charles fred copy

Healthcare Reform

Big Data, Burnt Toast and Healthcare Analytics: Q&A with Charles Fred

, , , , , ,

charles fred copy

The goal-oriented precision required to achieve flight is also needed at the cutting edge of healthcare innovation.

For the second time, HealthBiz Decoded looked to the skies for insight. Charles Fred, group president of Health Provider Services at Xerox, let us in on the future of Health IT and similarities between aerospace engineering and the business of healthcare.

“An aircraft can’t crash, and it must have zero points of failure,” Fred points out in the Q&A below. “In healthcare, we have the same ethos. There are some real similarities in the way we approach it, the data we need to move forward, the type of people that get into these industries.”

Before Xerox, Fred worked at Boeing and Texas Instruments for 12 years. In 2002, he published Breakaway, an insider’s guide to innovative methods for instructional technology and simulation, which spawned The Breakaway Method™ used in healthcare organizations worldwide. A frequent speaker on healthcare and technology, here’s what he told us:

Q: How has your history influenced the way you think about tackling problems in healthcare?

A: I got into this business for a reason: I was watching physicians and nurses really struggle with technology and learning how to use it. My background is in flight simulation and specifics. It helps me see problems with a different context, and I think we’re going to need that in healthcare. It is a big organization that requires empirical information to work.

I’m a scientist at the end of the day as well, so there are some commonalities. I feel kind of blessed that I have the aerospace industry [experience], in addition to my nearly 15 years in the healthcare space. It’s helped me a lot to approach a problem set knowing that the correlations are: you have to build something that flies and it can’t crash. It has zero points of failure, if you’re going to be able to build an aircraft. In healthcare, we have the same ethos and there’re some real similarities there in the way we approach it, the data we need to move forward, the type of people that get into these industries. The similarities are definitely there.

Q: What’s most important in healthcare right now?

A: Probably the most important thing is answering how do we share information and how do we use it, so that when we get the Health Information Exchanges in place, a provider will literally be able to go across that population and see what’s working and what isn’t. For [providers] who are making a significant difference, they can actually show that information. There are all kinds of analytics that we can get from the data we are capturing. Those will be the breakthrough days. I think we’re probably three to five years away from being in these early stages of that kind of data sharing. But that is the ultimate goal to get all of this to work. We’re going to have the ability to save lives, reduce costs, increase quality all because we’ll have this information in front of us or the ability to go find it.

Q: So analyzing the population data is more important than the data itself?

A: It’s unfortunate that one of the greater buzzwords is ‘big data.’ I think we’re going to have big data. I think we’re going to have so much we don’t know what to do with it. It’s going to be ubiquitous pieces of information that we’re going to have to go, ‘What do I do with this?’ Analytics is the bit that makes sense of all of that.

You could be on the front end of the wellness side and be using some of that information to really help either your consumer, a population or even a community, in this case. That’s the opportunity, but that’s also the challenge.

I believe and I think there’s quite a bit of support for this belief, that the technology that we’re using today in the electronic health records literally adds a point of care.

Doctors take more time today to actually treat a patient than they did literally a few years ago with pen and paper and a manila folder. All that said, I believe that they’re up for the challenge, and we’re seeing some decent tech adoption rates across the country.

The fact is that nothing has changed on the care side of their world, everything has changed on the technology side. That’s what we’re really trying to do to simplify the way in which [doctors] interact with their technologies, receive their information, or actually provide information to that technology. All the while, the way they’re treating patients, in many cases is not changing.

As much as we believe we’re a high-tech world in 2013, the technologies we’re using in many cases even in databases themselves, are a decade old.

When you get providers in one room and they talk about this pain, most has to do with a lot of changes they’re going to have to deal with on the process side, the work flow side, and the technology, all while having to treat the same number of patients with the same types of cases. We’re going to have to work our way through this as an industry. I think it’s another reason why we’re in the right place at the right time in healthcare. It’s what our biggest passion is right now – to help reduce that pain or that stress.

Q: Do you think the healthcare system will smooth out as more and more providers adopt and use newer technology?

A: One of our worries is that the legacy systems that are out there and inefficient are going to linger and last for quite a while. I unfortunately liken this a little bit to a metaphor I often use called ‘burnt toast.’ You have a toaster that continually produces burnt toast, but you get good at scraping your toast and not fixing the toaster. I think we’re going to get really good at using systems that are still quite inefficient.

The good news is it also allows for fairly large leaps of technology to take place during that period of time. The integration of these systems is going to be the next challenge, and the integration of the data that we have. Maybe using the old, out-of-date systems for another couple years gives us a chance to leap frog and get in front of some of that with the next piece of technology that’s much more advanced. I think the unfortunate part is that, nationally, we’re going to be all over the place. There are still organizations today that are, believe it or not, still using electronic health record applications that are almost a decade old.

The last evolution across most of the industries was laptops, but in healthcare the laptop was almost completely left behind. They went from desktops to iPads and tablets, in many cases.

We’re seeing that, literally, in 2013, where – especially in the EHR side – they’re adopting new technologies that they probably couldn’t have thought of five to six years ago.

Q: So there is some good news out there.

A: There is. Actually, I’m probably one of the more bullish in the industry right now. Thank goodness we have a little bit of a stimulus to get us through this, and now we’re past the point of no return. If you’re going to practice care in the United States, you’re going to have to get yourself up [to speed] on these technologies. There’s no going backward.

One Response to “Big Data, Burnt Toast and Healthcare Analytics: Q&A with Charles Fred”


Legacy systems? Like which ones? How is it possible that VA and 1 in 4 docs who are using “old technology” Epic (mumps/cache) are able to provide the highest quality of care in the US?

Isn’t the real problem the lack of integrated care delivery systems and NOT the technology? Places like Kaiser, Mayo and Geisinger all use this old outdated technology as well