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Catching up with Dr. John Showalter - One of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Innovators of 2020

  • Lizzy Feliciano

Working with brilliant people is cool. Working with people that are both brilliant and passionate is even cooler. Since joining Jvion I have seen no shortage of these traits. Recently one of those brilliant minds, our Chief Product Officer, Dr. John Showalter, was named to Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Innovators list for 2020. John is one of the most visionary people I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

John and his team have helped push the boundaries of traditional risk analytics. His team's work came into sharp focus this year when we launched our COVID Response Suite to help providers, payers, public health and community-based organizations understand health vulnerability and the disparities driving the pandemic's impact on populations and communities.

In particular, the COVID Community Vulnerability Map, which analyzes SDOH and clinical data from 30 million patients to pinpoint communities vulnerable to severe outcomes from COVID-19, was a major factor in Modern Healthcare’s decision to recognize Dr. Showalter. In light of his award, I caught up with Dr. Showalter to discuss some of the most important issues he’s worked to tackle during the pandemic.

Lizzy: How does the COVID Community Vulnerability Map help providers overcome new challenges brought on by the pandemic?

Dr. Showalter: After the last pandemic, H1N1 in 2011, we learned that social determinants of health made a big difference in how different populations fared if infected with the virus. So, when the CDC declared a National Emergency on March 11, we worked hard to apply our clinical AI CORE™ to predict disparities in how the coronavirus would impact different communities. The COVID Community Vulnerability Map is the result of that effort.

The map is a powerful tool. It uses our CORE to identify people who, when infected with a viral respiratory infection such as COVID-19, are at a higher risk of experiencing serious illness, being hospitalized, or potentially dying. The map also pinpoints the socioeconomic and environmental factors that make some communities more vulnerable than others, such as poverty, retail job density, transportation availability and levels of air pollution. We have since seen clear data that confirm factors like these have all been linked to higher COVID-19 mortality rates. Recently, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the risk of becoming ill with the disease in a low-income community could be three times greater than in a high-income one. Those are the very insights our COVID Community Vulnerability Map surfaced back in March. The map had hundreds of thousands of views and helped enable efforts across the U.S. including one in South Carolina led by a group of students at the Medical University of South Carolina who used the map to direct educational outreach to South Carolina's most vulnerable patients and communities.

The insights from the map also served as the foundation for the COVID Patient Vulnerability Lists we created for our provider customers, as well as the other resources in our COVID Response Suite. Our team analyzed our customers’ patient populations to provide them with a prioritized list of those patients most vulnerable and at risk for experience a serious course of illness. The Jvion CORE also prioritized actions that could be taken to help change the course of risk for those patients.

It was exciting to see our customers get creative and put Jvion’s insights to use immediately.  At Grady Health System in Atlanta, clinicians used Jvion’s COVID Patient Vulnerability List to identify neighborhoods where mobile testing clinics were appropriate. Rather than having vulnerable patients come to the hospital and exposing themselves to the virus, Grady could test vulnerable patients in their community, and provide guidance and support. Meanwhile, CareATC in Alabama used the list to reach out to vulnerable patients between the ages of 45-60 and reaffirm the importance of staying home. This a demographic that at the time was the least adherent to social distancing guidelines, and more likely to have a severe course if infected.

Lizzy: What role has data played in healthcare’s ability to navigate the pandemic?

Dr. Showalter: Healthcare is flooded with data, but it struggles to extract relevant insights. How data points interact with each other is more important than the data itself. When developing the COVID Vulnerability Map we knew that SDOH factors would play a major role in understanding community vulnerability. Factors, such as income, access to transportation, pharmacies and nutritious food, housing stability, and proximity to environmental health hazards like air pollution, all have a demonstrated impact on patient outcomes, yet are often overlooked in clinical decision making.

In fact, in January we published a study in the American Journal of Managed Care that showed machine learning can accurately predict healthcare utilization based only on publicly available SDOH data. Applying machine learning in this way has the potential to positively affect health systems and improve outcomes at the individual and neighborhood level.

As COVID-19 inflicts widely disparate impacts on different communities, it’s now clearer than ever that we need to address SDOH as the root cause of inequalities in healthcare outcomes. It’s been exciting to work with providers, public health officials, community leaders and aid groups over the last few months to apply our Community Vulnerability Map to proactively support vulnerable communities during the pandemic.

I really believe we’ll come out of this pandemic with a greater appreciation for the impact of SDOH. As the pandemic accelerates the use of digital tools like telehealth, I think we’ll also see a digital transformation where more providers are using AI and data science to bring an understanding of SDOH factors into their clinical workflows.

Lizzy: Let’s talk about digital transformation. What has your experience been like over the years with innovation in the healthcare industry?

Dr. Showalter: When it comes to digital transformation in healthcare, one thing I’ve learned over the years is the critical importance of training and education. Not just training Jvion’s employees but training our customers on how to use clinical AI effectively to meet their goals, and dispelling misconceptions that can stand in the way of success. AI can be a complex concept that is often misunderstood. It’s only as useful as it is usable, so I realized it is up to us to make sure our customers understand how our products can empower them to reach their full potential.

In doing this training, we actually opened up communication between sales and clinicians and ended up receiving input from our customers. This input from end-users allowed us to innovate even more, and we ended up expanding our products from 4 to over 20 in my first year as Chief Product Officer. Collaborating with our customers also helped us refine Jvion’s end-to-end EHR integration to make it more useful for the nurses and doctors on the other end.

Of course, there is still resistance to clinical AI among many providers, so another thing we’ve realized in the importance of building a community of AI advocates to advance the cause. We recently worked with AIMed to launch AIMedConnect, which is a community group dedicated to advancing AI in healthcare and bridging the gap between AI vendors and clinicians. It’s essentially a forum to collaborate and build industry consensus on important issues like data usage, data security, eliminating bias, standardized evaluation of AI models, transparency, and mitigating clinician misconceptions of AI through training and education.

From these experiences, it’s clear to me that working with our end-users is the key for us to continuously innovate and provide our customers with the tools they don’t even know they’re looking for.

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When Modern Healthcare asked what he would say to people who have ideas but are afraid of failing, John’s advice was:

“Presenting a novel idea always carries the risk that others won’t see your vision or that the idea might fail. Still, it is important to know that you’re seen as a problem solver and contributing to solutions whether the idea takes off or not. It is OK to be afraid of failure or afraid of rejection, but leading in innovation means facing those fears and believing you and your ideas are worth the risk. And a few power poses before the presentation never hurt.”

More thoughtful commentary from Dr. Showalter can be found in Modern Healthcare’s publication recognizing him as an innovator.

 About the Award:

Every year, Modern Healthcare honors individuals who have displayed strong leadership and made a significant impact in the healthcare industry in the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare awards and recognition program. This program is driven by readers who can vote for their top choices, and the selected honorees are featured in Modern Healthcare’s annual ranking publication.