Dr. Keith Grimes is Clinical Artificial Intelligence & Innovation Director at Babylon Health and a General Practitioner with a special interest in Digital Health & Urgent Care. He is passionate advocate for the role of innovation and technology in healthcare. Dr. Grimes is the founder of ‘VR Doctors’: an online community dedicated to exploring Virtual & Augmented Reality in Health & Social Care.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I had a wonderful childhood, surrounded by my family and five younger brothers. My father worked in the oil industry, so we travelled the world and experienced many different cultures. I was raised in the Northeast of Scotland and returned there for my university studies, so I am at heart a Scot. To that, I add the warmth and love of life of the Italians, whose country I lived in as a young boy. Later still, we spent 3 years in Singapore, a strikingly diverse island nation that gave me a hunger for experiencing different cultures and viewpoints. It’s also where I first experienced American culture firsthand from the expatriate community. Backed by the security of happy family life, I’ve been left with a love for the alternative, the different, and the unknown, and I’m forever grateful for that.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
Like many of your other interviewees, I wish that I’d take better care of myself and my body as a younger man! I’m approaching fifty and all the easy indifference with which I approached eating, drinking, and generally avoiding exertion is now beginning to reap some of its unavoidable rewards. That said, I’m feeling fitter and more positive than ever now, having adopted more regular exercise in recent years. I also decided to stop drinking alcohol 2 years ago as I’d grown tired of the space it was taking up in my social life. It’s a decision I wish I’d taken years ago.
In my current role as Clinical Digital Health & Innovation Director at Babylon Health, I also feel that I have finally found my tribe. I’ve loved the blend of technology and medicine my whole life, but bringing them together in my day-to-day practice proved very difficult. At Babylon, I lead a world-class team of clinicians who blend their medical experience with expertise in digital health and technology, artificial intelligence, product design, and safety and regulatory compliance. It’s a unique but critical new specialism that helps lay a strong foundation for the future of precision healthcare.
This novelty of Digital Health has made effecting change and gaining acceptance difficult. My lack of courage to step away from the pre-determined paths of Medicine meant I struggled in a job I didn’t much like for years, which contributed to burnout. I wish I had realised that I could have pursued my true passions much earlier.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
This is a great question, and there are so many examples of bad advice that I have heard in medicine regarding technology and its place in healthcare it’s hard to know where to start. I guess the common theme is that bad advice often arises as a justification for a deeply held resistance to change. Medicine is nothing if not conservative, and with good reason – we are dealing with human lives. That said, the achievements of today have all been built on breaking with tradition and custom. I firmly believe that Digital Health has the power to utterly transform healthcare, but to do so we have to be brave and take steps into the unknown. It must be guided with sound theory, evidence, and practice, but to paraphrase Osler, if we don’t actually get on and do it we will forever be stuck on the shore, gazing out at the ocean.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I’ve mentioned above how I worked in medicine as a General Practitioner for many years, knowing in my heart that it wasn’t my passion. Combine that with the ferocious pace and burden of UK primary care, and like many others, I succumbed to burnout and depression. Those that have been visited by these unwanted guests will share an understanding of the hell of the condition, and the struggle to bring back calm into your life. Only with the care and attention of my wife, family and friends, and my own GP, was I able to recover and return to the front line.
This is where I get to thank depression though. Without having gone through this, I don’t think I’d ever have made the necessary changes to my life, which have brought me to where I am now. So for that, I am thankful but determined to do what I can to help others avoid the damage that burnout brings.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Part of everyone’s life journey is trying to understand who you are, and then how to deal with those facts. I feel I have achieved most of my success when I have been true to my nature, stayed positive and authentic, and had the courage to get on and do something about the problems I have. It’s something I’ve spoken publicly about many times, most memorably at the close of the inaugural TEDxNHS event – “See One, Do One, Teach One”. Any success that I have had has been when I have stayed true to my nature and my interests and faced the fear of speaking publicly about them. This connected me to my tribe, and ultimately the friends and colleagues who work on building the future of healthcare.
