Daniel Kraft, MDDr Daniel Kraft is a Stanford and Harvard-trained physician-scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, and innovator. Dr Kraft has over 20 years of experience in clinical practice, biomedical research and healthcare innovation, and has chaired the Medicine Track for Singularity University since SU’s inception. He is founder and Chair of Exponential Medicine, a program developed by SU that explores new technologies and their potential in biomedicine and healthcare. Dr Kraft holds undergraduate degrees from Brown University and studied medicine at Stanford. Dr Kraft is Board Certified in both Internal Medicine & Paediatrics, having completed a residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital & Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as fellowships in Haematology and Oncology at Stanford. He has multiple patents on medical devices, and related to his research in immunology and stem cell research.


What advice do you have for others that want to pursue this path of being an innovative and entrepreneurial doctor?

Do not plan out every step of your career when you’re still a medical student. I think a lot of us who get into medical school are by nature mission-driven and focused, but part of the answer is to stay open to other areas and ideas – stay multidisciplinary to some degree while still getting depth in becoming a good doctor. There is a lot going on now in the world from analogous fields that are going to start to reshape medicine, from artificial intelligence and Big Data, to low cost genomics, Augmented Reality and 3D printing. Diverse interests will help make you a better physician and innovator.

When you are a medical student or junior doctor you have the benefit of a beginner’s mind. You are seeing things fresh, and often for the first time. As medical students and doctors we identify and see pain points, particularly when we’re earlier in our careers. There is now a significant opportunity to help solve these pain points faster, more nimbly, and collaboratively than ever before. Doctors these days do not have to build their own server farms, analyse big data themselves, or develop their own apps/websites. These things are becoming almost plug and play – they can be outsourced. There is the power to see challenging areas and hopefully solve the unmet need that you, your patients or colleagues or an entire healthcare system may be experiencing.

Diverse interests will help make you a better physician and innovator.

Where did your journey start from being a conventional doctor to where you are now?

I followed my (sometimes) divergent interests. As a little kid I was lucky to attend the Apollo 17 launch and I always wanted to be a fighter pilot or an astronaut. When I was a first year medical student at Stanford, I was the only non-engineer in a space systems engineering class, designing missions to Mars from the Stanford AeroAstro department. From there, I discovered the International Space University programme, co-founded by Dr. Peter Diamandis, another entrepreneurial physician.

If you want to do ‘moon shots’ or ‘Mars shots’, you need to work with folks from different fields. All of a sudden, while in medical school, I was getting very multidisciplinary in a very interesting area of space and space medicine, which has a lot of health and medical challenges and opportunities, many of which end up cross-fertilising to Earth-based healthcare. That was sort of a lesson in the power of mixing it up with engineers, astrophysicists and economists to approach grand challenges.

I kept my eyes open to the possibilities when I was a medical student at Stanford. I noticed one pain point with an unmet need was that our medical textbooks were always overpriced. And once a year, there was a stethoscope sale. I saw the very early version of the World Wide Web and the very first ecommerce websites. I taught myself HTML and built the world’s first online medical bookstore, which I ran out of my Beacon-Hill apartment during my residency until it was acquired in 2009. Several years later, I met Jeff Bezos at a TED conference, and I told him that I started a bookstore at the same as time you did. I got to hear Jeff’s famous laugh…

Then 10 years ago, I got a call from Peter Diamandis, who I knew from International Space University – as he was at the early stages of starting up Singularity University – and they asked me to help chair the Medicine & Neuroscience track with the very first summer, down the road at NASA Ames. It was an experiment to bring together folks from worlds of medicine, AI, robotics, 3D printing, blockchain, policy, law, ethics, and more to cross-fertilise and look at how to leverage exponential technologies to solve the world’s grand challenges.

If you want to do moon shots or Mars shots, you need to work with folks from different fields.

That is a great segue to ask you a little bit more about Exponential Medicine. How did that start, and how has it evolved over the last 10 years?

We often think about healthcare in siloed buckets, such as our own clinical field. I’m haematologist-oncologist, so I’ll go to the ASH [American Society of Haematology] and ASCO [American Society of Clinical Oncology] meetings. The cardiologists will go to the cardiology conference, like ACC [American College of Cardiology] and so on. As you get further in your careers, you tend to get more and more narrow.

What I had seen at Singularity University was the power of getting really smart folks together with an entrepreneurial and innovative mind set, cross-fertilising and learning about new ideas. About a third of the new companies and innovations that were coming out of Singularity University early on were in health and medicine, often driven by people outside of traditional healthcare backgrounds collaborating with those who were physicians or bio medtech folks.

We were doing some early executive programmes at Singularity University that were not domain specific, but all the participants were interested in healthcare, so Peter and I thought we needed to do one focused on the future of health and medicine from the angle of the convergence of rapidly advancing technologies – their possibilities today, and the implications for the near future across prevention, diagnosis and therapy. To bring a diverse set of physicians, investors, technologists, patients, payers and healthcare systems together. That is how Exponential Medicine started. I experimented with the curation and put together three programmes of about 100 amazing participants, and they were really magical. We lived together in the dorms at NASA Ames, and the kind of sparks that flew; the ideas we brought to the table; and the faculty we could attract, were quite remarkable,

In 2013 this included an early demo of Google Glass – which hadn’t yet been launched – that stimulated several of our participants, like surgeon Rafael Grossman to go on and really innovate, and catalysed many of the AR and VR innovations in healthcare.

The challenge was that we could no longer run the programme in a single room at NASA. So in 2013 we took Exponential Medicine to the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, which is a iconic beachside resort where we can bring together 600 folks from all around the world. Part of the magic is having a very diverse mix with 50+ countries and 500+ different organisations represented, crossing silos and exposing people to what is happening on the exponential edge of healthcare. We expose people to our xMed Innovation Lab, which features 50 start-ups, to experience the future a little early and realise that, in many cases, they could be utilising these technologies and solutions in their practice now, or in the near future.

