A Commitment To Care


Applied Radiology recently spoke with Rasu Shrestha, MD, Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer and Executive Vice President at Atrium Health in Charlotte, North Carolina. This article is based on that conversation.

When Rasu Shrestha, MD, MBA, and his leadership team at Atrium Health in in Charlotte, NC, looked ahead to 2020, they felt an enthusiasm for what they thought would be a pivotal year developing their “Destination 2025” strategic roadmap. “Little did we know that it was going to be even more of a pivotal year – not because of our enthusiasm, but because of the pandemic,” Dr. Shrestha says. “So in March, when we like the rest of the world started to grapple with the gravity of the situation that we were in, we quickly pivoted from the initial kickoff to the strategy planning work.”

The team discussed internally about where they were as an organization and where they needed to be, all through the new lens of the pandemic. This level of critical thinking and questioning was crucial to their ability to quickly change course during the pandemic while establishing a long-term strategic plan for a future beyond the pandemic.  “Crisis breeds opportunity and scarcity breeds creativity,” he says. “We asked, ‘how do we optimize the specifics of handling the reality of the pandemic itself?’”

As executive vice president and chief strategy and transformation officer for Atrium Health, Dr. Shrestha is responsible for the organization’s enterprise strategy. In addition, he spearheads a focus on innovation and launching new healthcare inventions, discoveries and ideas to benefit the patients and communities Atrium Health serves. He’s also one of Applied Radiology’s longstanding editorial advisory board members.

A commitment to care

As the largest healthcare system in the region, not-for-profit Atrium Health is committed to the communities it serves. Like many organizations of its kind, Atrium is coping with the serious economic ramifications brought on by the pandemic.

The organization is also committed to addressing social impact and dealing directly with the gravity of the societal tensions that emerged in 2020. “[They] highlighted the disparities that exist in how we need to parlay care across the communities that we need to serve,” Dr. Shrestha says, noting that the challenges brought a new level of awareness that the health system can – and must – do better.

This includes leveraging capabilities like artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots and virtual care models, as well as researching antibody studies and therapeutics, while using data and analytics to close societal iniquities. “We are so much stronger together, but we also need to be smarter in how we serve our patients and our communities,” he says.

There’s also a renewed focus nationwide on safely reopening the economy, as the US begins to distribute vaccines and therapeutics. “We're ready right now and so excited about what's going to come next, because even as we're grappling with the realities of the pandemic, we know that it's going to be a different world on the other side,” Dr. Shrestha says.

The Global Truths of COVID-19

Dr. Shrestha believes it’s essential to transform health care through what he calls “the five truths” he’s learned from the pandemic. The first truth, he says, is that our community is global. “This is not a virus that affects just one subset of the population or one country,” he says. “It is an equalizer across the board.”

Second, the walls between medicine and public health no longer exist. Third, the walls between health sciences and life sciences have also come down.  “When you think about the coming together of big data and big pharma, or when you think about the rapid evolution of clinical trials, pharmacogenomics and vaccine development – the transformative value of these shifts is really important to comprehend,” he says.  Fourth, the cloud, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence are essential tools. “These are not just aspirational elements. These are must-have foundational components,” he says.  Fifth, fee-for-service health care has failed the test of the pandemic.

“If there’s one thing that we can learn as a healthcare system coming out of the pandemic, it’s the need for us to really focus and prioritize,” Dr. Shrestha says. “This strikes the right balance of focusing in on clarity versus certainty, because you can’t guarantee certainty.“  “The biggest thing that really excites me,” he adds, “is the opportunity for us to be clear in terms of what our strategic imperatives are, how we’re going to achieve those, and be really sharp in prioritizing and executing to these priorities.”

In October, Atrium Health announced that it plans to form a new enterprise with Winston-Salem, NC-based Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and its affiliated medical school. The combined organization will create a regional system with more than 40 hospitals, along with a second campus of the Wake Forest School of Medicine to be located in Charlotte.

A relationship built on trust

Dr. Shrestha distills his longstanding relationship with Applied Radiology down to one word: Trust. In the information era, when consumers and clinicians are inundated with mis- and disinformation, knowing what information outlets to trust can be challenging.  “I look at Applied Radiology as a journal that I can trust. I think the role for Applied Radiology in the next 50 years is to be that arbiter of trust, to bring in valuable information, contextualize it to the specifics of the practices, the radiologist, and the future generations of clinicians and the practitioners of this art of medicine,” he says.

The value of RSNA 2020

In 2016, Dr. Shrestha wrote a piece for Applied Radiology called “The Illusion of Communication,” which discussed the pitfalls of human communication in radiology, and how technology can be a barrier instead of a facilitator of connections. Yet when he reflects on 2020’s all-virtual Radiological Society of North America Annual Scientific Meeting and Exhibition, he says he’s impressed by those who have leveraged technology’s ability to enhance communication and connections under adverse circumstances. Pre-COVID, virtual meetings were straightforward webinars, streamed to mobile devices or computers. Now they’re immersive virtual experiences, rich with digital elements that encourage interaction and bring out the best in presenters and participants.

Upon the eventual return of in-person meetings, Dr. Shrestha says he’ll miss the digital breakout rooms and other tools that facilitated multi-party brainstorming activities not possible during analog, in-person meetings. He says he’ll even miss the basic chat functions that help create a new kind of engagement during presentations. “We’ve really come a long way,” he says. “I believe that whether it’s RSNA or any other conference, the future of meetings and how we engage and collaborate will forever look different. I believe when I look at the future of these sorts of meetings, virtual is here to stay.”

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A Commitment To Care.  Appl Radiol. 

By McKenna Bryant| January 21, 2021

About the Author

McKenna Bryant

McKenna Bryant

McKenna Bryant is a freelance healthcare writer based in Nashotah, WI.

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