When healthcare is everywhere, so is health data. Keeping that data both accessible and secure is a challenge that all providers are facing, says Esteban Lopez, MD, MBA and physician thought leader at Google Cloud. Hear Dr. Lopez discuss the importance of cloud solutions, as a way of giving clinicians the “superpowers” they need to meet patient care demands.
Title: Giving Clinicians Superpowers
Guests: Esteban Lopez, MD, MBA and physician thought leader at Google Cloud
Host: Christine Parent, Associate Vice President, MEDITECH
Dr. Lopez: “We're seeing a healthcare shortage of doctors and nurses and our population continues to grow, so we need to give those doctors and nurses superpowers through artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to be able to practice at the highest level of their training and licensure to take care of more patients with less resources.”
Christine: Welcome to another episode of MEDITECH Podcast, we’re the leader in healthcare technology empowering you to be a more informed healthcare, consumer, and provider. Hear the latest from our friends and colleagues in the US, Canada, and abroad on topics we think you should know about.
I'm happy to welcome Dr. Esteban Lopez, America's market lead of healthcare and life sciences for Google Cloud. Dr. Lopez is a national thought leader, an energetic bilingual physician leader, and
TEDx speaker. Today, we'll hear more from Dr. Lopez on both healthcare and technology.
Welcome, Dr. Lopez, glad you can join us!
So, Dr. Lopez, as you know, Electronic Health Records have been evolving to the Cloud rather than being hosted exclusively on-prem with local servers. Can you tell us a little about this big change in journey within the healthcare industry and also why you feel this movement can be beneficial to health systems?
Dr. Lopez: Yeah, absolutely. As you know, I'm still a practicing physician. I’m board-certified in both internal medicine and pediatrics and have been working in hospital systems my entire career. It is very important to have Cloud Solutions in healthcare, because, one, it is very expensive to maintain on-prem servers and services, but more importantly than that, is that healthcare doesn't wait for you to log in to your VPN, it is occurring at all times. You need to be able to obtain patient information, or put in an order, or address things either in the hospital or outside of the hospital, and Cloud capabilities allow you to do that. It's a platform that allows for scalability, allows for computer storage, data analytics, and security management that, frankly, a lot of on-premises solutions just don't have. It allows you to take care of your patient in real-time. That's probably the most beneficial thing for not only providers but the patients who are receiving care.
Christine: So, you gave us a lot of benefits to the Cloud Solution around health systems. Can you talk a little bit about security?
Dr. Lopez: Yeah, security is very important. So, being able to keep that information secure, making sure that you have identity management solutions, having those capabilities built into a web-based Cloud Solution is hugely important. We're dealing with patients' data, their personal health information, and we want to make sure that it's exceedingly secure. I work for Google Cloud, and we do everything possible to keep patients' data secure and confidential. And, it's actually not even our data, it is our company's data that's using it, so it's very important for us to make sure we have the highest security standards in a Cloud Solution.
Christine: You have spoken on TEDx talks about healthcare industry challenges, and, in particular, your passion for improving health equity, which has emerged as a pressing issue, particularly, during this pandemic. First, I want to applaud you and point out to the listeners that you have been raising awareness on this topic for years prior to the pandemic and have used the term America's Chronic Condition. Can you share with us what health care equity means to you?
Dr. Lopez: Health equity is the opportunity for people to have their highest level of health. Health inequities are typically structural, they're typically unfair, and they disable us from being able to achieve our highest level of health. And, health inequities can stem from things like social determinants of health such as where you live, built environment, the quality of healthcare, the economic opportunities that you have, and the education that you have. Health inequities can also be structurally racist, and, so disproportionately affects certain populations.
As you mentioned, I've been talking about health equity since probably 2015 and then 2016 when I gave that TED Talk. It is incredibly important for people to achieve their highest level of health, not only because it's the right thing to do, but it actually affects your health as well. Your neighbor's health has a direct impact on your own health or the health of your community. So, it's time to not only shine a light on health equity but actually find tangible solutions. One of the reasons why I'm so excited to be able to work at Google is that we have the ability to unlock Alphabet's health care expertise. And that gives agency to users the information and data and we support our communities through health and in the healthcare environment with our technology and tools.
Christine: So how would Cloud Solutions like MEDITECH as a Service or MaaS and High Availability SnapShot increase healthcare access in rural and underserved communities?
Dr. Lopez: Well, one, let me say that I love High Availability SnapShot. It leverages the Google Cloud Platform, provides Expanse customers uninterrupted access to critical data, and that's so important. I talked about this earlier, that you can't wait for downtimes, and there are natural disasters, there are a variety of different things that can happen that put on-prem servers down but Google Cloud is not that. To your point around health equity, I think that MaaS or MEDITECH as a Service, which is a subscription service for providers, especially in rural underserved areas. Providers that may be, you know, not have the infrastructure or the funds to implement a large technology shift. It really starts democratizing the way we're bringing healthcare to rural areas or underserved areas. It's really keeping the mom and doc practices in practice.
We know that small independent providers provide high-quality healthcare. I used to work at Blue Cross Blue Shield, and we were trying to keep independent docs independent because we saw better outcomes and decreased utilization and satisfaction with patients and doctors. I think MEDITECH as a Service allows for those doctors to have that capability, a modern EHR at their fingertips that allows them to have data analytics capabilities that they otherwise wouldn't have or couldn't afford.
Christine: From your perspective, you believe the pandemic forced technology upgrades that would have taken longer to accomplish. Can you explain why this is?
