Dr. Ben Robbins uses psychiatry experience to invest with Alphabet VC arm GV

GV, the venture capital arm of Google parent company Alphabet, is trying to disrupt healthcare by collaborating with — not competing against — health systems, general partner Ben Robbins, MD, told Becker's.

"One of the incredible strengths of healthcare, as opposed to other industries, is that the basic workforce of healthcare is so mission-oriented," he said. "The goal should be to harness these incredible organizations and institutions that already exist and try to better enable these providers to deliver care."

GV's approach is similar to one being taken by other venture capital firms, including General Catalyst and Andreessen Horowitz, that have opted to partner with hospitals and health systems rather than try to take patients from them, a la the Amazons and CVS Healths of the world.

Dr. Robbins stumbled into the venture capital world while a medical student at Boston-based Harvard Medical School, where he was hoping to pursue a career in population health. He would attend talks by the surgeon and writer Atul Gawande, MD, which is where he met Krishna Yeshwant, MD, of GV, formerly known as Google Ventures.

Dr. Robbins joined the venture capital firm in 2014, before finishing his medical degree and Master of Business Administration from Harvard. He did his psychiatric residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He said he believes he's the only psychiatrist who works in venture capital.

That experience got him thinking about how he could use technology for higher-acuity mental health needs and preventing patients, perhaps those living on the streets, from ending up in psychiatric units in the first place, as well as supplement the shortages in pediatric and geriatric mental health.

"The other thing that comes up are the details around what makes it so painful to be a provider in a large health system right now — the death by a million cuts that comes with a day in the shoes of a doctor: the documentation requirements, that lack of positive feedback, the expectations around efficiency," Dr. Robbins said. "Certainly spending a number of years in a hospital was quite informative in terms of how we invest."

Among the startups he's proud to have backed are Aspire Health, a home-based palliative care company that was acquired by Anthem; CareBridge, which provides tech services for patients receiving long-term support services at home; and Flatiron Health, which builds oncology-specific EHRs.

GV portfolio companies have already yielded several health system partnerships, including Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger with Nym, a firm that works to accurately code medical billing, and New Orleans-based Ochsner Health with Ready, a company that links patients with EMTs for home-based nonemergency health situations. Like GV, New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health has also invested in Brightline, a pediatric telemental healthcare startup.

Dr. Robbins said he aims to find companies that will fix the "pain points" for healthcare providers like, say, automating durable medical equipment delivery or cutting down on distracting tasks such as prior authorizations or rejected insurance claims.

"At GV, the interest we've got is really figuring out what are the needs of health systems, especially these vulnerable health systems that operate at really thin margins in areas of need, and how do we help them? How do we deliver services that partner with them?" Dr. Robbins said. "How do we just make it easier for them to do the thing they're trying to do and deliver high-quality care to lots of people?"

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