Mayo Clinic Health System president sees 'major and bold transformation' ahead

Prathibha Varkey, MBBS, is excited about the future of healthcare.

As the president of Mayo Clinic Health System, she is responsible for Mayo Clinic's community branch that includes 15 hospitals, 50-plus multispecialty clinics and 15,000 employees across Minnesota and Wisconsin. Her focus is on furthering digital transformation and leveraging generative AI for more personalized medicine and optimized workforce.

Dr. Varkey sat down with the "Becker's Healthcare Podcast" to share the four big trends she's following right now and how she's thinking about growth, ending the conversation by noting: "The future is no doubt exciting, and we are on the threshold of major and bold transformation," she said.

No doubt Mayo Clinic is ready to lead the way. In early January, the system selected Cerebras as its first generative AI collaborator for large-scale, domain-specific AI capabilities. The partnership aims to develop models for summarizing medical records, identifying patterns in medical imaging and analyzing genome data. The multi-million dollar, and several years-long, contract also has Cerebras providing hardware and software development services to Mayo.

Question: What are the big trends you are following right now?

Dr. Prathibha Varkey: It's a very exciting and transformative time in healthcare, and four trends come to mind. There is no question that we have multiple discoveries occurring at warp speed, whether it is in molecular biology and technology, reimagining drug discovery and development, multiple-omics including regenerative biotherapeutics to prevent, treat and even cure devastating diseases and rare illnesses, and precision medicine bringing personalized care across diseases.

We also have incredible digital health transformation, including AI that will undoubtedly play a key role in redesigning many aspects of healthcare, and finally robotics and automation that is likely to improve efficiency in administrative and relative care workflows.

The second trend that is exciting and evolving is innovative and convenient diagnostics and personalized care in settings outside clinics and hospitals, truly bringing care to the whole person.

Third, and a personal favorite of mine, is further evolution of population health, including value-based care models and prevention with much greater focus on wellness and proactive management of chronic diseases.

Fourth, the new workforce is pushing for more flexibility at work and getting the culture right in hybrid work environments. Overall, perhaps what I'm most inspired by is an acceleration of people coming together and partnerships that are focused on solving complex problems together.

Q: Fascinating. How are you thinking about growth and development at Mayo Clinic Health System for the next two to three years?

PV: Our biggest accomplishment as a team this year has been on organizational transformation, and we really look forward to continuing a disciplined and passionate focus on organizational excellence and furthering cultural transformation at Mayo Clinic Health System in the next couple of years. This will include growing our team through innovative recruitment efforts, partnering with local community colleagues and residencies, fortifying our team's capabilities, as well as continued focus on leadership development.

We'll continue to grow and expand seamless integration of digital health with in-person visits, true conversion to total digital pathology, expanding care at home and enhancing workflows through AI and automation while investing further in community engagement and growing our value-based programs through our population health strategy and sharing many of these learnings with our other institutions MCHS community and rural health symposium.

Q: What a great opportunity to share ideas and inspire others. Speaking of AI, Mayo has been at the forefront of digital transformation and incorporating AI into healthcare for a long time. Can you tell me any more about your focus there?

PV: That is a big priority for us. At Mayo Clinic, our vision is to lead the transformation of healthcare and through a relentless pursuit of excellence and innovation, bring hope and healing to those who seek care. Under the leadership of our CEO, Dr. Gianrico Farrugia, we launched the Center for Digital Health and Mayo Clinic Platform ahead of the pandemic and have built a new research department for AI and informatics.

We have more than 300 AI projects led by our staff at Mayo Clinic in various stages of maturity, from vetting for feasibility to building algorithms and models to those that have been clinically implemented and transformed our practice already. We also have a unique repository of clinical data, and we have formed partnerships with multiple industry experts to explore further the various aspects of AI to transform healthcare.

There's no question that with emerging capabilities and the science of AI we can reach even more patients and create new ways to diagnose, treat, predict, prevent and cure disease, whether it is in selecting and matching patients with the most promising clinical trials, developing and deploying remote health monitoring devices or leveraging imaging technology to anticipate disease years in advance of symptoms with the rapidly evolving progress in generative AI and large language models.

Q: What do you see ahead for AI in healthcare?

PV: We believe there are multiple opportunities in reducing administrative burden and documentation and workflows, as well as providing more intelligent and proactive data analytics to augment diagnosis and previously undiagnosed illnesses. As our Mayo Clinic colleagues have proven in detecting pancreatic cancers early and helping primary care providers in Mayo Clinic Health System, for example, to detect cardiac failure early in EKGs from Apple watches.

As we look into the future, I'm sure there will also be fundamental development of much needed rules for trustworthy AI and large language models, and guidelines through a greater platform approach, partnerships of healthcare organizations, tech innovators, researchers and government agencies coming together to solve the same issues.

It'll also be important to ensure that these tools are safe, equitable, widely available and used to augment and not just supplement, care and provide empathetic, safe and high quality care for all.

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