Transforming Healthcare: Chris Mansi’s Journey from Neurosurgery to AI Innovation

by | Jun 10, 2024 | Alliances, Mentoring

It was a full house at the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign’s “From the Innovator’s Workbench” event featuring Chris Mansi, MD, co-founder and CEO of Viz.ai, the leader in AI-powered disease detection and intelligent care coordination. Co-sponsored by Fogarty Innovation and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, this edition of the event series honored the legacy of Tracy Lefteroff

Josh Makower, MD, professor of medicine and bioengineering at Stanford University and co-founder and director of Stanford Biodesign, kicked off the event, followed by Fogarty Innovation CEO Andrew Cleeland, who described Tracy Lefteroff’s impact on the industry. The event was moderated by Michelle de Haaff, assistant director for digital health at Stanford Biodesign. 

Mansi is a neurosurgeon-turned-entrepreneur who trained and practiced in the UK before coming to the United States to pursue an MBA at Stanford University. There he launched Viz.ai with the aim of using artificial intelligence to improve access to life-saving treatments. The company’s impact has been extraordinary – its platform has been adopted by 1,500 hospitals and is utilized by 45,000 healthcare providers nationwide, which translates to an impact on one patient every ten seconds. 

Combining educational roots and biodesign influence

Mansi’s story begins in Newcastle, England, where his grandmother’s encouragement to pursue a medical profession, coupled with his aptitude and interest in science, sparked his interest in the field. His educational journey took him to Cambridge, where he fell in love with neuroscience, and realized he had a passion not just for understanding the brain, but for actively intervening through neurosurgery.

During his residency in London, Mansi launched a couple of medical and surgical education companies as ways to support himself. While the initial financial returns weren’t noteworthy, he learned a lot about building websites and engaging with potential customers, which piqued his interest in entrepreneurship. After starting another, more successful company, he realized that he lacked knowledge of the business fundamentals that would enable the company to expand and scale.  

This desire to broaden his knowledge and be part of the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem led him to Stanford University. 

A pioneer in AI healthcare

The origin of Viz.ai was an observation Mansi made while participating in the Stanford Biodesign program, which encourages students to focus on the need first. During his project, which addressed vein thrombosis, he realized that in time-sensitive acute conditions, where every second counts, there is often a dangerous delay in getting a patient to the right specialist for treatment. He recognized he could leverage AI to reduce time to treatment.

For example, the median time to treatment in a comprehensive stroke center is hours long, even though with each minute that goes by, two million brain cells die. With the Viz.ai platform, a patient’s brain CT scan is sent to the cloud as soon as it has been completed. Within minutes, it is read and analyzed by the algorithm, which then immediately alerts the relevant surgical team through their mobile phones and recommends a course of treatment. The team can then  quickly collaborate and decide on the best course of care. 

Viz.ai has expanded to recognize more than 16 conditions, with plans to address more. While it can be used on the spot in cases such as stroke, it is also used for more complex conditions. In some cases, it has reduced the median time to diagnosis from five years to five weeks, greatly improving outcomes.

Launching a company

The journey to launching the company wasn’t without hurdles, especially when it came to navigating a regulatory environment that lacked clear precedents. While their initial interactions with the FDA were daunting, the team ultimately achieved FDA clearance by demonstrating AI’s potential to significantly improve patient outcomes. This approval was not only a testament to the technology’s efficacy, but also a crucial step toward broader adoption.

From the beginning Mansi knew it was critical to prioritize privacy, safety, and security in the software.  He also wanted to ensure that the company used a diverse data set that would generate an inclusive algorithm, something the FDA also required. It also needed to comply with HIPAA as well as the stringent IT security processes of hospital systems. 

Mansi also recognized that hospitals take very a deliberate and cautious approach to implementing changes. Accordingly, Viz.ai provides a clinical success team of professional nurses and disease specialists who help integrate the platform into the existing clinical and administrative workflow. Providing this level of change management has proven essential to adoption. 

Advice for would-be entrepreneurs

Mansi believes that entrepreneurs aiming for similar success need to focus on the patient, but also ensure there is a compelling business model showing that it either helps make money or save money.

And while starting a company is exciting, it’s also hard—and Mansi encourages fellow startup founders to take a moment to celebrate wins because those challenges which seem stressful today may seem easy in hindsight. 

He also cautions entrepreneurs that even if they’re incredibly well-versed in their technology and field, it doesn’t mean they’re always “right.” He stressed that it’s the market itself that’s “right,” and founders will benefit from being humble and embracing a growth mindset. 

Mansi believes there is endless potential for Viz.ai. His ultimate dream is to make significant health impacts accessible globally, particularly in developing regions where healthcare disparities are more pronounced. 

A recording of the session can be found here.

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