocsShow
August 12, 2018: Happy Doc Podcast with Dr. Taylor Branna @happydocpodcast
July 2, 2018: Authentic Medicine with Dr. Douglas Farrago @authenticmed
Non Clinical Careers – How Blockchain Technology can Protect Your Credentials with Dr. John Jurica @johnjurica2
October 15, 2017 – NYC Blockchain Healthcare Summit
September 22, 2018 Unblock the Blockchain – Healthcare Blockchain Summit by Z-Park Boston Cambridge, Massachusetts
October 24, 2018- Crypto Investor Summit Healthcare panel x2 Los Angeles CA
Is Enterprise Ready? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pi1WKZuxeiI
Healthcare and Blockchain Video:
April 18, 2019 Society of Physician Entrepreneurs – Innovator MD San Francisco CA
September 17th 2019 Twin Global Digital Health Panel Chicago IL – contact Guy Kezarian, MD
October 15th, 2019: Blockchain Healthcare Conference -keynote photos in file on computer
November 1, 2019: Stanford Benjamin Rush Institute CA. presentation (no media)
January 11-12, 2020: Innovator Global Summit – not sure where the media is for this
3/20/2020 Coruzant Technologies w/ CTO Brian Thomas (@DivergentCIO and @Coruzant):
April 20th Benjamin Rush Institute Live Event
Out Of 126 Healthcare White Papers We Analyzed, One Stood Out. Part 1
Out Of 126 Healthcare White Papers We Analyzed, One Stood Out. Part 2
Irene Tien, Doximity
“What Doctors can learn from Nurses”
Bruce Y. Lee, Forbes – “Time to Stop Labeling Physicians as Providers”
First ever Blockchain Healthcare Text Book by HIMSS (Chapter 23 & 26)