As a young adult, Lynne VanArsdale began looking at colleges with the intention of becoming a doctor. With parents in health care careers, it seemed a likely progression. But her dad, who foretold of the industry’s future, advised her to take a different course. So VanArsdale pursued a path in data and today is the health information exchange innovation program manager with the Colorado Regional Health Information Organization. She said, if not as a doctor, she always hoped to one day use her talents to improve health care.
VanArsdale spoke with the Business Journal this week about predicting the future, providing people with the knowledge to take control of their wellness and seeing the forest for the trees.
Are you from Colorado?
I was born and raised in Rochester, N.Y., and, when I was 17, I decided I didn’t really like the Northeast very much. I went to Cornell University for my undergraduate degree and North Carolina State for my graduate degree. Then I went to Houston, Texas [for my husband’s career] and worked for a number of different companies in high tech. My husband had been teaching for about 20-plus years as a college professor in mechanical engineering, and I was traveling a lot for work. He said, ‘The next place you go that you really like — we’ll move there.’ The next place I traveled was here. As I was flying in, I fell in love.
When did you move here?
In 2000 — within that year, I had six job offers, all in the Springs. I moved in February 2001 and accepted a job as product manager for Quantum.
Has your career always been tech-focused?
I started as associate scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center [in Houston] working for Lockheed. We were doing earth observation through satellite imagery … and we were inventorying the world’s forests. So we would look at signature images for leaves and needles and pieces of trees and create a mathematical model that would enable us to take large pictures and do an inventory about how much acreage was in what kind of forestation. It was really fun. We were on the forefront of voice recognition to manipulate [satellite] cameras.
I also did a lot of computing and was recruited by Sun Microsystems. … I worked for them just as they went public. We grew the [Houston] office from 10 people to almost 100 people. We took over the computing capability for a lot of government [entities], NASA, universities, and also the oil and gas industry.
How did you end up in health care?
About nine years ago, I was working for a company that was creating integration software, something called web services. We had an automation tool that I saw had a lot of applications to health care.
My dad was a doctor and my mom was a nurse, so I always had a soft place in my heart for health care and making the health care system better. When I first went to college, I wanted to be a doctor. My dad said, ‘You don’t want to be a doctor. Everything is going to change.’
This was back in the ’70s. He totally predicted the future. He said Medicare and Medicaid have changed everything. Everything will go to insurance companies telling you what you can and can’t do as a doctor. He said he saw the beginnings of it, and he was losing sleep every night.
At a certain point I understood that integration is the key for having technology help the health care system. I started to create a product line around health care for Rolta, a company based in Mumbai, India. … I was hired as director of product management for this group and left Rolta to do a Ph.D. program in health care information technology at [University of Colorado] Denver Anschutz.
But research wasn’t for me … so I stopped pursuing the Ph.D., but had enough of the program to get my master’s. I got my Master of Science degree in clinical sciences in May of last year and went to work at CORHIO in August .
What does your position entail?
I’m program manager for innovation for the Health Information Exchange for half of Colorado. There’s [Quality Health Network] and there’s CORHIO. We’re innovating a number of products and services that will help everybody. We want everyone who can use this information to get it.
There’s a lot that needs to be done in terms of cleaning up the data and organizing the data so people can improve their workflow. We’re putting together things that improve patient event notification. If someone goes into the ER, there’s an indication in the workflow for any connected practice out there. There’s a notification for the insurance company that says they’re in the ER and makes sure, when they’re discharged, they go someplace they’ll be covered.
We’re getting into interesting ideas on risk stratification because the health care system is moving toward capitation and bundled payment. But providers and insurers don’t have a good idea of what the patient’s risk is to the provider.
Where does CORHIO stand today?
Everyone who should be connected is. Our initial push was for connectivity — hospital systems and ambulatory — and we’re continuing work on that. There are doctors still on paper records, especially in rural areas. We’ve gotten to the low-hanging fruit, and now we’re focused on those who can’t connect and get the data.
How has data become part of health care?
When insurance companies came into the picture, everyone transferred their risk to the insurance companies. … We’re realizing that doesn’t really work. Insurance companies don’t exactly have the right motivation. They’ve steered us toward health care and not health creation. Health creation is where people are continually creating their own health — as you change, as your situation changes, as your community changes, you’re creating health. Health care is the back end — you get sick and take care of it.
Health creation is more than preventive care; it’s a culture and the way people think. You’re always having to figure out how to live a healthy life because things change all the time. This health creation idea is starting to take hold.
Health data enables you to see the whole picture, and that’s critically important today because people don’t have just one doctor. People don’t have just one way to create health. It’s a broad spectrum. They may go to acupuncture, they may go to a health club, they may meditate. Having that data available to everyone helping someone create their own health is critically important to making it work.
Is health care broken in the United States?
Can data fix it?
I think data is a support element … but the most important thing is the person. They need to have information about themselves and their opportunities and risks to make the right decisions in their lives. We need to have more information accessible in two places: One is workflow for those providing care, and the second is to the patient, the person.
That is complicated because of security and privacy and making it accessible cognitively — knowing what they’re looking at and making it useful. There’s a lot that needs to be done on the cognitive and information support side.
But I feel if people know the probability of consequence to a lifestyle, most will make the right decision. But they have to know and apply it. It’s not just translating the words — it’s making it meaningful to a person. That’s a really exciting area. … The company doing the most in this area is IBM Watson. I’m really interested in seeing what they end up doing. I think that will be the way health care goes — supported by information.
Is Colorado Springs a good place for this kind of work?
This is great community to do what I’m doing. I stayed in Colorado Springs because of the culture here. It has the heart to do the right things for people and I’m privileged to be a part of that. I’m so excited about what the Community Health Partnership does, what AspenPointe does, what Colorado Springs Health Foundation is doing — we’re really making changes in the world.