Press article published in Authority Magazine, 27 Oct, 2022
Chris Tackaberry is the co-founder and CEO of Clinithink, a company that uses AI technology to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing healthcare. He is a physician, computer scientist, innovator and entrepreneur, and is passionate about technology-driven change in healthcare.
Chris is a qualified physician and MSc Computer Science graduate who spent nine years in clinical practice in anaesthesiology and intensive care before embarking on a career in healthcare IT. His combined expertise in medicine, computer science and leadership has been the foundation for his stewardship of Clinithink’s strategic direction and growth. In his spare time Chris is usually found clipped into his road bike somewhere challenging.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up in North London with my mum, dad and younger brother.
My dad is a lawyer, still practicing in his 80s, and my mum was an actress who became a successful literary agent in London. Sadly she died of lung cancer in her forties and never had the chance to meet her five grandchildren. I also lost my step-mother to cancer when she was in her forties. Both far too young.
Today I am working with partners and colleagues who are committed to eliminating cancer, and other diseases, as a cause of death — something that inspires me each and every day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was a doctor for 8 years, but a couple of years into my medical career I decided to take a short break to follow my interest in software by undertaking a masters degree in computer science.
Not long after rejoining the medical ranks after completing my masters, I became frustrated by the fact I couldn’t get my hands on an important lab result for a critically ill patient. It struck me as absurd that the blood result in question was locked on a computer which had no means of communicating with numerous other computers, including a machine sat just meters away from me. This lack of connectivity meant that crucial medical information was inaccessible to me at a critical point for that patient.
From my IT training I knew this problem could definitely be solved. I joined a healthcare software company on what was supposed to be a short sabbatical, but it turned out to be a permanent move.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Dr Ian Macartney, one of my former bosses, who headed up the ICU of the hospital then known as North Manchester General Hospital in England, was one of the most inspiring clinicians and leaders I’ve ever had the priviledge of working with.
ICU is a highly pressurized environment with some of the sickest, most unstable patients in the hospital. Dr Macartney was able to shoulder the responsibility of running a dynamic, high-intensity ward, with courage. He was bold enough to make the most difficult of decisions and always did this with humility.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My go-to quote is “It’s never a good time to give up smoking”. For me, this perfectly captures the fact that nothing worth doing is ever easy.
Because my mum had been a heavy smoker who died of lung cancer ten years after she had quit, this quote also has a personal resonance for me. It reminds me that once you have thought something through and committed, you should get on with it. There really isn’t time to waste a single second procrastinating.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Keeping my head out of the weeds. I always try to think beyond the day-to-day. This mindset was critical when I co-founded Clinithink back in 2009 as we were entering a market segment that didn’t exist at that time. For real innovation to happen, you have to imagine where a market is going and what people are going to need in five or ten years’ time.
Having courage in my convictions. If you don’t back yourself when you embark on innovation and discovery, neither will anybody else. You really have to believe in what you are doing. People can smell doubt a mile off.
Admitting when I’m wrong. There is no crime in being wrong — to err is human, and absolutely no one gets it right every time. Listening, and observing how things are progressing once you have committed to a course of action is vital, otherwise you won’t spot and learn from mistakes.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
Healthcare is an astonishingly complicated, messy and expensive business. Our healthcare systems are under immense strain, especially in the aftermath of COVID, and there are no signs of the pressure easing up. Automating and facilitating analysis of healthcare data that can be turned into ‘actionable insights’ will result in more effective interventions earlier in the disease process, freeing up precious clinician time and reducing cost.
The challenge is that the vast majority of valuable healthcare data tends to be locked away in the form of notes, documents, reports and letters — which we in the industry call ‘unstructured data’. You simply can’t access it using conventional tools.
For example, Barts Health NHS Trust in London has around 14 million electronic documents of this nature — and counting — but no one has the time to sit down and read them all. So, the challenge is how to harness the power of this data to help patients and healthcare systems benefit from the missing insights.
How do you think your technology can address this?
Our technology, CLiX, uses techniques that you can broadly describe as Artificial Intelligence (AI) to ‘read’ and ‘understand’ the unstructured, free text, and then make this information conventionally computable. Our tool reads the documents that clinicians simply don’t have time to, and then reports or summarizes what’s in them.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
When I was a young anesthesiologist, I was working in a big orthopedic unit in Manchester, England. My role was to look after the patient during the surgery and to do so, I had to understand what the surgeon was doing. What struck me was how radically differently each surgeon approached the same procedure for roughly similar patients. It really troubled me — who was right?
I began to realize that data is the thing that can help clinicians determine the best approach when treating patients. This is especially the case when you have have large data sets, so-called ‘big data’. This needs powerful technology to make insights available — which is what we have now developed.
Roll on 30 years and I’m still passionate about using technology to unlock the data that helps frontline doctors make better decisions. It’s particularly rewarding to hear from customers and partners that Clinithink’s technology is having a genuine impact on healthcare providers and patients across the globe.
How do you think this might change the world?
Technology can help physicians make smarter, better informed decisions, while also giving them some of their time back by automating manual tasks. In short, technology can lead to better healthcare and better outcomes for patients.
We did a piece of work at Barts Health NHS Trust in London recently in which our technology was used to find people who might be at risk of amputation due to worsening diabetic foot disease. The doctors knew the characteristics of the people they wanted to find, but could only find those characteristics in the unstructured narrative found in medical records, not the more easily analyzable structured data. Our machine made light work of reading the 14 million documents to find the small group of people they were worried about.
The Barts team estimated that it would have taken 100 clinical person years to review that amount of data manually, but using our CLiX technology the entire process took weeks, from start to finish.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Black Mirror is amazingly well-written, but it’s a piece of fiction. What’s important is that there should always be a clear framework to govern the development and usage of new technology.
Our software does not operate, and will never operate, in what is called a ‘closed loop’. By that I mean that our CLiX technology cannot replace a medical professional, but rather supports their work. It locates possible patients, or relevant information, but it is ultimately the physician who reviews the software’s output and has responsibility for any action taken.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”?
Make sure your idea is unique, but not wild or obscure. If your idea is completely out of nowhere, it will be very tough to make progress. A new take on an existing solution to a real problem is more graspable and much more likely to fly.
Do your homework. You have to understand your market in great detail. You need to know what your customers are struggling with and what their pain points are, to then understand how your solution creates value for them.
A technology business is a marathon not a sprint. The media may give us the impression that tech companies become roaring successes overnight but that’s not the case for the majority of businesses. A successful business with genuine impact takes research, planning, expertise and hard, hard graft. It will always take longer than you think.
Find a work life balance. Without it, your business won’t be sustainable. You may find that you manage to get through the first few years on a lack of sleep and copious amounts of coffee, but sooner or later, it will catch up with you. Find a way to disconnect, if only briefly, so that when you’re at work, you have the energy and capacity to deliver on the mission you’ve set yourself.
Remember your job is to create a team. You need to recognise your own weaknesses and find fantastic people for whom those things are strengths. If you do it right, they will be way smarter and more capable than you. That’s when the magic happens.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
You can’t manufacture ‘purpose’ or choose your higher calling from a list of options. My 8 years as a practising doctor, along with my masters in computer science, set in motion my personal career path. Let your personal experiences guide you, and let the passions that emerge inform your purpose.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
I’d love to sit down with Darwin and ask him whether he knew where the Origin of Species — a text that has had an incalculable impact on modern day scientific thinking — would take him when he first started on the project. How far into the future could he see?
We know so much about the work Darwin produced and its continued impact. It would be amazing to better understand his thinking and his methods. I’m sure we could all learn a lot from it.