Digital Health Jungle Podcast Spotlight: K Health’s Ran Shaul on Staying Curious, Finding the Data, and the Value of R&D

K Health is a telehealth company that provides a range of affordable doctor consultations via a mobile app powered by AI and data collected from millions of past patient experiences. With primary care, urgent care, and mental health services, K Health has more than 6 million patients accessing doctors 24/7 for less than the cost of a copay. 

Ran Shaul, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of K Health, recently joined us on the Digital Health Jungle podcast to talk about his company’s journey to maturity and why he doesn’t think being called a start-up is a bad thing. 

“We want to stay modest and we want to stay curious,” Shaul said. “This is not about doing what I did yesterday just better and faster, but it’s still about innovation and breaking the ceiling.”

The idea for K Health started with a big problem its founders believed data science could solve. 

“When it comes to medical knowledge, everybody experiences the same frustration,” Shaul said. “Between symptom checkers to Dr. Google to WebMD, the accuracy and the relevancy of the information was so poor. It is actually quite a complicated problem.”

Before they built anything, they spent a year on research and development (R&D) to figure out how doctors reach conclusions, he said. 

“Diagnosing is actually highly analytical, and physicians basically do it in their heads. They are trying to rule out different conditions and narrow their differential diagnosis. And they're using their experience and they're using the medical textbooks and experience,” Shaul said. “And we said ‘you know what? This can be taught. We can teach a machine how to do this.’”

It wasn’t about creating a robot that will take over our lives, he said. “We didn’t think about replacing doctors. But in every aspect of our lives, people use information to make better decisions.”

The next step? “To go and find the data,” said Shaul, adding that this was not a small task. In talking to Google and other behemoths, it quickly became clear that they could not fill K Health’s data needs. 

“The data is not what people search online. This is not about indexing pages,” he said. “This is about capturing the thinking process of physicians, and this is using unstructured data to figure out how to reverse engineer those decisions.”

They initially turned to an Israeli HMO Maccabi Health Services, which had been doing electronic medical records for years before the 2008 Hitech Act was introduced in the United States. This allowed K Health to create an ontology of symptoms and create correlations to build a diagnostic model. 

“We put it into the market as an application without really understanding how we were going to monetize it – it was a free product – and it was very successful,” Shaul said. “We immediately got velocity and today we have millions of users on the product.”

That initial traction can be attributed to time spent in R&D, something that K Health is still very heavy on, Shaul says. The initial symptom checker became part of an overall virtual care offering that really started to ramp up in 2019, and was perfectly timed to meet the needs of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Using Health Gorilla’s Patient360 offering, K Health’s 400-plus physicians have access to the medical histories of patients they are seeing on the telehealth platform. 

“It’s all doable by a click of a button,” Shaul said. “Having the right data at the point of care cannot be underestimated. The physician with that completeness is going to be a stronger physician.” 

Watch the full podcast interview here: Digital Health Jungle Ep. 1 — An Interview with Ran Paul of Virtual Care Innovator K Health.