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Reflexion CEO says health care is hobbled by disjointed EHR

Joseph Smith, president and CEO of Reflexion Health, says the health care industry is currently hobbled by disjointed electronic medical record systems, creating an enormous opportunity for innovators.

Before joining Reflexion, Smith was founding chief medical and science officer at the West Health Institute, a medical research organization established in 2009 by the Gary and Mary West Foundation. He spoke yesterday as part of an opening panel for the second day of PDS Connect 2017 in Milwaukee.

“As a practitioner but also an industry participant, the flow of information is bottlenecked everywhere, and for lots of different, rational reasons by the sub-actors,” Smith said. “You would think since the patient has the disease, the worry, the wait, the bill, the scar, you would think they have access to their information, and they don’t.”

One big problem, he said, is that this information is buttressed behind paywalls or built-in structures that are meant to be proprietary.

“There’s an enormous opportunity, a tremendous imperative, for making sure that information is available,” he said. “I think we’ve got lots of work to do.”

Importantly, he said, it’s not just technology which could use some innovative change -- it’s the business models as well.

Aasif Naseem, PDS president and CEO, noted that the prevailing approach in the industry is to ignore the importance of different systems working together.

“I was talking with the CTO of a large unnamed EHR company, and he said ‘interoperability? What’s that? Just use our product across your system; there’s no interoperability’” Naseem said. “That seems to be the attitude.”

Electronic health record systems were just one topic the panel touched on in a discussion that focused broadly on innovation.

Martha Gray, a professor of health sciences and technology at MIT, spoke to the importance of growing talent in the academic world by letting young scholars direct their own learning and growth.

She identified one issue “which we have definitely not fully solved”: creating a “truly collaborative” partnership with the industrial sector.

“We want to create the pipeline that you are going to deliver to your customers of the future and that requires a conversation, really understanding the kinds of challenges you and your customers face,” she added. “Not because we want to gain your business, but because some of them really require technological development, research and innovation in order to enable your solutions.”

David Cagigal, chief information officer for the State of Wisconsin, argued it’s the leadership’s responsibility to screen ideas for potential impact and feasibility.

“The leaders have to take that understanding away from today, that we have a role to be able to create those sorts of ideas, to bring them to reality by listening very carefully,” he said. “The leadership has to decipher between all these propositions, whether it’s an employee or a strategic partner… listen to where these innovations might start and where it might come from, internally or externally.”

Northwestern Mutual, a Milwaukee-based insurance company, was brought up as an example of innovation by Kathleen Gallagher, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who has written for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“How did they affect dramatic change that turned the company upside-down? They bought a startup; they bought LearnVest,” she said. “And now many of the LearnVest people have been put in leadership positions and they’re changing like crazy.”

She said the best thing for innovation is this clashing between corporations and the companies trying to disrupt them.

“Innovation is messy,” she said. “Big companies and big academic institutions are process-oriented and efficient and not messy at all. So one of the big problems when you talk about innovation is that all of the places we want to do it aren’t set up to do it.”

--By Alex Moe


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