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UPMC’s Rasu Shrestha: Innovation is About Behavior Change, Technology Should be Invisible

March 9, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), a 20-hospital integrated delivery network, is no stranger to innovation and strategic IT partnerships. Just last week, the health system announced that it will become a majority partner and investor in medCPU, a New York City-based vendor with real-time clinical decision support solutions.

What’s more, in January of this year, UPMC announced that they had come together in a strategic partnership with executives of the Salt Lake City-based Health Catalyst, a data warehousing, analytics, and outcomes improvement vendor, “to combine technologies and front-line personnel in an unprecedented effort to help health systems solve one of their most vexing and urgent problems – how to measure and analyze the true cost of healthcare delivery for each patient.”

Indeed, as HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland wrote, also back in January, leading into an interview with Talbot C. “Tal” Heppenstall, president of UPMC Enterprises, “While several other large integrated health systems are pursuing the path of technology development incubation, and sometimes, of commercialization, of internally developed technology solutions (among them Cleveland Clinic and Intermountain Healthcare), senior executives at UPMC have for a number of years been moving forward to develop and to co-develop, with partnering organizations, solutions that might gain traction across healthcare.

As such, at the HIMSS16 conference in Las Vegas last week, Rasu Shrestha, M.D., chief innovation officer at UPMC, spoke to Healthcare Informatics Managing Editor Rajiv Leventhal about all of the innovation that is in the air at UPMC and what the healthcare IT world looks like from the eyes of an industry leader. Below are excerpts of that interview.

What is especially new on the innovation front at UPMC?

One of the biggest things we are doing in terms of innovation at UPMC is the way we are bringing our strengths and expertise to the table in partnering with the right [people] to transform the way healthcare is being delivered. Through UPMC Enterprises, we’re coalescing and co-creating, and opening up the living lab that is UPMC with the 20-plus hospitals, the 3,800 physicians, the payer-provider integrated delivery system that we are, the data, and the use cases. We are opening all that up so that we can bet on innovating and transforming the way we are delivering care.

Can the integration that you’re talking about create blurry lines in the healthcare market?  

I wouldn’t say it blurs the lines, in fact I would argue that it’s quite the opposite. We are providing a lot more clarity in terms of we understand where the pain points are. We’re not just talking about it in an office building somewhere, we are living and breathing these pain points on a day-to-day basis. We are leveraging the people who are living and breathing these pain points on a daily basis, designing principles, and architecting the solutions that work best for not just us, but organizations like us. I think we are providing more focus and doing this with a purpose. We are putting our money where our mouth is, and also putting our resources where we believe the future of healthcare needs to go towards.

Rasu Shrestha, M.D.

Out of all the innovative work at UPMC around IT, what are you most proud of?

Knowing how complex healthcare is, one of the ways we are thinking is, how do you address all of these complexities? How do you move from complexity to simplicity? I think in healthcare, we pride ourselves in wrapping ourselves in complexity; we find comfort in it. We confuse complexity with better, and I truly think innovation is about not adding more things, but taking things away. So simplifying care processes, simplifying information visualization, simplifying how we connect the dots between multiple siloes of information, that’s what we’re really about. In leveraging data as an asset, connecting the dots across disparate data siloes—whether its claims data, clinical data, other types of data, financial data, performance, data, patient-entered data—you have all these other data sources that we haven’t really embraced in healthcare. And then taking that and building the right solutions to enable behavior change. At the end of the day, innovation is really about behavior change, whether it’s a clinician putting in an order, that radiologist making a specific diagnosis or call on a finding, or the patient making a decision to eat that muffin versus going for that salad. Innovation is about behavior change.

Of particular interest is the partnership with Health Catalyst around developing a costing analysis solution. Can you explain that further?