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Scanning the HIT Vendor Market: UPMC’s Shrestha Shares His Perspectives

May 7, 2015
by Mark Hagland
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Rasu Shrestha, M.D., chief innovation officer at the 21-hospital UPMC Health System, shares his perspectives on the current state of the healthcare IT vendor sector

Rasu Shrestha, M.D., the chief innovation officer at the 21-hospital University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Health System, and president of the UPMC Technology Development Center, is a healthcare IT leader immersed daily in issues around clinical transformation via technology and innovation—even his title points to that fact. Dr. Shrestha, who is helping to lead technology-facilitated IT and technology innovation at the vast health system that serves a huge swath of western Pennsylvania, spoke with HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland shortly after the conclusion of HIMSS15, the Annual Conference and Exhibition sponsored by the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), which was held last month at the McCormick Place Convention Center in downtown Chicago.

Rasu Shrestha, M.D.

Shrestha, who has attended more than a dozen HIMSS Conferences, shared his perceptions of this year’s conference, and HIMSS15’s connection to important trends in the healthcare industry. Below are excerpts from that interview.

What was your overall experience like at HIMSS this year?

I think this was an important HIMSS, given where we are as an industry. We’ve just celebrated a decade of interoperability, where we as an industry have been pushing for interoperability for about ten years. And the question I asked myself going into HIMSS was… Normally, you go into these conferences as a CIO, CMIO, director, or anyone saying I’ve got to learn this, got to learn that, find out what the competition is doing, etc. … But this year, I challenged my team on how much unlearning we needed to do. We need to challenge ourselves as an industry in that regard, because we’re being blinded by buzzwords. It’s always a buzzword blizzard at the HIMSS Conference.

But moving from paper to analog and then learning the digital form factor, and so on—there’s so much of an opportunity for us to unlearn preconceived notions about end-users need what is the norm, etc. You’ve got the patient record, with problem lists and so on; we’ve got to decide what should be in the patient record. And with regard to interoperability, did we get it all wrong in the past decade? Perhaps we did. And we’ve made some great progress in terms of deployment of EMRs; the adoption rate has gone through the roof, which is good, but in terms of interoperability, have we gotten better about understanding what patients need from that? There has been some discussion about FHIR, etc. But a lot of this will be about unlearning.

And really, we need to focus on the patience experience. Do we really engage the patient in the designing of our systems? We talk about patient engagement, but patients are people.

And what are the implications of that, per the keynote address that Humana CEO Bruce Broussard gave at HIMSS15, and per healthcare informaticists?

Our mission truly is to enable behavior change. It’s not just to document something that we can bill properly; it’s about behavior change. And if that’s the point, we need to think about the persons whom we treat—about how they engage in their health and wellness. In many ways, how they are engaged will determine the extent to which our collective efforts work, and we need to rethink how we deliver healthcare, and intelligent healthcare.

CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt and National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D., offered strong policy clarity in terms of what they want providers to do, in the final keynote session of HIMSS15. What did you think of their statements in terms of providers needing to really leverage IT to change care delivery processes?

I think they’re onto something. I’ve said for a while that at the end of the day, the rise of the empowered patient, the engaged patient, the connected patient, is what we’re talking about. That’s the empowered patient that they were referring to. And I think the rise of the empowered patient should rightly threaten the status of physicians. We’re sitting on the cusp of the rise of the empowered patient, and that should threaten the previously unchallenged stature of the physician a s the sole decision-maker. We should empower them to make the right decisions and become engaged in their own wellness. We’re moving the needle from disease management to wellness management.

What leaps do we need to make in leveraging IT in the next few years in all this?

I think it’s going to require leveraging data as an asset. We’ve moved data from analog to digital to a large extent; but now how do we put this to work? I say we’ve tamed the data beast; but now do we put this beast to work for us? We need the insights and analytics at the point of care that will maybe change behavior. That’s one of the biggest imperatives and opportunities for us.

Did you participate in any educational sessions at HIMSS15?