A Mile-High View of Digital Health: Steve Wretling, HIMSS Chief Technology & Innovation Officer

Education is a never-ending pursuit for Steve Wretling. Case in point: right after graduating from the University of Kansas with a Bachelor’s of Science, he spent his weekends digging into the latest books on advanced algorithms. He still thrives on following trends in tech, and has continued more formal education with graduate studies at Stevens Institute of Technology and in the Technology Innovation program at Harvard Business School Executive Education.

Steve began his IT career in the telecom industry but developed a passion for healthcare when he joined Kaiser Permanente in the Denver area. Starting out in software development, he helped build key platforms to revolutionize the company’s approach to patient care, including a health information exchange. Named VP of Mobility and Information Services, he developed a mobile technology strategy and Kaiser Permanente’s first consumer mobile application.  In 2013, Steve joined Davita, a leader in providing care to people with kidney disease. As Chief Technology Officer, he helped launch a new technology strategy to better engage patients and help providers improve follow-up care and manage risk. In May 2018, Steve took on the role of Chief Technology and Innovation Officer with HIMSS.

HIMSS: How would you describe the current state of innovation in healthcare?

Steve:  There’s been a dramatic evolution over the past five years compared to the previous 10 years. A lot is due to awareness among big health systems, private interests and commercial entrepreneurs that there are serious gaps and challenges that need solutions.

The industry has come to the edge of deploying the basics like EHRs. Now, with the continuing journey to collect data and make it more accessible, we’re seeing a lot of progress with FHIR and IHE to open up that data for multiple uses.

We’re starting to see a bloom in innovation and an interest from the broader private enterprise as well. It’s still emerging – it’s growing up right now, with a lot of chaos and different definitions of what innovation is. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

HIMSS: What do you see as the most pressing needs on the healthcare horizon?

Steve: One pressing need that sometimes gets bypassed is providing choices for consumers and cost transparency.  There’s a lot of opportunity here and no one has really come in to fill this gap yet. There’s no simplified way for patients or potential patients to make choices based on factors like cost and quality of the clinician, the care, or the facility.

Another pressing need is to build systems that are “person aware.” Yes, we still need to build systems for clinicians and others who need to access patient data -- but we need to account for data in a way that allows patients to interact with data across systems, from both inside and outside the health system. When a person is being treated for a medical condition, we need to move beyond a single silo system.

This next one may be aspirational, but we need to see more movement in integrating technology into what people naturally do on a day-to-day basis. We’ve created these unnatural experiences, such as forcing a person to log into their phone and enter their data – things that aren’t a normal part of life. How can we create more natural paths, like using voice technology that makes it easier to engage? We’re seeing advances in passive ways to gather information on your own healthcare, such as wearable technology. Computer vision can also play a role even beyond what it’s playing today.

If we can create these pathways in people’s lives, it’s much easier to participate and make change. Otherwise, people have to be hyper-motivated to use healthcare technology – and not everyone is.

HIMSS: What role does HIMSS play in driving digital health innovation?

Steve:  There are a number of roles we play at HIMSS. We’re involved in driving interoperability, with many efforts in place to create common definitions and frameworks, such as IHE. We believe that setting standards for frameworks, even if not the most flashy work, is the essential work in advancing digital health innovation.

Another role HIMSS plays is through multiple levers – like the HIMSS Innovation and Conference Center in Cleveland where we operate events to bring people together to innovate and come up with solutions – as well as at our HIMSS Global Conference, the Personal Connected Health (PCH) Alliance and Health 2.0 conferences.

We also highlight new and emerging startups and their technology. We connect them with the investment community and provider organizations. In our role with the PCH Alliance we promote wellness and a health perspective that focuses on models of care outside the traditional settings of the clinic and hospital.

HIMSS: What excites you most about joining HIMSS?

Steve: The most exciting is the opportunity to work with the ecosystem. In HIMSS, there’s so much energy, wonderful momentum, and intention in trying to improve health and healthcare for the world!

To see what people are working on – from sharing information on social determinants in health to developing care plans by working with patients information … or using brain waves that can move a robotic hand for someone who is paralyzed. It’s mind-blowing! It’s hard to not get excited about how HIMSS can participate and be a part of such positive change.

What’s really interesting from an overall trend perspective, is to see technology becoming smaller and smaller in size. The potential of passive wearables and nanotechnology, with tiny robots that can be injected into the body to solve a condition or conduct a procedure that couldn’t be done otherwise. These were sci-fi before, but they will happen.

HIMSS: Any other thoughts?

Steve: One thing I’ve learned in my career is that truly disruptive innovation tends to be a collaboration. It comes out of partnership, within an organization and between clinical and business or technical units.

Collaboration needs to happen in healthcare innovation. It goes back to what is reality in our lives. A patient’s life is not spent with all their information at one hospital or with one doctor. Our lives are a series of data trails left all over the place. When we’re getting care, that information should be accessible. Today, that’s not well-ingrained in how we provide care or use technology.

In my work with HIMSS, I’d like to see us be a voice of innovation, to develop real-world solutions and policies. If we can bring industries and non-traditional partners together to innovate and help answer key questions out there -- like how do you thrive with the disruptions created, how do you engage partners in unique ways, how do you compete with the new technologies emerging? HIMSS can be the voice to lead the way.