New Providence St. Joseph CFO on why he left Microsoft to work in healthcare

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 - Venkat Bhamidipati
Venkat Bhamidipati

Venkat Bhamidipati came into his new role as CFO at Renton, Wash.-based Providence St. Joseph Health having no prior experience at a hospital or health system. His background was in technology, having spent 13 years at Microsoft, which he feels will serve him well with “dramatic improvements” that tech can bring to the industry.

After starting his new role on July 31, Bhamidipati spoke with HealthExec about why he made the transition to healthcare, how new technologies like artificial intelligence can be put to good use and how he can diversify revenue in a seven-state, 50-hospital system.

HealthExec: Why move from a consumer technology company like Microsoft to being CFO of a major hospital system?

Venkat Bhamidipati: The health care industry is in the midst of complex transformation, driven by digital transformation, the need to improve patient outcomes and the rise of patient consumerism. I have been at the intersection of technology, transformation and finance for the past 24 years. Most recently, I was involved in helping drive cloud transformation at Microsoft. Therefore, given the forces that are shaping health care, I am excited to bring my technology and transformation experience to the biggest sector of the economy. Furthermore, health care is not just one-sixth of whole the economy, but it is also deeply personal to all of us. I think health care providers have an opportunity to provide personalized support and improve outcomes at the most affordable cost. Digital technologies and new business models will increasingly play a big part in the health care transformation. I’m excited to bring my expertise in both these areas to Providence St. Joseph Health.

In addition, this is the right organization. I’m attracted to Providence St. Joseph Health’s mission of providing high quality, compassionate care in an increasingly uncertain world. Innovation has always been part of the heritage of Providence St. Joseph Health. The sisters were the original health care pioneers. Providence St. Joseph Health has the size and scale to lead the transformation on behalf of everyone, especially the poor and vulnerable. I am proud to serve as a steward of a rich heritage and legacy.

What emerging technologies do you see as valuable to improving quality and efficiency in healthcare?

I am really excited about the dramatic improvements that technology can bring to health care. We can use digital technologies to improve access and engage the patients continuously. Providing virtual care could increase productivity of the care teams. There is tremendous potential in big data and analytics to predict health patterns and provide personalized support to patients to keep them healthy. We can also harness the cloud, social and mobile technologies to deliver care more conveniently and quickly, the way consumers want to receive it. On the clinician side, we need to look at technologies that will help them collaborate and improve care for patients. Therefore, digital transformation has the potential to reshape health care, similar to what we have seen in other sectors such as retail and travel.

On the flip side, what technologies do you see as NOT offering value to the goals of improved quality and efficiency?

Health care providers have been traditionally slow to adopt new technologies such as social, mobile, cloud and big data. There are good reasons for that—privacy, security and trust are vital in the health care sector. Having a trusted platform is crucial. There is inefficiency driven by the manual nature of some of the processes, technology silos and legacy systems.

Does AI have a place in your plans?

Definitely. I really think there is a big opportunity to improve both clinical and operational effectiveness by harnessing data. Artificial intelligence and the powerful insights it can provide have the potential to greatly aid our clinicians and patients in making better, more informed decisions about treatment options and their overall health and well-being.

Clinicians have been complaining for years that these new technologies--particularly their EHRs--are making their lives harder, not simpler. How do you plan on addressing those concerns when pushing new tech, given you don't have a background in medicine?

It’s important to spend time and clearly understand the health care landscape. As I mentioned, given the legacy and siloed systems, I can certainly understand the friction that new technologies can cause. Therefore, it’s critical to engage clinicians in the use of new technology. Technology can enable clinicians to easily access patient information from anywhere and provide and coordinate care in real time with other colleagues. One thing I’ve heard our CEO Rod Hochman and our Chief Digital and Innovation Officer Aaron Martin say is that when you bring clinicians and technology people together, that is where the magic happens. Providence St. Joseph Health has a track record for expert-to-expert collaboration, bringing clinicians together to engage them in change, and I look forward to being part of that process. I am looking forward to actively engaging with our caregivers to understand the different perspectives.

One of the areas you'll be overseeing is revenue diversification. Where do you see the opportunity for diversification and revenue growth in an already large, integrated system like Providence St. Joseph?

I think Providence St. Joseph Health is very well suited to provide innovative solutions to address some of the current and emerging forces shaping the health care industry. These forces, demographic shifts (aging boomers), medical advances and care delivery innovation and legacy technology stacks. There are many innovative services and solutions Providence St. Joseph Health delivers today across our seven- state system. One potential opportunity is to take some of these services and offer them to other health systems, hospitals and clinics, so that they don’t need to re-invent the wheel or duplicate the infrastructure and expertise on their own.

How could the current healthcare debate in Congress impact your plans? Can you still make these technological strides if fewer patients are insured and can't cover costs out-of-pocket?

There’s certainly continued regulatory uncertainty and a downward pressure on reimbursements. No matter what happens in Washington, D.C., our country needs to make health care more affordable. We need to drive better outcomes and provide greater value so we can serve more people, regardless of ability to pay. One way we’ll get there is to become as efficient as we possibly can without compromising quality. For example, we need a world-class supply chain to ensure we are procuring medical supplies and pharmaceuticals at the best possible price, and we need to look at our entire revenue cycle to make sure we are capturing all the payments we’ve earned. Those are just a few examples of how we can re-imagine our operations to accommodate the growing demand and need for health care for everyone.