Three years ago tonight I was busy melting into my favorite armchair in my old New York apartment while anxiously staring out the window at passing headlights below and listening to a barely-audible Moana soundtrack. In my hands were a single piece of paper and a lukewarm coffee: ready for whatever came next without knowing exactly what that might be, or when.
To be honest, the answers to these questions didn't matter much, I'd never felt more present; more alive. I knew why I was there — the rest would take shape in due time.
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One year ago was the first time I began to open up about my past. About the painful patient experience that serves as my *why*, and the life-altering lesson behind my passion for the work we do at IKONA.
It was in that moment three years ago, while clutching our newly inked Articles of Incorporation and the dose of caffeine that would stoke the early flames of my newest life chapter, that my world began to dissolve into its most fundamental structures: into atoms, into consciousness, and into pieces.
This is a letter to those who have helped me rebuild reality from the ground up. To those who have seen, accepted, and shared this vision to improve education in healthcare. This is to all those who have made this company what it is today and who have made me a better person because of it. This is my way of forever saying 'thank you', because getting from zero to one in this world is never easy, despite our longing for the hustle once we reach the next chapter.
After well over 10,000 hours spent building our collective vision, meticulously crafting this dream called IKONA, three things have imbued in me a sense of wonder and promise beyond anything I can possibly describe herein.
For posterity's sake, I'm willing to give it a shot.
There's a feeling I've come to associate with learning a new concept or theory for the first time — maybe you've felt it before, too. It starts as a faint light somewhere in the back of your mind. Then suddenly you consciously (or subconsciously) start connecting dots and giving context to the void. Ideas from abstractions; constellations from stars; words from letters; and meaning from words. This is the feeling I've come to associate with learning about immersive technologies in healthcare, and it is the feeling that runs deep throughout our community.
In the beginning, we were starting IKONA mostly from scratch. I had the least experience in virtual reality or healthcare, with my co-founders making up the difference in spades. But with each new study or paper we came across, a thousand and one questions would come to mind: Can virtual reality really help mitigate pain? Did you know virtual reality can help veterans with PTSD? What do you mean virtual reality has been around for decades? If it works so well, why aren't we seeing it everywhere in healthcare?
For a while we asked these questions internally and in complete isolation from the rest of the group, with the exceptions of a few conferences and meetups here or there. That changed in April of last year when we decided to curate our Learning Hub to start interacting directly with others interested in this space and the scientific literature that provides the foundation upon which we can build. The herculean effort of clinicians and researchers over the years has afforded us the rare chance to leverage decades of trial and error to shape the future of healthcare. Day after day, month after month, and now year after year, this community continues to grow and amaze us through its diversity and sense of purpose.
Here is what we have learned about our community thus far. We are developers, caregivers, students, patients, UX designers, nurses, retirees, gamers, physicians, researchers, C-suite leaders, and that's just the beginning. Nearly 20,000 monthly members strong, and growing by the day. These are the people asking tough questions and building the next generation of immersive solutions considered impossible when IKONA began. They say "timing is everything", and at least in this case, I have to agree. If it were not for this multidisciplinary community seeking to make a difference in healthcare, we would not be where we are today: beyond the cusp of effecting irreversible, positive changes from mental health to rehabilitation, and pain management to patient education.
(Feedback from our Learning Hub survey)
I am a firm believer in surrounding oneself with people who inspire you to no end. The types of people you want to be around because they are kind, fiercely competent, and insatiably curious. Three years ago I never could have dreamed of working with people as talented, creative, or brilliant as I have while at IKONA. To be able to work with such consummate professionals from across so many industries (film, research, medicine, gaming, technology, and data science) is what keeps my mind racing even after the workday is over. It's a race with no finish line, and I'm all in.
My entire life has been about finding teammates where the sum is greater than the parts. People who make it possible for you to thrive simply by doing what they do and love. I have realized the early days of building a company are so unlike any other team dynamic I've ever experienced. Where most roles at established organizations have clearly defined responsibilities and a pedigreed hierarchy, this time around there is no predefined roadmap or set of instructions.
You have a problem, a vision of a world without that problem, and perhaps an idea of how you might tackle that problem. That's it. If you do not possess the skills required to solve that problem alone, then you are going to need to go find help. But chances are you will not know who or what you are looking for. To me, this is the purest and most thrilling form of organized chaos. My job is to find ultra talented people (with skill sets I can barely fathom), put them in the same room, give them some direction, and let them go.
The people who have helped build IKONA into what it is today are a world apart. They are the absolute best at what they do, and I am lucky enough to work with each and every one of them. I think about that every day. Meeting people who are willing to take a chance on you is one of the greatest honors on this planet, and that fact is not lost on me for a second.
To those who will help shape IKONA's future: we're excited to meet you. We love learning what makes people tick and why they are passionate about improving healthcare. So please reach out and introduce yourself.
One of my favorite idioms involves luck. As the saying goes,
"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."
It is true that any amount of success contains a degree of luck. We earn our luck through a steadfast resolve, a thorough examination of the past, and a healthy amount of planning and anticipation for what might come next. At IKONA, we have never felt more prepared, so let's instead talk about opportunity.
Recently we published a report titled The Promise of Virtual Reality in Healthcare, where we highlight the meaningful progress happening in five areas across healthcare. The truth is, we could easily expand upon that report and add another three or four clinical areas today. But the opportunity lies in functionality, not just domain. Telehealth,decision making support, and behavior modification just to name three:
- As of this morning, we crossed the 6-figure threshold of reported coronavirus cases worldwide with hospitals struggling to prepare and telehealth utilization poised for an increase.
- Our health literacy rate in the United States is hovering just north of 10%, meaning 9 in 10 US adults are not able to understand or use their health information to make decisions about their care.
- Recent federal legislation aims to support the 133 million Americans living with a chronic illness, while 79 million Americans are having to manage 3 or more prescription medications at once.
This is where I leave you, for now.
Each of the last three years has brought with it unpredictable joys and hardships, incalculable effort and uncertainty, and untold wonder. However the next one+ plays out, when the calendar strikes March 6, 2021, I want you to know one thing with absolute certainty:
That we are committed to reinventing education in healthcare — one experience at a time.
For you. For your loved ones. For your patients. For the nameless faces that pass you by on a daily basis who have a story untold and a battle unspoken.
Thank you for your support.
Tim Fitzpatrick, CEO at IKONA Health
Friday, March 6th, on the west coast and riding endless waves of inspiration and caffeine.