Healthcare Needs More Than Just Disruption, UPMC Innovation Head Says

“We’ve been too comfortable for too long,” he said. "We have to blow it up a little."

(US Steel Tower, now bearing UPMC's logo, in background of monument. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons user Cbaile19.)

Rasu Shrestha said he wasn’t a big fan of the word “disruption.”

That drew a laugh from the room, and from the woman he shared the floor with: Lynn Banaszak, the Executive Director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Disruptive Health Technology Institute.

Shrestha, the Chief Innovation Officer of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), doesn’t think the word goes far enough to describe what the healthcare industry needs. At the HealthXL Global Gathering in Pittsburgh, he held a fireside chat about innovation in the healthcare industry, which Banaszak moderated.

“We’ve been too comfortable for too long,” according to Shrestha.

The concept of “healthcare” itself has become convoluted through that complacency, he said. "Health” typically means “sick,” since doctors are usually doing reactive care rather than assisting patients in preventing diseases. And “care” has come to refer to the administrative aspects of those processes: The billing and documentation.

“We have to blow stuff up a little,” he said.

New partnerships and entrants to the field—like the headline-grabbing collaboration between JP Morgan, Berkshire Hathaway, and Amazon; CVS’s proposed purchase of Aetna; and Apple’s continued flirtation with healthcare technology—could be a little bit of dynamite. But that’s a mighty “could”

While he believes that the future of the industry will be built “on the shoulders of the strongest partnerships,” he stressed that those partnerships had to go beyond press releases and pilot programs, as many seem to only yield.

Similarly, he noted that Apple’s healthcare approaches had moved beyond ResearchKit and the Watch’s heartrate capabilities to now include FHIR-based electronic health records technology. He’s waiting to see what happens, though.

“I’m not excited about Apple coming in and finding new ways for their phones to trade data with Epic,” he said. “Will Apple come in and acquire primary care practices? Will they acquire Epic?”

Most importantly, Shrestha urged its incumbents to be proactively introspective about where they needed to go. For UPMC, a substantial payer/provider system whose logo now symbolically adorns the old US Steel Tower in Pittsburgh, that’s an important undertaking. Shrestha said that “heads in beds” was no longer be a metric that the system counted as a positive reflection of its success.

“We should be thinking about putting ourselves out of business before someone else does,” he said.