What is your morning routine?
Much to the displeasure of my wife, I am a morning person. I generally wake up at 6 am, and start my day with a double espresso, a pint of water, and a long walk in the South Downs national park to spend time in the fresh air and nature before a day of meetings and screentime. Since the start of this year, I’ve added a new morning habit: swimming in the sea, regardless of whether or water temperature. Coldwater swimming in the English Channel has to be one of the most potent mood stimulants out there, and I’d recommend anyone to make the effort to find the nearest body of water and do the same – it keeps me energised throughout the day.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I mentioned above my morning exercise habits, and I think it’s fair to say that exercise and being outdoors, particularly as a result of gaining 4 hours of my day back now I no longer have to commute daily to London, has been most life-improving.
Adopting hobbies that are, by their nature unhurried and manual, has also helped to ground myself and avoid my natural tendency to keep every minute filled with activity. I no longer brew beer but have replaced that with sourdough baking. I guess COVID lockdown has infected me with some stereotypical new pastimes!
I’m a lifelong gamer, enjoying board games and computer games alike. I’ve loved bringing this into my work, using Virtual Reality to help my patients manage pain and anxiety during painful procedures. This led me to form VR Doctors, an online community for healthcare professionals and patients interested in the rapidly growing field of Immersive Healthtech.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Since joining Babylon I have taken to using a cloud-based digital notebook to track all of my notes, thoughts, tasks, and activities, and it has been an absolute lifesaver. By nature, I am great at starting things, but need to work harder on finishing them. The act of writing, reviewing, and structuring what’s ahead of me has helped me maintain productivity whilst working remotely.
If you are like me, then I’d also advise bringing people that find completion and organisation easy to your team!
Finally, I’m a fan of taking time over complex decisions if at all possible. Where possible, injecting a little time to let the pieces fall into place, often whilst out walking my dog in the morning, has yielded far greater results.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I struggled for years with “proper” reading. I put this down to my school insisting I read the classics, which I found impossibly dull. Outside school I read voraciously, encouraged by the tactic my mother employed of doubling my allowance if I spent it on books. I loved science, science fiction, and fantasy, and it’s no surprise that I loved comics. The book that connected it all for me was Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. This alternate history look at the seedy underbelly of the masked avenger movement, with its complex politics, philosophy, and murky morality, gave me an appreciation that stories and ideas can come to life anywhere.
I also loved Usbourne guides, and ‘The Usbourne Guide to Better Basic’ ruled them all. It was 1983, my father had bought me a ZX81 computer, and I was desperate to start writing my own games. I heard that the local science museum had a bookshop, so I jumped on my BMX and rode down to see if I could find something to help. Usbourne came up trumps, again. By the end of the day I had started coding, and it’s something that I continue to enjoy to this day, nearly 40 years later.
As an Atheist, I have found faith and religion difficult to comprehend. As a young man, I pushed back hard wherever I found it. The spiritual dimension has a way of resurfacing though, and The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff shook me out of my one-dimensional perspective and broadened my horizons during a road trip to the USA at the end of my medical studies. That it did so by effortlessly illuminating eastern Taoist philosophy through the stories of Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, and the denizens of 100 Acre Wood made it all the more memorable.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
I work in a space that straddles science and medicine, so I think it’s best to share quotes from both disciplines I try to live by.
The first is from the French microbiologist, Louis Pasteur.
“In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind”
The quote helps me justify to myself my appetite for the new, the innovative, and the different. Time and again I’ve found the answer to a problem I’m facing inspired by something completely different, and I believe I have Pasteur to thank for that.
The second is from the endless source of medical wisdom, Canadian physician Sir William Osler. You could pick any one of his quotes and come away enriched, but my favourite has to be:
“He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all.”
Dwelling in the purely academic or theoretical has never been for me, and Osler nails the importance of combining preparation with courage, lived experience, and the practical application of knowledge.