/ The New Age of Saving Lives

Neil Gomes, Chief Digital Officer at Jefferson Health, on the power of data, running successful teams, and the future of healthcare.

Not a lot of people can say they go to work every day to save lives, and it’s even fewer who can say they use data and digital technologies to do it. But for Jefferson Health’s Neil Gomes, that’s exactly what he and his team, the Digital Innovation and Consumer Experience group (the DICE Group), do.

As Chief Digital Officer and Senior Vice President for Technology Innovation and Consumer Experience at Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health, a $5 billion network of hospitals, a renowned medical school, and other colleges, that delivers nearly 4.3 million patient interactions a year and serves 7,500+ students, Neil and his team develop digital solutions designed to help their hospitals and healthcare providers save as many lives as possible. “I always tell people we hire, if you really want to make an impact on people’s lives—save lives in the real sense—then this is where you want to be, because we do that every day.”

We sat down with Neil to get his take on the world of healthcare—where it is now, where it’s going, and how data and technology are changing the landscape of medicine.

Why data has always been an important part of healthcare.

Neil acknowledges that many people assume that, as data plays a larger and larger role in evolving healthcare, physicians will be resistant to data-driven change. But as he explains, data is nothing new to healthcare.

“Healthcare is already very, very data-centric. When a physician meets and is evaluating a patient, they are not doing it without looking at any information. They make data-based decisions every day. They are evaluating people, they are evaluating your labs, how you look, and then give you a diagnosis. They are data-engineered kind of people. That’s what they do.”

How data has led to rapid innovation in healthcare.

For Neil, it goes much further than gathering data and making decisions. It’s about developing new technologies that improve the way medicine is practiced—and in the end, saving lives.

“I think in medicine, data is very, very important. It’s the difference between life and death many times. But it’s not just about the data. It’s also about how we deliver it, how we tell people what’s happening to them. The technological and human side of things are very, very important.

With the ER dashboard solutions that we create, for example—we are literally saving lives and addressing more lives that we can save each and every day. That’s a pretty big deal.”

What makes Neil’s team so successful.

With over 40 solutions developed in just two short years, both what the team does, and the team itself, are very unique. “You won’t find a team like ours at many companies,” Neil admits.

“We run like a design-engineered lean startup—human-centered design helps us pick the right problems to solve and reveals the solutions that deliver the desired outcome. We are also guided by 12 principles and one of our principles is that if we didn’t measure it, it didn’t happen. We want to know the data behind every problem, solution, and outcome. The data story is very important. But our biggest strength is execution. When we say we’re going to get something done, we get it done, and we get it done on time, if not before.

My personal ethos on this team is about bringing digital to life in a way that connects with Jefferson’s mission statement, ‘we improve lives.’ I focus on the real human experience of interacting with software and delivering digital solutions that matter.”

On the biggest influences who have shaped his career.

Neil is a busy man. In addition to his work at Jefferson, he’s finishing up a PhD, writing a book, playing and singing in a band, avidly collecting rare stamps and coins, and spending as much time at home with his wife and two small children as he can. It’s clear that to balance it all, he’s learned some important lessons along the way.

“There are three people that have had a great impact on me. One is Dr. Steve Klasko who is our President and CEO at Jefferson. The lesson I’ve learned from him is humility. When you reach any kind of leadership position, you should always treat everyone walking into your office the same way you would, let’s say, a CEO.

Another person is the late Dr. Sreekumar, the ex-dean of our management school back in India. He taught me the value of learning. He would always say that ‘each day is a day that we can learn something new.’ He had this principle where he would pick the weakest member of the team to present our solution to the case, and we would then prepare that person as well as possible. We learned that you had to make your entire team as strong as you wanted to be personally.

The third person is my mom. She has been a government school teacher in India for all of her career. She could have certainly become a principal and gone on into leadership, or worked in a private school and made more money, but she always wanted to work with underprivileged kids. She wanted to have a social impact in our town. Her students still come by our house—people that she taught even 30 years ago. They treat her with such respect, and that’s because she gave them a lot of respect and helped them develop and improve in their lives. Most of them came from very disadvantaged lives because government schools in India are schools that provide almost free education to kids from low-income families and orphans. She chose to stay there. It wasn’t a cushy job. But she wanted to do it. Service is what I learned from her.”’

Neil’s recent reading list.

On why he ended up in education, and specifically healthcare.

“I’ve always wanted to work in educational institutions because I’ve wanted to give back what had been given to me. In education, you can impact and help so many people by giving them something with which they could make something of themselves. I didn’t stumble into it or anything else, but I intended to work there.

The cool thing about being in healthcare and education is that a lot of these innovative tech revolutions that may have happened in other industries are just beginning here. Nobody else is doing this right now. People are dabbling, but at Jefferson, we’ve gone way beyond dabbling. We’re the ones saying to the organizations and the institutions, ‘this is our time now, to start leveraging and building digital solutions to solve our problems.’”

How Neil’s team is using technology to improve healthcare.

“The thing that healthcare hasn’t done well is learn from its own data. I think that’s going to be the next revolution. I don’t mean just from patient or medical data, but also data about its own processes, how it delivers care, how to optimize at every point, how to do things differently and creatively. There is so much to learn and gain from new technologies.

We’ve been delving a lot into the machine learning and AI space. Being an innovative and digital platform-focused team, a lot of the driving forces are centered around technologies like AI, ML, AR and VR, and even things like blockchain.

It’s about creating the right type of learning programs in AI, focused on the right type of data, and then delivering these insights to decision-makers and consumers at the point of care and learning. Data is just part of the equation. One small part of the equation. Without it, certainly the equation is not complete.”

On the future of healthcare.

“Data has a tremendous role to play into the future, and we’re just scratching the surface,” he asserts.

I think the future belongs to organizations like ours, it belongs to anyone in healthcare, because we’re in such a fledgling state right now, that anyone of us can do something that truly impacts how care is delivered worldwide, not just in the U.S.

Ultimately, we got into this profession to save lives, and those lives can someday be our own or our family members’. I think we need to dedicate ourselves even more. To use the information that we have, use it in creative ways, and then get it out to people at the right time via creative solutions so they can make more informed decisions and save more lives.”

Learn more about Jefferson and the DICE Group at:

http://jefferson.edu and http://jeffersonhealth.org
https://dicegrp.org and https://twitter.com/@dicegrp

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