How can attending Exponential Medicine benefit the Doctorpreneurs community?

Dr. Tony Young [National Clinical Director of Innovation, NHS England] shared a quote from John Maynard Keynes, at a recent Exponential Medicine talk. “The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but escaping from the old ones”. A lot of young, entrepreneurially-minded doctors may have a new idea, but they’re stuck in a system that is still based on fax machines and reactive sick care models. Aside from technology we also need to align the incentives, the workflow and the mindset.

What Exponential Medicine is about is not just exposing people to shiny new technology or gadgets, but showing how individuals, companies and healthcare systems have taken them forward; some of the barriers and some of the opportunities to think differently. We get people out of their usual headspace. From drumming circles on the beach, a silent disco, improv and art workshops; all of this helps grow a new kind of creativity and [fosters] interesting new relationships and collaborations.

Tony Young is a great example of a doctorpreneur inspired by Exponential Medicine. He initially attended as a participant, which helped him catalyse the beginnings of the NHS Clinical Entrepreneurship Programme. Another example is Shafi Ahmed, whose talk in 2015 on VR and surgical education got picked up in Bolivia. As a result, the Bolivian government is now creating a hospital with Shafi’s help (and name on it). That process has been driven by this sort of Exponential Medicine mindset that the Doctorpreneurs community can benefit from.

Are there any disciplines that you’re focused on trying to bring to Exponential Medicine that have not yet been given the focus?

I think pieces that we’ve tried to integrate and can do more on is understanding that most of our health is still based on social determinants, like your “zip code being more important than your genetic code”. Technology can be fantastic, but sometimes simple things [make the biggest impact], such as clean water, vaccines, social connection and so on (though these can certainly be enabled by technology). The area of mental health is an unmet need that we’re trying to bring more focus on, whether it’s physician burnout, or treating PTSD with psilocybin, which is being fast tracked to the FDA.

As you were actually born in the UK, I would love to hear your perspective on the US versus UK health systems?

I think the NHS is not perfect, but those living in the UK are covered, and their basic health needs are essentially a human right there. In the US we need to take lessons in how we take care of our populations, even if not everybody can get the best care. I think also the NHS has the power of amazing amounts of data, which are now being leveraged, through initiatives such as the hundred thousand Genome Project. The NHS also has new ways of plugging in chatbots like Ada Health, and the ability to roll solutions out at scale. Whilst it is challenging to get to that level it can then help catalyse things across NHS and then around the world as it is one of the largest healthcare systems in the world.

What is your one big idea to improve the US health system?

It is not a health system, it’s a “sick care” system that is based on reactive data where we wait for disease to happen. I think that one of the things I would fix is getting people more engaged in their own health, to feel that they can take some ownership or responsibility. Also, to reward our health care systems and align incentives to truly be focusing more on the health side rather than very expensive sick side.

You need to be cognisant that you might have a great solution, but it may not be adopted because of misaligned forces and incentives. You need to understand pain points and unmet needs in the context of not just the patient, but the payer, the physician, the nurse, and the family unit. You can’t have a patient lose weight on a diet if the rest of the family’s eating fried chicken every day.

What is the one thing that you’ve learned from your personal journey through the different innovations that you’ve had, or one piece of advice that you’ve picked up?

I think it is necessary to surround yourself with a peer group of individuals from different areas and fields. That is where a lot of the inspirational ideas come from – seeing analogous fields and solutions that might crossover. I was lucky to start going to the TED conference when few knew what the TED conference was. That exposed me to a whole set of very successful but divergent people and ‘ideas crossing’.

Any last pearls of wisdom for out Doctorpreneurs community?

Make sure you attend Exponential Medicine in November, or at the very least catch the free livestream and some of the videos on the website. Also, keep a little notebook, physical or virtual, of challenges and pain points you witness or experience through your medical school and residency fellowship, or as a veteran of 30 years in the clinic. There might be ways to find solutions out there that might already work, or create your own.

Oh, one last point is the famous William Gibson quote that “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” In whichever system you are in, you can start leveraging the tools and technologies that are already here in 2019, not waiting for the future to arrive. That helps you see the what’s not working, and could be iterated to create a better, more democratised health care around the planet.

Finally, I believe you have a couple of exciting initiatives you would love to get Doctorpreneurs community to help with?

There is not yet really a digital health formulary available. So I’ve been slowly building a website called Digital.Health, which is a resource for clinicians to learn about digital health and medicine, but also, eventually will be a way for clinicians to define and prescribe digital health solutions. People frequently ask me what is a good digital stethoscope or AI chatbot. This resource is a way to provide some curation, and eventually a way to prescribe and even get reimbursed for offering digital health solutions (from devices, to apps, to platforms).

Another initiative is what I call the Healthcare Connectome, a crowdsourced map of new technologies, solutions and challenges. The idea is to build a crowdsourced Mind Map, where we can learn from each other and literally ‘connect the dots’. I could really do with some contributions from the Doctorpreneurs community to help build this out. Try it out, and contact me if you would like to get involved with this project.

Try it out, and contact me if you would like to get involved with this project.


For more information about what Dr Kraft is up to see http://DanielKraftMD.net.

Exponential Medicine is next being held 4-7th November 2019.

About The Author


Vishaal graduated from UCL Medical School in 2011 and completed Foundation Training at the William Harvey Hospital and King’s College Hospital in London. He then worked at a start-up healthcare consultancy, Mansfield Advisors, for two years, and then as a strategy consultant at OC&C. Vishaal currently works at Ada Health.

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