May 11, 2023 Episode 54

Scaling Up (Part 2). How Dr. Rasu Shrestha is Steering AI & Innovation After the Megamerger that Created Advocate Health

As the head of innovation at one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems, Dr. Shrestha talks about driving value from scale during an unprecedented time of disruption and invention.

Scaling Up (Part 2). How Dr. Rasu Shrestha is Steering AI & Innovation After the Megamerger that Created Advocate Health

Many physicians today choose to pivot their careers and apply their clinical knowledge to the innovation and digital transformation side of healthcare. Dr. Rasu Shrestha was an early pioneer of this trend and as he explains, went from “the dark side of radiology to the dork side of informatics” more than two decades ago.

In addition to spanning both technical and clinical roles, Dr. Shrestha brings a worldly view of medicine to his work as EVP and Chief Innovation and Commercialization Officer at Advocate Health. He attended college in Malaysia and medical school in India before becoming a visiting fellow in biomedical engineering at Imperial College London and a research fellow in informatics at the University of Southern California, where he also earned his MBA.

Among many other positions, Dr. Shrestha also served as Chief Innovation Officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer at Atrium Health. After the December 2022 merger of Atrium Health and Advocate Aurora Health, Dr. Shrestha landed in his current role at the newly formed Advocate Health, now one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems.

In an earlier Healthcare is Hard episode, Scott Powder provided his perspective on the megamerger from the Advocate Aurora side. In this episode, Keith Figlioli talked to Dr. Shrestha to hear his perspective from the Atrium side, and his thoughts on many of the biggest topics driving healthcare transformation. Some of the issue they discussed include:

  • Financial realities in the post-pandemic era. With health systems facing some of their worst financial years ever and confronting an urgent need to transform in fundamental ways, Dr. Shrestha shares his ideas about how they can think differently. He says health systems should move beyond the idea of coopetition to the notion of strategic partnerships done right. He urges health systems to embrace the headwinds and tailwinds of the of the pandemic, while staying grounded in their mission and the reality that the old way of doing things will no longer work.
  • Examining AI with a critical eye. There’s unprecedented excitement around artificial intelligence and generative language models like Chat GPT, but issues like hallucination bias raise serious concerns. As Dr. Shrestha explains, large language models do not really answer questions; they create responses that look like answers. These responses always sound authoritative, which means they always look right, even when they’re wrong. While these technologies will undoubtedly have a role in the future of healthcare, they must be carefully examined and regulated first.
  • Inoculating against the shiny object syndrome. Dr. Shrestha discusses how important it is to separate the hype from the hope in the era of AI and startups promising other breakthrough innovations. To remain grounded, he stays focused on three areas that he explains: moving from transactional to experiential, from a patient-centered to a person-centered approach, and from episodic care to always on 24/7 care.
  • Realizing the benefits of scale. Despite a lot of M&A and market consolidation, Dr. Shrestha talks about how there hasn’t been much success yet realizing the benefits of scale. He shares his thoughts on strategies for driving those benefits and creating value at Advocate Health, and the role innovative startups can play in that journey.

To hear Keith and Dr. Shrestha talk about these topics and more, listen to this episode of Healthcare is Hard: A Podcast for Insiders.