Dr. Rasu Shrestha is helping lead a revolution in healthcare, and he needs you

Jim Gilbert
November 30, 2018

Editors note:  This is the second in a new series about the human side of patient experience.  As digital technologists specializing in healthcare transformation, we are constantly reminded that the work we do affects patient’s lives.  In fact, when we do our jobs right, the technology platforms we develop save lives and enable a better patient experience.  In that spirit, we feel it is important as a company to present information not just from the technical side of healthcare IT, but from the human journey side as well.  

Dr. Rasu Shrestha is helping lead a revolution in healthcare, and he needs you.

Dr. Rasu Shrestha. AAJ TechnologiesAs Chief Innovation Officer for Pittsburgh-based UPMC, Dr. Rasu Shrestha is driving UPMC’s innovation strategy and helping transform the organization into a more patient-focused and economically sustainable system. But he has a much broader reach as a thought leader, energizing healthcare leaders across the nation to become catalysts for reinventing healthcare.

Dr. Shrestha wants to recruit everyone from patients and clinicians to data scientists, technology experts and entrepreneurs in order to move the American healthcare system from paternalistic care to participatory care. Participatory care, or participatory medicine, is a movement in which patients and healthcare professionals actively collaborate and encourage one another as full partners in health.

Dr. Shrestha delivered his message and a call to action at the Society for Participatory Medicine’s conference “Democratizing Healthcare” on October 17 in Boston.

“How can we truly come together as a community to make sure that we are changing healthcare with the level of urgency that we all feel right in our bones?” Shrestha asked.

Participatory design thinking is one way to start, he explained.

Participatory design is an approach for assessing, designing and developing new technological and organizational systems, while solving problems within an organization. It involves bringing in the end-users (like patients and clinicians) who will actually be using the solutions that are being created — at the very beginning, said Dr. Shrestha.

By engaging the end-users in the design and decision-making processes and valuing their perspective and knowledge, this approach helps ensure that an innovation is meaningful and helpful to the people who will be affected by it.

For Dr. Shrestha, the participatory design process starts with empathy — whether it’s empathy for a cancer patient or an overworked physician. Do not jump straight to seeking solutions, he urges.

“Understand what their pain points truly are,” he said. “Put yourself in their shoes and re-imagine what a better tomorrow could actually look like.”

This is not how healthcare organizations have traditionally handled innovation.

“In healthcare, you go live with a solution, and you buy the clinicians pizza and you give them a cheat sheet with their shortcuts and you hope that it will be fine,” he said. “That’s not how we design for a better tomorrow.”

He emphasized the importance of including many different people in innovation. “Diversity is the art of thinking independently together, and that is the essence of participatory care,” he said.

The Society for Participatory Medicine is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the movement to shift patients from being “passengers” to being “responsible drivers” of their health. The society encourages mutual collaboration among patients, health professionals, caregivers and others.

Dr. Shretha wants to bring lots of different people and stakeholders together to “push forward in the human pursuit of predictive, preventative, personalized, participatory care.” But he knows it won’t be easy.

“Today innovation is a really cool word,” he said. “Everybody loves to innovate, but nobody likes to change.”

Dr. Rasu ShresthaPart of the problem is that there’s a culture clash in healthcare between two key groups. On one side, dedicated clinicians and researchers are trained to follow evidence-based guidelines.

On the other side, innovators and entrepreneurs are coming up with entirely new ways of looking at problems in healthcare.  “And yes, they are right, you’re right, we’re right,” he said. “When you are working together and building and co-creating stuff, it’s really important to understand that there is a big culture clash in healthcare – a huge clash.”

Dr. Shrestha deeply understands this clash as a physician who also serves as executive vice president of UPMC Enterprises, the innovation and commercialization arm of UPMC.

Through strategic partnerships, joint development agreements and investments in healthcare startups, UPMC Enterprises works to develop, implement and commercialize innovations that solve complex healthcare challenges.  UPMC is closely affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Shrestha knows it’s an uphill battle to challenge the status quo in healthcare, an industry often reluctant to change.

“One of the things I realize every day is how disconnected we are in the sense that start-ups are in such a tremendous hurry to get stuff done and at the same time, in healthcare, we are in no hurry whatsoever,” he said. “The status quo is so comfortable for us.”

But powerful forces are pushing against the status quo, he said. Many passionate people are leaning in to be part of the solution, while the proliferation of data and new technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain are disrupting the healthcare industry.

While the drastically increasing amount of healthcare data is promising, Dr. Shrestha says it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“When you think about this newer reality of healthcare and participatory care, we need to go after the data blind spots — understanding why a patient didn’t show up for their appointment is a data blindspot,” Dr. Shrestha said. “We don’t know that because we don’t measure that.”

UPMC has a long history of innovation, from Jonas Salk inventing the polio vaccine there in the 1955 to pioneering advances in organ transplantation and becoming the nation’s first pediatric transplant program.  “We weren’t complacent, and we are not complacent,” he said.

“We have to continue to challenge the status quo because complacency truly is our enemy.”


Watch Dr. Rasu Shrestha give his talk at the Society for Participatory Medicine’s conference “Democratizing Healthcare”


AAJ Technologies, since 1997 has helped healthcare organizations transform through its relentless focus on patient experience.  Learn more here, view our case studies, our healthcare client list, or contact us for a quick discovery meeting.


Webinar Recap: Finding Quick Wins by Creating Remarkable Patient Experiences


Patient Experience and Technology – Through the Patient’s EyesErin Moriarty Wade is a freelance writer specializing in healthcare and the mom of a child with a rare autoimmune disease. Follow her on Twitter at @EMoriartyWade.

This is the second article that Erin has written for AAJ.  Her first article, “Patient Experience and Technology – Through the Patient’s Eyes“, can be found here.


Note: Main image credit:  “2018 Conference Graphic Recordings” of Dr. Rasu Shrestha, via Society for Participatory Medicine










Jim Gilbert

ABOUT Jim Gilbert

Jim Gilbert is the Content Marketing Manager for AAJ Technologies. Jim is a 20 year digital marketing veteran, lecturer, author and former adjunct professor. He is also a 3 term past President of the Florida Direct Marketing Association. When not at AAJ, you can find him spending time with his family, biking around South Florida or enjoying some live music. You can reach Jim at: jim.gilbert@aajtech.com

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