The Brightest Minds Speak Up

Rasu Shrestha, MD, MBA is Chief Innovation Officer at UPMC and Executive Vice President of UPMC Enterprises. A radiologist by background, Dr. Shrestha was charged with informatics at the University of Southern California, where he also earned his MBA. He was recruited by UPMC in Pittsburgh over 10 years ago to lead their efforts in interoperability and imaging. In his current role, he looks at the broader landscape of healthcare and innovations that address unmet needs in today’s new care delivery models. Dr. Shrestha was recently recognized with the 2017 Dive Award as Executive of the Year.

HIMSS: What do you see as the most important new innovations in digital health?

Rasu: One of my roles as Chair of the HIMSS Innovation Committee is to understand where new innovations are in their maturity. We need to encourage their development or be ready for them -- and also separate the hype from reality. The Gartner Hype Cycle actually categorizes these newer innovations and emerging technologies into a nice graph. Some are real today and some might be meaningful in the next few years.

High on the “hype cycle” right now are artificial intelligence and machine learning. These are getting a lot of press right now and a lot of capabilities are being built to leverage them. But another meaningful example on the ground are innovations around senior care and elder care. In this “silver tsunami,” the percentage of the aging population is at an all-dramatic high. Innovations to support aging-in-the home are really important, such as bringing telemedicine into homes and focusing on bringing innovations to post-acute care.

HIMSS: What about the most pressing needs on the healthcare horizon?

Rasu: As we move from the era of volume-based healthcare to more value-based healthcare, there’s a lot of talk in the industry about ‘value,’ but not enough action. The time is now for us to really innovate around newer care models that will actually incentivize value-based healthcare and allow health systems to work more cohesively with peer organizations to encourage a more intelligent approach to managing risk – as risk shifts from the payer to the provider and soon to the consumer.

There is also a big need around finally getting interoperability done right. We’ve been trying to tackle this multi-headed monster for almost two decades. I think we need a fresh look at interoperability. We need to include more than the data locked away in siloes within our health system data centers and look outside the hospital walls – to include broader data elements like zip codes, community-based data and social determinants of health data. And we need to empower patients and consumers to take charge of their own data. We can and must spur a new approach to interoperability, one where we focus well beyond the traditional payers, approaches and data silos, to instead truly empower patients based on their needs.

HIMSS: What’s the value of being on the HIMSS Innovation Committee?

Rasu: As a member of the HIMSS Innovation Committee, I feel very privileged to work with innovation and health leaders across the country from all stakeholder groups. We’re all trying to think outside the box and reimagine a picture of health IT that’s brighter than what we have today. This melting pot of diversity in thought and leadership, our unique approaches to some of the most pressing challenges in healthcare, and the collaborative spirit – these are what really motivate me to be part of the HIMSS Innovation Committee.

HIMSS: Why do you have a passion for advancing health innovation?

Rasu: Like a lot of people in healthcare, for me, it’s personal. I went into medicine and became a radiologist to make a difference in the life of a patient. Somewhere along this journey, I embraced informatics and innovation as a career because I saw an opportunity to scale that passion and make a difference. In informatics and innovation, if you do it right, you’re able to build bridges that really challenge the status quo and affect lives not just one at a time, but potentially hundreds of thousands if not millions at a time. To do that with other colleagues and passionate change-makers nationally and globally -- that’s what really drives me. I’m a bridge builder. It’s how I think and do -- to collectively address the most challenging problems out there in healthcare.

HIMSS: Anything else on your mind?

Rasu: When it comes to innovation in healthcare, it’s easy for people to assume that of course they’re striving for a patient-centered approach. But I encourage the innovation community at large to really go deeper and engage the end user in ways they may never have in the past. Before we write a single line of code or start creating any solution to problems in healthcare, we should actively engage the patient, the clinicians, the end users – and have them as core contributors to the iterative design of the eventual solutions. Don’t immediately jump to what the answers might be, but dig deeper into those challenges with the end users and spend time to truly understand the workflow. “Lead with empathy” is my message – and engage with end users like we never have before.