Working Geek: Lizza Miller believes in the smart use of tech to make people healthier

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Lizza Miller and George Dittmeier, co-founders of DatStat, as well as wife and husband. (Photo courtesy of Lizza Miller)

“I’m still just floored by how little technology is actually used in the entire healthcare market,” said Lizza Miller, co-founder and president of Seattle-based DatStat.

More than 20 years ago, Miller was working on a project to help HIV/AIDS patients and doctors use technology to sort out a patient’s eligibility for the dozens of clinical trials available at the time. She became fascinated by the challenge of persuading people in healthcare to adopt tech solutions, which led her to a PhD program in psychology at the University in Washington to better unpack the question.

Her graduate project included creating an online survey for tracking patient outcomes. This was in the mid-1990s, well before the proliferation of popular products like SurveyMonkey. Luckily her boyfriend at the time, George Dittmeier, had some computer skills and could help out. She took the research further, working with Dittmeier to develop code to measure patient outcome changes over time.

“My project was one of the first online surveys of online psychology in 1996,” Miller said. “Researchers heard about this and found it extremely interesting.”

Their interest was significant enough that it motivated Miller and Dittmeier, who eventually married, to create DatStat, a company that provides technology for health data collection, management and analysis.

So two decades later, why is healthcare still lagging technologically behind other fields?

“There are a lot of rules and regulations and you have to change a lot of behavior among constituents,” Miller said. “So they’re rightfully very cautious before they do things.”

But she sees more advancements coming soon, which she hopes will lead to healthier patients and better outcomes.

“We’re at a midpoint where consumers are pushing for technology,” she said, “because we use it all over the place.”

We caught up with Miller for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Lizza Miller, co-founder and president of DatStat. (DatStat Photo)

Current location: Seattle

Computer types: Macbook

Mobile devices: iPhone 7

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “I only use apps that truly serve a purpose. My favorite app is Waze because it’s accurate, crowdsourced, and much smarter than I am (plus, I love maps). I’m also a fan and a regular user of Audible, Podcast, Wunderground, Uber/Lyft,and White Noise.”

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “My favorite workspace is the outdoors for ‘walk and talks.’ We formed DatStat out of a garage, so to speak, and put in 18-hour work days for the first several years. I love the outdoors, so whenever there was an opportunity to get outside to have a meeting, or discuss customer projects, or do strategic planning, it was always on a walk. The Burke-Gilman Trail was a favorite because it goes for miles and miles, and sometimes our discussions needed that much distance! The great thing about these walk and talks is that it is nearly impossible to both walk and feel angry at the same time, so it’s a great way to enable creative problem solving. And it just feels good. Otherwise, my office time is reserved for phone calls, meetings and working with colleagues.”

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “First of all, haven’t mastered this one. And I don’t even hold the expectation that I ever will. For many years my work-life and my life-life were the same. At my core, I’m an entrepreneur, and I love creating and building things and trying to solve really hard problems. That means every ounce of me was driven to build DatStat and come up with solutions to the never-ending series of problems that are inherent in a startup. I loved every minute of it. The fact that I was doing it with my husband and best friend, George, made that all the more possible.

Then we had our first child (a miracle after many years of trying) and that’s when the needs of work and life started to conflict. Add George’s health issues, a set of twins, and the ups and downs of childcare to that equation, and there was no way to win in any category, let alone more than one. I’d say the most important thing is to figure out what is most important, prioritize around it, and revisit often. Circumstances are always changing. Business is always changing. Family needs are always changing. Priorities need to change, too. Second, give yourself more congrats for the things that are going well.”

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “I wish I appreciated social media for all its positives, but I’m old school. I use LinkedIn but prefer offline personal, genuine interactions. Social media and technology have their purpose for supporting human relationships, but I like my conversations to go deeper than either allow.”

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “I’m sure this sounds ridiculous and possibly even unbelievable, but across my three email accounts, I have 754. I could probably explain away about 250-500 of them (or enough time has gone by that they are irrelevant), but the rest deserve attention, and I just haven’t been able to get to them as of this moment. Note my inadequate answer to the work/life balance question and this gets put into perspective…”

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “15”

How do you run meetings? “I think about meetings the same way we run our business – focus on the outcomes. To make meetings expedient and efficient, I identify at the beginning the desired outcome and then work backwards. Each meeting ends with action items, so everyone knows what they are expected to do. I prefer to listen rather than speak, whenever possible. When you’ve got smart capable people, they can accomplish a lot more if you give them the authority to own the outcomes. Lastly, I am always reminded of the power of a little fun and lightheartedness.”

Everyday work uniform? “Casual and comfortable — comfort always trumps style. If I have meetings with clients, I’ll dress accordingly.”

From left to right: DatStat President Lizza Miller with DatStat Services Team members Nate Hill, Ashely Seni and Zach Bryan. The foursome were the winners of a gingerbread house contest. (DatStat Photo)

How do you make time for family? “There are a few rules I follow but it’s a constant juggling act. I have an incredibly tight schedule, but I work best with too many things on my plate. I don’t need a lot of sleep, which is the only reason I am able to get so much done. I get up at 5 a.m. every morning to get a jump-start on my day, whether with a workout or my work. This makes it possible for me to be available for a family breakfast and school carpooling. I also put my kids to bed every night unless I am out of town. Those moments are the beginning and end of each day are important to connecting with my family.”

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “I love to be outside, to swim (especially long-distance lake swimming), and to meditate. My morning routine typically consists of some physical activity and meditation. I also love jumping on the trampoline with my kids! It makes us laugh, and laughter is life’s best medicine.”

What are you listening to? “I love to learn through storytelling so right now I am really into podcasts. They are wonderful for easing my long commute time, too. Some of my favorite Podcast series are from Tim Ferriss and Gary Vaynerchuk, and I am also currently addicted to the series Start-Up, which follows stories of starting businesses.”

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “I tend to be a positive and optimistic person, which influences what I read. I avoid reading publications that dramatize information to the most negative. Some of my favorite daily reads are a combination of business, tech, and healthcare, including GeekWire (of course!), FierceHealthIT and Politico’s Morning eHealth. I also occasionally browse the New York Times and Huffington Post to get a glimpse of what’s happening in the world.”

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “It’s not just one book, it’s a stack of books! I like to read about a lot of different things. Current books include “Principles” by Ray Dalio, “Tribe of Mentors” by Tim Ferriss, “The Backyard Homestead” by Carleen Madigan (we now raise chickens), and “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. We also have family book time, so I am reading “James and the Giant Peach” by Roald Dahl with my kids since my daughter is going to be in the school play.”

Night owl or early riser? “I am definitely an early riser. I enjoy the morning quiet time and that’s my favorite time of day to go swimming. My body naturally wakes up at 5 a.m., even on the weekends, regardless of what time I go to bed. I don’t need much sleep, maybe 6-7 hours a night. I am a light sleeper.”

Where do you get your best ideas? “I get my best ideas when I have conversations with other people. I process information through language so when I come up with an idea or need to problem-solve, I immediately engage other people. That collaborative process makes me smarter and helps me to crystallize my thinking.”

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “Ana Mari Cauce, president of the University of Washington. Before this role, she was on the faculty of UW serving as professor of psychology when I was getting my PhD in this field. It is wonderful to see her expertise in human behavior be leveraged to run a large, innovative academic institution that spans medicine, science, the arts and so much more. Being a psychologist gives you a unique perspective on the world that can contribute to other aspects of life and academics. How people behave is so applicable to managing and leading groups. She is so well suited for it.”



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