Dr. Lopez: Yes. The pandemic was an accelerator, a digital accelerator across the world not only in healthcare but in so many other industries. What we have seen is that digital roadmaps that people had that were in a two to five-year time frame started to go to two to five weeks. People were thinking about Virtual Care or Telehealth on long-term road maps. They needed to be able to do it to take care of their patients and stay in practice, and, so those really got stood up from one day to the next, and patients and doctors figured out how to get the care that they needed at the right time and right place. The pandemic is going to continue to require folks to innovate and bring solutions to the market that benefit doctors and patients.
I'm so excited about the partnership that we have but also about the capabilities that we're going to have in the near future. Things like artificial intelligence, machine learning capabilities, natural language processing, voice technology, all of those technologies are on road maps or already in development or already in flight. Virtual Care is not just the television over a screen, it is the end-to-end management of patients. So, beginning with data on the front end and data on the back end and capabilities that allow you to not only take care of patients in a more efficient way but increase the quality of care. That is incredibly important to me because we're seeing a healthcare shortage of doctors and nurses and our population continues to grow. So, we need to give those doctors and nurses superpowers through artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to be able to practice at the highest level of their training and licensure to take care of more patients with less resources.
Christine: So, Dr. Lopez, you mentioned you work for Google Cloud and you also, prior, worked as an executive in insurance, a lot of your career experience has been in non-clinical roles. What has driven your choices and led you down this pathway?
Dr. Lopez: Thanks for that question. A lot of people think that I work as a clinician at Google like a practicing physician at Google when I tell my friends, I'm an executive in the Cloud Shop, it's a tech shop. I'm not a technologist. I work in industry solutions, and so, as a physician who has worked at an insurance company as well as an executive at an insurance company. In my role at the insurance company, Blue Cross, I was the president for southwest Texas. It was a non-clinical role. My role at Google Cloud, I am the market lead for Healthcare and Life Sciences for the Americas. It's also not a clinical role. My responsibility is to devise solutions for large healthcare organizations like MEDITECH and work with our technology partners within Google Cloud, and within organizations like MEDITECH to create solutions that are meeting business needs and clinical needs for patients.
I think that it's important for physicians to be in all aspects of healthcare. They need to be leading insurance companies, they need to be executives in tech, they need to be leading hospital systems, working in pharma. Anywhere healthcare decisions are being made that affect patients, we need physicians at the table or other clinicians at the table because only they have eight hands on a patient, only they understand that doctor-patient relationship. When we don't include physicians, like myself, in those conversations, oftentimes, we design poorly where we don't design around the individuals that are making the healthcare decisions, and that's the doctor and the patient. I'm excited to have an opportunity to work at Google Cloud and to have a scale that is in the billions. I see it as an extension of my vocation as a physician.
Christine: You share a lot about your parents and wellness and social media. Where do you draw your inspiration from and what is driving your professional goals?
Dr. Lopez: I do share a lot about my parents. My parents live with me and so I'm the youngest of six kids and my parents are in their 80s. My mom is 85 and my dad is 83. My mom suffers from Alzheimer's Disease and that's why they ended up moving to San Antonio where I live. Clearly, you know, initially, early in my career my parents were huge motivators. I come from a very humble background, my mom doesn't have even a first-grade education, my dad has an eighth-grade education. My mom taught herself how to read and write and do some simple math. I'm the youngest of six kids, five of us are in healthcare, all of us have gone to college, four of us have advanced degrees in healthcare, three of us are doctors. The joke in the family is two real doctors and a dentist. Our parents were huge motivators despite their limited education and resources to have public service, to serve others, and to have meaning to the work that we do.
The other thing that has motivated me has been my kids. I started a family very young, unplanned. I was 19 years old when my first child was on the way, 20 when she was born, and so the motivation that I had from my parents then to the motivation that I had to my child. I have three daughters, and I grew up with them. I went to college with them, I went to medical school and residency with them, and they have been a motivation as well. I am very lucky to have a platform to be able to advocate for those who are underserved for communities of color. I think that as a physician of color, an executive at Google, it's important to give back to the community, and raise people up, and extend a hand out to pull others up behind you.
Christine: So, let's touch upon that a little bit more. I know that in your free time you reach out and give back to the Latino community. Can you tell us about your efforts in the organizations that you work with?
Dr. Lopez: Obviously, I'm a Latino physician. My parents are from Mexico. Three of my siblings were born in Mexico, the last three of us were born in Los Angeles. So, I did not see a Latino physician in the flesh, in the US, until my brother graduated from medical school. I didn't have those role models in the community we were. We grew up in a working-class suburb of Los Angeles and my dad was a meatpacker, my mom was a factory worker. We didn't travel in those circles and the physicians that took care of us were not Latino. As it is today, there's not a lot of Latino physicians per capita. The numbers haven't really changed, actually, the numbers have gone down since 1980. So, for me, it's important to be visible in the community because it's hard to be what you don't see, and if you don't see docs that look like you that have similar backgrounds as you, that speak the language that you speak, I'm bilingual, I speak English and Spanish. I grew up speaking Spanish at home. It's hard to imagine how you can get there, it's like going to the moon, right?
So, I've been involved in the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. I was chairman in 2017. I was the first physician who was chairman of that chamber. It's the oldest Hispanic chamber in the United States. I have been involved with many organizations that are Latino-focused and not Latino-focused. The Texas Lyceum, I'm an alumni of that organization here in Texas. I'm a presidential leadership scholar, and I talk about not only Latino issues because those are the ones I know the best, and obviously, are near and dear to my heart but it's important to talk about a lot of what I talk about in health equity is the inequities in Black communities especially around Black maternal mortality and infant mortality. So, I would say that I clearly am an advocate for Latinos but I'm an advocate for fairness, I'm an advocate for equity injustice, and so I will advocate for issues that benefit all of us because you know rising waters lift all boats.
Christine: Thanks for tuning in. Stay informed and subscribe to MEDITECH Podcasts and be sure to check out our resource page for links from this episode. We'll talk to you next time.