A doctor's shared affections for mountain climbing and technology enable him to find innovative ways to make direct differences in patients' lives.
Jack Kreindler, MD, stood at a crossroads many years ago. Should he take the career path toward becoming a fine artist, or one that involved education across science and the humanities? He opted for medicine—a decision he says was the perfect combination of 3 things.
“Dealing with humans, being engaged with science and technology, and it made my mother very happy that I was not going to be a fine artist and struggle through the rest of my life,” Kreindler recalls.
Today, Kreindler is a physician, physiologist, serial technology entrepreneur, and the founder, chairman and chief medical officer of Sentrian, a remote patient intelligence company.
Catching the Bug
Kreindler started down the road to entrepreneurship while working to pay his way through medical school. He worked for Douglas Adams, author of the comedy science fiction series “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and recalls Adams as a brilliant author, an incredible visionary, and the person who got Kreindler thinking about what was going to happen in the very near future around information technology, and how it would potentially change the whole world.
“And in my case, how it might change the way you practice medicine,” Kreindler says.
With that experience as his inspiration, Kreindler founded his first company, Vielife, in the late 1990s. It was a company that, using data alone, could make a profound difference in peoples’ health outcomes. It focused on identifying who was likely to become ill in large employee populations, then helping those companies with targeted interventions to radically reduce the amount of sickness, absenteeism, and private medical insurance costs. The company was sold to Cigna in 2006.
“That was my first major entry into starting up a business; to see if we could make a difference in peoples’ health,” Kreindler says. “And I caught the bug.”
He parlayed that bug into dozens of other startups; some he did himself, others as part of the founding team. But the common thread running through each was using information technology to make a difference in large percentages of the population—without developing new drugs, new technologies, or spending more money.
“That’s my definition of entrepreneurism,” he says.
Climb Every Mountain
Kreindler practiced as an emergency physician from 2002 to 2006, a stint that proved to be the springboard to a burgeoning new area called mountain medicine. He learned that there were measures he could take to help the body achieve incredible things in extreme physiological conditions. Not by fixing them as a doctor does, but actually by tuning people’s physiology much in the same way you might take an elite sports person and get them to do extraordinary things.
“Mountain medicine got me realizing that the extremes that we can put ourselves through in the Himalayas, or the Alps, or the Rockies—the understanding of what happens to the body in those extreme, high stress environments—can also help people who are extremely ill,” Kreindler says. “It’s a similar kind of stress they’re going through if they’re undergoing major surgery, or going through very intense chemotherapy. To get through that kind of thing, it's the same sort of preparation you need to get up Mount Everest.”
That reactive approach to health resulted in Kreindler founding The Center for Health and Human Performance in London in 2007, which is renowned for its work with athletes, complex cases, and celebrities taking on extreme challenges. The organization’s philosophy is that the same approach that enables Olympians to win gold medals can help generally healthy people keep their health and vitality for as long as possible, and enable those who are ill to overcome challenges they might otherwise have never been able to.
“We very carefully choose exercises for athletes in order to achieve their goals, so why don’t we do that for everybody?” Kreindler asks, rhetorically. “You don’t need to be an elite athlete to benefit from nutrition, recovery, and state of mind.”
Hooked on High Places
Kreindler not only advocates the benefits of mountain medicine, he lives them. He began skiing and mountain climbing in the Alps in Europe at age 6. Ever since, he’s been hooked on high places.
“I don’t know,” he muses, “maybe I was a mountain goat in my former life.”
But humor aside, Kreindler believes that creativity comes from headspace. And he “almost instantly” finds himself in a more creative headspace when he’s in the mountains.
“It’s a form of automatic meditation, really, when you’re just in tune with your breath and your feet when you’re climbing up the mountain,” he explains. “The rhythm and the air, your body and the elements, and your colleagues are with you in that space, it’s the right frame of mind to think freely, and literally think blue sky. Because that’s all you can see above you sometimes.”
One of Kreindler’s favorite spots in Earth is Zermatt, a municipality on the Swiss-Italy border that resides at the foot of Switzerland’s highest peaks. He recently learned that Zermatt was the inspiration for J.R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.”
“If my ashes ever get scattered anywhere, it will be there.”
The only drawback?
“I’ve got thick gloves on, so when I come up with new ideas I have to keep them in my head until I can get my hands on pencil and paper,” Kreindler laughs. “That’s the only disadvantage to being in a place that engenders such creativity.”
A Direct Difference
Kreindler says his affection for technology in healthcare is that it enables him to see the direct difference he can make in an individual’s life.
“It’s more rewarding than any paycheck,” he says. “It’s the impact. Technology is a way of scaling what you can do for one human being and applying that to many millions of lives. That’s what really drives me.”