Jeff Hazelton is the President and Chief Technology Officer of BioLucid, a company at the intersection of digital health and the digital arts. His story starts as a pre-med gone bad, followed by an artistically inspired sailing journey around the world 20 years ago, during which he envisioned how artists could use powerful new digital tools to affect patients’ understanding of their health. By making healthcare visual, patients can now become more active participants in the prevention and treatment of disease. The advancement of that idea, and building the 3D technology to make it all possible, is what BioLucid continues to pursue today. BioLucid provides immersive healthcare visualization products to help healthcare providers around the world better communicate with patients, families, and each other. We had a chance to ask Jeff a few questions about his company and the creative work that it does.
Tom Fowler, Medgadget: How does one transition from sailing around the world to leading a company? Any skills carry over?
Jeff Hazelton: First just let me say thank you for this MedGadget interview, I really appreciate it. So the sailing trip was 20 years ago but many of the resulting ideas stick with me to this day. If I look back at my journal I can see how the initial seed that was planted in 1994 still drives a lot of what we are doing now. On the journey I recognized my life long aspiration to blend art, technology, and science to help patients. The truly exciting thing is that the technology to make this possible is now readily available. Digital health, combined with our evolved digital artists tool set, and ever more capable computers make this idea a reality. In my journal I mentioned using virtual reality to help improve human health, so while we are primarily mobile immersive right now, I am excited to see that virtual reality will make even more powerful experiences in the coming years. Actually I just came back from the 1st annual SVVR Conference (Silicon Valley Virtual Reality) and there is an amazing buzz all around this technology. We have been working with Oculus Rift for the better part of a year now and it just keeps getting better by leaps and bounds. Virtual reality is the ultimate medical device, since total immersion can have profound effects on the human psyche.
Medgadget: Please describe the company culture and structure at BioLucid. What is the ratio of artists to technicians or scientists?
Jeff Hazelton: The company culture is built around innovation and the pursuit of building products that will help improve people’s lives, we always want to do really cool cutting edge work that is also highly relevant. We have four guiding principles we constantly strive to embody. They are to win with class, be cool, to have focus, and to have passion for what you do. We are comprised mostly of digital artists, and the remainder of the team is split between programmers and scientists. I include our physicians in the science group since they are the ones guiding our knowledge of disease, anatomy, and also much of the pre visualization and concept creation. The reason for the heavy dose of art is because it takes a lot of effort by the art team to reach the aesthetic bar we have set for the visuals. In the end it is the art that also has the most powerful impact. The artistic and technological approach we take is unique. The programmers are the ones who make the magic happen, coding the immersive user experience, and innovative software programming which is also a lot of effort. So to break our production process down we are about 50% art, 25% programming, and 25% science. The team is constantly communicating and collaborating on all aspects of the product.
Medgadget: Your bio includes a Steve Jobs reference of the “intersection of biology and technology” that will define innovation in the 21st century. How does BioLucid’s work fit into this movement?
Jeff Hazelton: It’s a great quote by a great visionary. I ran across it while reading his biography and echoed it in my TED talk, because we are currently standing at this crucial intersection of biology and technology, and witnessing an unprecedented convergence of the two. The quote declared that the greatest innovations of the 21st century would take place at the intersection of biology and technology. We are just seeing the beginning of that now, with wearable biosensors, personalized medicine, genomics, and the concept of the quantified self, all just emerging for the consumer market. As technology improves these are the elements that are creating vast opportunities for innovation. Where BioLucid plays a key role is in the visualization and connection of all these innovations, with our development team constantly enhancing our platform for visual communication. Without a deeper visual understanding, it is much more difficult for these amazing advances to be understood and integrated for the mainstream. If people cannot understand the meaning of the data, or their own personal health story, then the behavioral and psychological transition is much more difficult. Let’s face it, we communicate best visually.
Medgadget: Do you work with medical device companies often? How would your services benefit a medical device startup?
Jeff Hazelton: We believe that best way for a medical device, medication, or disease to be explained, is through a visual story. We work with companies that are interested in visually integrating their product, technology, or therapy to both physicians and consumers. We are providing tools for health care professionals, and even patients themselves, to communicate visually about health. We’ve been in the medical animation field for a very long time, since the beginning, so we are always looking for ways to make this powerful visual medium more accessible. It has always been a challenge for it to break into the mainstream. Using it with funding startups and education has historically presented financial challenges, because of the amount of development effort involved. We are working hard to change that dynamic, and make very high end interactive visual graphics more accessible to all people, as well as companies. So your medical device startup could benefit in this regard from the products we are building now.
Medgadget: Have you encountered medical conditions too complicated to visualize for a patient?
Jeff Hazelton: We’ve been all through the human body and there definitely have been some challenges. The key is that visualization is the great uncomplicator (if that is a word), if done well. A lot of the time it is a visualization that brings complex data into the realm of understanding. When it comes to patient understanding, it really just depends on what level of information they are comfortable digesting. Most of the time we will develop highly detailed environments and applications for physicians. As we get down further and further into the cellular and molecular worlds, and start representing the mechanism of action, molecular pathways, and more complex science, we may have a tendency to lose those without knowledge and training in these areas. Of course the human body and disease is a vast and complex subject, but across the board you can simplify the story with a visual experience.
Medgadget: What tips do you have for the not so artistically inclined physicians and medical device entrepreneurs out there?
Jeff Hazelton: I would just suggest (and request) that they be open minded about the use of personalized health technology in medicine, there are many benefits to its adoption. It is still early, so there can be bad experiences at times with products that have not been well designed or executed, but please keep trying new ones that come along if this happens. There is an exciting frontier just emerging with blending the digital arts and digital health. I, for one, look forward to helping grow the possibilities with this merger of art, science, and technology… with the ultimate goal of improving patient health.
Link: BioLucid Website…