Joel Arun Sursas is the Head of Clinical Affairs at Biorithm, Singapore. He works closely with engineers and implementation consultants to achieve medical technology solutions that improve patient outcomes, enhance monitoring and protect patient privacy.
The best days at work are typically days which involve multi-disciplinary collaboration and brainstorming. As a startup, we are privileged to have subject-matter experts sitting at an arm’s length away from one another. Unlike MNCs where “departments” are often fragmented and walled-off, we can achieve a lot of mileage in small focus-group discussions. As a physician, I immensely enjoy exploring the minds of the engineers, business developers and product developers in my midst.
The worst days at work would be the days I spend dealing with the mountain of paperwork that comes along with regulatory requirements. As a startup we are looking to market our device in the EU, UK, Australia and Asia – each region has a unique regulatory framework, each with its own accompanying set of essential requirements and documentation. Navigating this space can be complicated, time-consuming and confusing. It’s part of the learning process, however, and being accustomed to the various regional requirements and legal stipulations will benefit us in the long run as we develop our future pipeline of products and services.
Who are the clients/what are the projects that you most enjoy working on?
I enjoy going back to my roots and engaging with clinical users the most. The projects that give me the most fulfillment are those that directly engage physicians and nurses; I think that my role enables me to be an effective bridge between the IT domain and the health domain. After all, the core of health informatics is the people, and engaging in discourse with the key stakeholders enables me to manage patient data in the most effective, safe and optimal manner.
What was your biggest ‘a-ha’ moment?
I would have to say that it would be in formulating the value proposition of our medical device to multiple stakeholders. Initially, our medical device was positioned as a patient-advocating device – which it is. However, I think we started to turn more heads when we buttressed our value proposition to include physicians, midwives and the hospital administration. This change made me realize the importance of developing an all-encompassing value proposition that attracts as many vital stakeholders as possible. It makes the conversation a lot easier as no matter how diverse your target audience is, the message is a positive one.
What has been the most important part of your professional journey?
I thought that medical school would have taught me most of what I knew about medicine. However, my two years in the Singapore Armed Forces developing and implementing Southeast Asia’s largest EHR and my time spent at Biorithm have taught me a lot more about the medico-industrial complex. While I have furthered myself professionally at Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins Medical School in the field of health informatics, the self-learning from these pivotal experiences has been challenging, immense, and extremely rewarding. I would say that this experiential learning has been the most crucial part of my professional journey thus far, and I would venture to say that it will continue to be.
What risks is your company facing?
Although we do face competitors as a fetal-maternal monitoring company, Biorithm views competition as an opportunity. Firstly, the fact that there is viable competition validates the space we occupy. Secondly, it keeps us on our toes and encourages us to continually seek differentiating factors which will eventually culminate in better clinician and patient outcomes. Thirdly, competition can always be converted to collaboration should the occasion arise!
What would you do with unlimited resources?
This is a tricky question. Intuitively, I would invest most of it in the company as (unsurprisingly), I believe in our company. However, on that note – I think that the success we have achieved so far as a small startup has been contingent on the limitation of resources we face. That constraint forces everyone to learn, step out of their comfort zone and upgrade themselves daily. That’s the “burning platform” that most startups face at some point in their life cycle, and it is what most successful startups attribute their success to.
When was the last time you totally lost yourself in doing something?
It would have to be in writing our Clinical Evaluation Report (CER) for our device, for CE marking. The CER contends with the background literature – my research background comes in very useful for this segment which is typically medically jargonized. I enjoy looking at up-to-date evidence for subsequent analysis.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
I juggle my work with freelance medical writing which I do to finance my post-graduate studies. Because of the time zone difference, I’m usually up in the wee hours of the morning in Singapore attending live lectures in Boston or Baltimore. I’m an exercise addict, so the adrenaline of post-work exercise helps to keep me awake!
How do you feel you make a difference in the world?
I’m confident that our team-effort at Biorithm towards innovation will see an impressionable mark on the way obstetric and fetal monitoring is conducted. The technology has remained grossly unchanged since the 1960s, and we are poised to change that.
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