The Brightest Minds Speak Up

Rasu Shrestha, MD, MBA is Chief Innovation Officer at UPMC and Executive Vice President of UPMC Enterprises with a mission to create healthcare innovations that impact the lives of patients in meaningful, lasting ways. He has also taken a leadership role in the broader landscape of reinventing the future of healthcare. Rasu has had the unique opportunity to work with both the health tech entrepreneur community and government agencies to address some of the biggest challenges in improving health and healthcare. In March 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that he will lead the department’s Open Application Programming Interface (API) pledge. Rasu is Chairman of the HIMSS Innovation Committee and recently named to the HIMSS Board of Directors.

HIMSS: How have you engaged with both health tech entrepreneurs and government agencies – and what trends are you seeing?

Rasu:  I’ve had the opportunity work with what used to be two fairly disparate segments and help bring these together to create meaningful impact. As an innovative integrated delivery financial system (IDFS), we’re really pushing ahead on several fronts to reinvent healthcare. We’re engaging with the health tech entrepreneur community to create innovative solutions for the biggest challenges in care delivery, population health, the consumer side, and even translational science.

What’s interesting is the growing intersection of entrepreneurs and government agencies. At the Department of Health and Human Services Innovation Summit this year, I gave the keynote message about how with innovation as a strategic imperative, UPMC is embracing a broader more ambitious mindset that looks at new care models through a person-centered approach to care. We’re working with government agencies, startups, investors, patients, and clinicians to push for changes that are meaningful and pervasive over time. And with the Veteran’s Administration (VA), I’ve had the fortune to interact with leaders pushing interoperability, open APIs and transformation of their electronic health record (EHR) systems, and scaling of emerging standards such as HL7 FHIR.

HIMSS: What digital health innovations are already making an impact in government agencies?

Rasu:  I’m encouraged by some of what I’m seeing. Data sets are being opened up, and various critical areas such as around the opioid crisis, are getting much-needed focus. Looking at social determinants of health, you’ve got multiple caveats coming together around societal health and healthcare overall. As evolving health systems like UPMC continue to look for ways to make healthcare sustainable beyond the hospital walls, social determinants become top priority. It’s critical to redefine health and healthcare to reach well beyond the bricks and mortar hospitals, to the very communities where patients and consumers eat, work, live, and play.  

Government agencies are already making an impact with digital health efforts like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and their Health Impact in 5 Years (HI-5) project. This effort in particular involves multiple approaches to achieve health outcomes in communities within five years. Using specific data, government agencies are opening up these conversations with the traditional innovation community in hospitals and with startups – so I’m very excited to see this.   

HIMSS:  Looking to the future, what pressing needs in healthcare can be addressed by tech solutions at government agencies?

Rasu:  It’s really interesting to look back at health tech solutions from the last 20 years and see the impact government agencies have made in the massive adoption of digital healthcare. With federal incentive dollars, physician practices could make as much as $44,000 per physician if they met requirements around meaningful use. That caused a dramatic embrace of the electronic health record. Statistics show that within just seven years, EHR adoption went from seven percent to 90 percent. It's fantastic how government agencies drove this kind of impact in embracing digital health.

The reality however is that despite broader adoption of EHRs, we’ve ended up with silos of data repositories that are not talking to each other. This calls for a broader look at accelerating the pace of adoption for emerging standards such as HL7 FHIR and pushing for open APIs.

Overlay those lessons learned from the past with opportunities in the next 10 years -- and you see that our healthcare industry needs to be more proactive and less reactive. We can work together with government agencies to see what else needs to be done, what data sets need opened up, and how we can push for the right standards to foster more meaningful interoperability.

HIMSS:  As Chair of the HIMSS Innovation Committee, do you see relationships between entrepreneurs and government agencies making an impact?

Rasu:  It’s an honor to be Chair of the HIMSS Innovation Committee – an esteemed group of do-ers and believers in the pursuit and implementation of innovation best practices. I see leaders from all different sectors of the industry – from startups to investors and academics and traditional health systems. These leaders are making meaningful achievements to improve health tech overall -- not only in their own areas, but I see them building bridges and forming alliances with investors or government agencies. We have members who’ve done a significant amount of work with government agencies, like the CIO of Brooke Army Medical Center and a lot of other folks on the committee who are living proof of fostering practical synergies between the public and private sectors.

HIMSS:  What about the timing for this kind of collaboration?

The urgency is real. The time is now for us to bring entrepreneurs and government entities together into a cohesive front that can create lasting impact over time – not just a policy that goes into place, but sustainable businesses and companies with economic and commercial impact that will change the way healthcare is practiced in communities and regions.

HIMSS:  Anything exciting coming up in this intersection of entrepreneurs and government?

Rasu:   I’m honored to be back as co-chair for the 2019 Health Datapalooza in Washington DC. This will be the 10th anniversary of the event, so we’re celebrating a decade of achievements in health IT in this one-of-a-kind intersection of private, public, and policy. We’ll set the stage for the next decade with even greater achievements and measurable impact.  Last year’s Datapalooza was about coming together but in 2019 it’s about doing together – showcasing how agencies like the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and Health & Human Services (HHS) are working together with other government centers, entrepreneurs, health systems, investors, and patients to make real and meaningful yet scalable and sustainable differences.

HIMSS is now an active collaborator with Academy Health on the Health Datapalooza – and I’m superbly excited about this partnership that aims to bring a new level of impact. I’m also now part of the HIMSS Board of Directors – and one of the things I’m really gung-ho about is fostering the right level of conversation at the intersection of private, public, and policy. That’s how we create meaningful impact.