Sylvia Romm is a pediatric hospitalist with an MPH from Harvard University, and a telehealth expert. She is a digital health innovator who created and then sold her own niche telemedicine company called Milk on Tap. She now serves as VP of Medical Affairs at American Well, the healthcare IT company that bought her business.
Today, we address a field that is not often talked about when discussing career options. The whole field of telehealth is still in its infancy. And it's quite a bit different from a career in informatics.
Here are some of the topics Sylvia and I discuss during her interview:
- Her eclectic education, and career journey as a pediatric hospitalist, entrepreneur and telehealth pioneer;
- How she built her own niche telemedicine company, in part working by joining an accelerator;
- How Sylvia sold her business to a larger healthcare IT company;
- The scope of career opportunities in telehealth and telemedicine;
- Strategies for pursuing nonclinical careers in telehealth;
- Where we are in the development of telehealth as an industry.
There is one issue I want to clarify for the listeners and readers. During the interview, we discussed Sylvia’s position at American Well.
Because she is part of the senior executive team, she carries the title of Vice President for Medical Affairs.
She points out, however, that the nature of this role is different in a growing technology company such as American Well. She has a matrix relationship with many of the other department heads, like finance, marketing and sales, and serves a critical role in bringing a deep understanding of medicine to her nonclinical colleagues.
However, she does not run a multilayered department such as you’d expect in a large medical group, hospital or insurance company associated with a similar title.
Here are some of the highlights that I took from our conversation.
We’re still in the early stages of the growth and development of telehealth. We both believe this field is in a similar place to where hospital medicine was 10 – 20 years ago. And we'll see the industry growing and maturing in the coming decade.
Sylvia advises us to recognize that telemedicine in just another form of medical care. We should accept and embrace it.
For the physician looking to make a career change, there are several ways in which telemedicine can be used:
- It can be a bridge. You work as a clinician, similar to working as a locums, while preparing for and pursuing another career. It offers flexibility, accommodating a schedule that might include additional education or creating a new business. Then continue working until you no longer need the income.
- As an entrepreneur, you might develop your own niche telemedicine company, providing support to patients with specific clinical problems the way Sylvia did with Milk on Tap. Creating your niche firm may also lead to selling the company for a capital gain, and possibly set you up for employment by a large IT company like American Well.
- Another emerging option is to position yourself to become the champion for telemedicine in your health system as it adopts and expands its use of these services. Perhaps we’ll see the development of the Chief Telemedicine Officer in time.
Sylvia recommends that interested physicians start by joining the Physician Telemedicine Facebook Group that she runs, and the American Telemedicine Association. Both are excellent resources for networking and finding mentors.
And don’t forget, I’ve completed a Free Guide called 5 Nonclinical Careers You Can Pursue Today. It’s a 24-page manual that outlines the steps you can take to pursue a career in utilization management, clinical documentation improvement, informatics, medical writing and hospital management. It can be found at vitalpe.net/freeguide
Let’s end with this quote today:
Next week, we’ll be hearing from a clinician, health and fitness coach, and author.
I hope you’ll join me then on Physician NonClinical Careers.
Here are the links for today's episode:
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