“We want to treat everyone with the dignity and care they deserve.”

Dr. Eric Eskioğlu has been at Novant Health for seven years, four in his current role. Early in his career, he worked as an aerospace engineer, where alongside his love of the aviation industry, he gained unique insights into safety, quality, and how to improve output, and he applies that perspective to healthcare. Now, he’s a fellowship trained vascular neurosurgeon, and spoke with us about his education, data, and how he stays motivated to work during difficult times.

What would you like to share about the power and potential of data?

Clean data is becoming the gold standard. With it, you can do predictive analytics, machine learning, and AI analytics at a higher level. It’s important for people we serve, especially the underserved populations, as they may lack access to regular health care. They may not have a cell phone, credit card, or be able to provide a comprehensive healthcare history. The deeper we get into their healthcare needs, the better we can identify and address these disparities. 

Recently, on LinkedIn, you said, “I am learning to master the delicate balance of my humanity with the business aspect of medicine to bring the best care ever for the patients I so love and serve.” How do you balance your personal and professional life?

I have a very understanding wife. She is the CEO at home, that stands for Chief Emotional Officer. I have three wonderful kids who know what Dad does. I don’t put an artificial barrier between me and my patients. I’ve been practicing for over 30 years, and I love hearing comments from patients on how their life is going. I have an incredible memory, so every time a patient texts me, I remember what the problem was. I’d like to think I’m unique in that, but I’m not. A majority of physicians went into medicine for altruistic reasons. This is what makes us tick. There’s no price you can put on that — when  a day is not looking that great, you receive a message from a grateful patient and you realize, this is what makes me work. This is why I do what I do.

You serve on Truveta’s Board of Governors. What is unique about Truveta’s approach?

I think Truveta has brought along health system leaders who really believe in the value of both clean data, and lots of lots of data. I’m really encouraged by the participation in our board meetings. Our visions align; that will propel us to the next level.

What does Truveta’s vision — saving lives with data — mean to you? 

What I’m personally excited about is the diversity of data in the de-identified data bank, that gives us a chance to train algorithms. We’re getting all the populations. What works in rural Montana is probably not going to work in rural Alabama. That’s what we’re trying to figure out. That’s the exciting part about Truveta. We can train algorithms, so we won’t have any racial or ethnic bias. If you work with a limited dataset, you may introduce bias without even knowing it. Whether it’s age groups, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation — there’s all sorts of ways to look at this. At the end of the day, we’re in it for our patients, regardless of their background. We want to treat everyone with the dignity and care they deserve.

How has the pandemic impacted your work over the last few years?

I was blessed that we started our digital transformation before the pandemic. Our team was ready to develop these models and put things in place. That showed our CEO, CFO, and our board, that continuing this path was the right thing to do. We learned from COVID: how we responded, how we tracked patients, and how we worked to equitably distribute vaccines. It also laid bare any deficiencies we had, especially in underserved communities.

This is the best democracy in the world. The basic premise of democracy is equal and equitable access to healthcare. If someone’s worried about their healthcare or if they can’t take care of their health, how can they have steady work? We need to fulfill that promise.

We’re hoping with Truveta’s help, we can cut back on unnecessary clinical variation. Every patient’s disease is like a fingerprint. A community of experts is going to decide what the standard of care is going to be. Our medical knowledge is doubling every 72 days. The data is going to land where it lands and let us know what the true north star is, rather than me assuming or going on anecdotal evidence, which medicine has done in the past.

Can you tell us about a pivotal moment or person in your life that changed the direction of your career?

I’ve been a patient myself. It’s humbling on the other side of the bed, not being in charge. I always look at it from that lens to see how I can improve things for patients. There was one patient who came to me on Christmas Eve and was not expected to survive. I said, “Let’s give it a shot, let’s see what happens.” She was with us in the hospital for two months. I didn’t think she was going to live. I promised her mother that one day I would have a family and if I had a daughter, I would name my daughter after her. My patient not only lived, but she became active in life, got married, and had a baby. I named my daughter after her. I can’t tell you how much pride I get in that. I treat my patients like my family members. That’s why they’ll tell me their anniversaries, when their daughter is getting married, anything. All these things really matter, and I’m proud of that.

What are you looking forward to next in the healthcare industry?

We have a lot of changes coming up. Some people look at that and say, “Disruption is here, what are we going to do?” I look at that, and I say, “Great! Let’s build it from scratch.” A lot of high-level executives leave the industry to try to have an impact. I think I still have the biggest impact in the provider space, disrupting from within healthcare organizations, rather than being on the outside. I’m getting into good trouble.

I’m excited that we’re going to be one of the first systems to use Truveta Studio. We already have a project with heart failure we identified that is near and dear to us. We’re like a kid in the candy store: What are you going to see? What’s the data going to show? Because the data doesn’t lie. Science is sometimes imperfect, but it is always precise. We’re excited to see what other findings we can get from the study on our heart failure patients. We want to see the downstream effect of lives saved and lives impacted. That is what’s exciting my teams.