Corner Office: Novant Health CMO Dr. Eric Eskioglu on why his team is embracing artificial intelligence

Eric Eskioglu, MD, brings both clinical neurosurgical experience and an aerospace engineering background to his role as executive vice president and CMO of Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Novant Health. 

Dr. Eskioglu, a practicing vascular neurosurgeon, was an aerospace engineer at AlliedSignal Aerospace Company and Boeing before beginning his healthcare career.  

He worked at Physicians Regional Healthcare System in Naples, Fla., and at Lee Health in Fort Myers, Fla. He later served as senior vice president of neurosciences for Novant Health before becoming CMO of the organization in 2018.

Dr. Eskioglu earned a Bachelor of Science in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the University of Arizona in Tucson and a medical degree from Kansas City-based University of Kansas medical school. He was the first inaugural Fellow at the National Institutes of Health with Pfizer Clinical Research Scholars program in Bethesda, Md. He completed his neurosurgery residency at Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University Medical Center and an additional endovascular/vascular neurosurgery fellowship at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville. 

Dr. Eskioglu recently spoke with Becker's and answered our seven "Corner Office" questions.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for length and style

Question: What is one thing that piqued your interest in healthcare?

Dr. Eric Eskioglu: A genuine feeling of helping people, the desire to help others.

Q: What do you enjoy most about the city you work in?

EE: I enjoy having to interact with not only patients but other thought leaders in medicine and trying to come up with out-of-the-box things that we can only dream of but make it a reality. I like making dreams reality. I just want to be able to advance Novant Health's cause for being the best healthcare system in the country, known for quality, safety, but also known for [a] tremendous amount of innovation that patients come to expect.

When you come to a hospital, you [should be able to expect] you're going to get great care. Unfortunately, healthcare is not there yet, but Novant Health is leading the charge to get to a point where the great care is going to be expected and it's going to be done, period. The other stuff, added value, is going to be how we personalize this care to each patient and how we apply precision medicine to each patient to further their care and to make it really a worthwhile experience for them in their hour of need and make it less stressful for them.

Q: If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems overnight, which would it be?

EE: It's the bureaucracy, and it's the amount of data we must deal with. I hate to say this, but I almost feel like a lot of our physicians and nurse practitioners, they spend a lot of their time — 20 percent, 30 percent, sometimes 40 percent of their time — acting as data entry clerks. I would like to eliminate that and give them the joy of practicing medicine and taking care of patients, which is why we went into this field in the first place.

Q: What do you consider your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite?

EE: My greatest accomplishment is being a father. I'm a father of three kids, and I take pride in raising kids. They are going to be good members of society and have empathy for people. That's my biggest accomplishment. Besides that, because I come from an aerospace engineering background, I feel like I'm very analytical, and also to that point, very detail-oriented. I want to apply all the safety rules and techniques we have in other industries, especially in the aerospace industry, to medicine. I feel that's the dimension I bring to medicine as a person who was outside the system before and became a doctor and knows the opportunities in medicine, how we can embed technology to not only make the safety and quality of our patient care superb, but also be able to give the gift of time back to the physicians and nurse practitioners so they enjoy what they're doing.

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

EE: I'm a voracious reader. I read things that are not healthcare over the weekends and the evenings. I read a lot of books. I read a lot of newspapers. I subscribe to the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal. I read things that are not related to healthcare because I think it helps me gain a perspective for healthcare better and be able to look at other areas where you can apply things to healthcare. That's one of the ways I release stress.

The second way is I take time off with my family. They're my sanctuary when I go home. I don't discuss business. I create space for me and my family to have vacations. I think if you don't do that, you burn out as a leader. At the end, you get so enmeshed in your work that you become unproductive. I totally believe in recharging. I believe in working really hard, but also recharging really hard as well.

Q: What's one piece of advice you remember most clearly?

EE: I was [recently] thinking about my journey to becoming a courageous leader. It is still continuing on, was not swift, and it definitely was not smooth. I want people to know that the journey to become a courageous leader is definitely trodden with a lot of obstacles, a lot of setbacks. Each of these setbacks were important for me because they made me gain wisdom, and resilience and empathy. They nurtured me in a way that I could turn them into success. As a leader, you're going to have setbacks. The higher you move up, the more possibility for setbacks. I've learned from that to be resilient, and not let them get me down, and be able to swiftly move on to something that I can use that as a rallying call. I think it's very important for people to understand that leadership path is not smooth and swift. Use the setbacks as rallying strength. [Sir] Winston Churchill had a good saying. He said, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement at Novant Health so far?

EE: I work with tremendous people that are as smart or smarter than me and that I can trust. Our team's biggest achievement, I think, is being able to pivot towards artificial intelligence as a team. I feel artificial intelligence in healthcare is going to be the fourth industrial revolution. It's going to [bring] a tremendous amount of value to our patients, our physicians, our nurse practitioners, our physician assistants. I feel like we started this journey about six months ago. We are so far ahead of a lot of other systems.

A process I designed to help move us to success is what I call AFECT. The first part is alignment. Alignment is both internal and external, and most divergent groups. For artificial intelligence, we've been able to align our clinical leaders, administrative leaders, as well as digital products services leaders on the same goal: How we're going to put patient in the middle of AI and design our AI around the patient. Next came focus. We were able to focus down to two projects that everybody could agree that we knew it was going to be great wins. One of them is around using artificial intelligence to reduce readmission in heart failure patients. The other is going to be pneumonia readmission prevention using artificial intelligence. Now we are at the stage of execution and we are starting to execute ["E"] on those projects.

Then the two [other steps that are part of AFECT], we haven't reached those yet. I'm hoping that we'll reach them in the next couple of months. Once we execute, guess what? "C" comes with celebration. We want that to celebrate with our team. The team shares in the joys and the tribulations we went through to get to this project and seeing its fruition and seeing how much of a difference it makes in patients' lives. The last one is "T," and I call it transformation because once you go through that AFECT, you've transformed the organization.


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