AI's role in transforming patient care: perspectives from our Principal Product Manager

By Molly Traviss

I sat down to chat with Dr Rachael Hagan, our Principal Product Manager, about her journey into her current role. Rachael joined our team after completing a PhD at Queen’s University, Belfast. Far too humble to tell you herself, she is a huge asset to us here at VISFO, bringing with her with a myriad of accolades, including a PhD, 4 publications, an Impact Acceleration Award, and has even co-founded an AI-driven healthcare solution -SAIV.

Let’s start from the beginning, what did you study before joining us here at VISFO?

I studied Computer Science at Queen's University, Belfast; I had always enjoyed maths and science, and this course felt like a hands-on application of that. As part of my undergraduate degree, I completed a year in industry as a Product Engineer working across software engineering and quality assurance automation. During this time, I also undertook a course with the University of California in UX design and research. When the company I was working for decided to redesign their platform, I was asked to take the lead, it was my first real introduction to product design, and I felt really lucky to be given the opportunity. They actually still use some of my designs now!

I continued to work for the company after returning to university for my final year, where I completed my dissertation on an ECG analysis tool. During this time, I was part of a brilliant cross-collaboration between the university and the hospital ICU. As a result of that project, I was offered a PhD, and in 2022 I passed my viva for my thesis entitled ‘Predictive Analytics in an ICU by processing streams of physiological data in real time’ which explored the application of machine learning to provide clinical decision support in ICU.

Did you get to focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning a lot in your studies?

In my final year of university, I took a module focused on AI, I think it was the first year they offered it as it was very novel at the time. I was then lucky enough to work with a great dissertation supervisor who guided me whilst giving me the freedom to define the project. As part of this, I was given the opportunity to present to some really exciting companies who were using AI, which really sparked my interest in the field. When I progressed to my PhD, I was utilizing machine learning in a healthcare setting and that’s when I really started to see the benefit it could have on patient lives.

That brings us to your career, what drew you to this field of work?

Honestly, I went looking for it. I think I was always destined to work in the healthcare industry; my mum was a research nurse, which gave me insight into the applications of technology in healthcare and the positive impact it can have, and my dad was a physicist. They have always been my inspiration for doing something for the good of others, and that utilized my science and maths background within the healthcare industry.

And what about your role here at VISFO? How did you know it was for you?

My year in industry showed me how much I enjoy both product discovery and design, as well as software development. Product management felt like the perfect way to continue engaging in all those areas. The role came up at VISFO, who at the time, and still are, working heavily in the autoimmune disease space, which felt very close to home having an autoimmune disease myself. Everyone here seemed so passionate about working to improve people’s lives and it just felt like the perfect fit!

I think what’s confirmed that, now I’m here, is the fact that managing my team is truly enjoyable. Everyone is really open to letting you get stuck in; it lets me exercise all of my skills and interests, and the collaboration is absolutely amazing.

What’s something you’d really like to achieve in your role here/your work in the industry?

Firstly, AI has so much potential to benefit patient lives and I feel that we can really harness our current resources and skills to make a difference. There is still a level of stigma and hesitation surrounding its use, especially in healthcare, and I am keen to do work that not only implements it in a compliant way, but also works to tackle that stigma through enhanced user experience. On a more personal level, I really want to empower women within the field to progress into senior positions, not only to tackle the bias that can exist within AI models but also to move towards gender equality in tech.

You’ve achieved so much professionally already, is there any personal successes you’re really proud of?

When I was working towards my PhD, my mum became unwell and then my grandma shortly after, and so I moved home to help care and be there for my family whilst continuing to work on my studies. It was a really difficult time for me, with the addition of a global pandemic, but thankfully I had great personal support and a supervisor who was very understanding which meant that, with a lot of hard work, I was able to balance everything. I am proud of my resilience and perseverance during this time, which enabled me to complete my PhD with everything that was going on.

Before we wrap up, can you let us in on what you get up to when you’re not at work?

At the moment, I am planning my wedding! I also really enjoy Pilates and going to my family’s caravan in Rossnowlagh, Donegal for some well needed down-time. I am also continuing work on my product that was created on the back of my PhD, SAIV. It aims to utilize AI with ICU data to provide predictive alerts as a clinical decision support tool to improve lengths of stays, mortality rates and patient lives.

Blog author(s)

Molly Traviss

Marketing and Communications Officer