Health System Spotlight: Karl Hightower, Chief Data Officer at Novant Health - Truveta

Health System Spotlight: Karl Hightower, Chief Data Officer at Novant Health

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This type of work is the backbone of how we cure chronic diseases.” 

Can you tell us about your role at Novant Health? 

The Chief Data Officer position was created to better leverage data as a strategic asset. It really comes down to having information at your fingertips to make decisions. Healthcare has a tremendous amount of data, and the focus is on how we best organize and position ourselves to make those decisions going forward. It’s a big opportunity to make a difference. 

Are there any unexpected skills that you’ve pulled from other industries you’ve worked in?  

It comes down to listening and understanding what people are trying to do. There’s a lot of empathy. You put yourselves in their situation — what are they trying to do, how are they making those decisions? You have to get people into the mindset of using data as an operational point. I think it’s a complex, but it’s also a great opportunity for improvement in general processes.  

What have you learned about the power and potential of data? 

Within health and wellness, data that is compiled when you see a doctor or you’re in a hospital marks just one point in time. It’s when we can collect points of data across a period of time that we can create a much better picture of one’s health. With this clearer picture, the pathways open to provide personalized medicine. This requires managing extremely large sets of data…and navigating them well.  

What does Truveta’s vision mean to you? 

I think it aligns perfectly with the reason why I got into healthcare in the first place. By analyzing data over a period of time, we can identify patterns in chronic diseases. If you’re looking at one visit at a time, you’re not seeing the person, you’re not seeing the problem or the disease and you’re not putting all this data together to create a larger mural. It’s imperative. This type of work is the backbone of how we can cure chronic diseases.  

You serve on the Data Integration Commission within Truveta’s Board of Governors. What do you think is unique about Truveta’s approach? 

I think the amount of data and how we’re organizing it to work in one platform provides research potential for people to explore. A bigger aspect that we were looking for was partnership. Only through a greater community can you share experiences, learn best practices and improve the way patients are cared for across our industry.  

How has your professional community impacted your growth or success?  

As the community continues to grow and you meet more people within it, you start to get more ideas, and a different group of people can bounce ideas off each other. It’s one of the things I missed about going to conferences and seeing people in person. 

You get to ask, “How did you go about solving for these things? What are you looking at doing next? What are some of the ways you’re going to incorporate all of this data?” Problem-solving and getting to meet those different people is what I look forward to the most. You’re always looking for new ways to solve problems and you can get inspiration from how people work together. 

In what other ways has your work changed during the pandemic? 

I’m at home! I almost forgot how to drive. Before this, I was on the road almost every single day going to a different hospital or a different office. You get to spend more time with your family, your children, all the things that should be front and center and primary in your life. But, at the same time, it takes away some of the impromptu conversations that can often be beneficial. People need to be around each other. There’s a level of creativity and inspiration that comes from being near each other. We need to continue to explore how to bring that team aspect to a virtual world.  

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

I’m fortunate, I’ve worked for really great bosses and mentors. They let me explore my own boundaries of what I’m capable of. There are bosses who let you explore those spaces or push you into things that you weren’t exactly comfortable with before. That’s shaped how I want to lead. I create an environment for my teams to grow and do things they weren’t necessarily comfortable with, but they have the potential to do. And, my wife is my biggest encourager. She’s been a good sounding board, and given the last two years, if you don’t have that type of partnership at home or that relationship with your family, it’s been tougher for people to manage.  

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

I’m looking forward to dispersion of care. I’m really looking forward to the devices that allow people to have more information at their disposal. And more remote, guided solutions. While you’re looking at mobile apps or your watch band…you set guidelines for people to work with the collected data as they understand it. If you understand your glucose levels, how different food impacts you, how different stress impacts you, people can start to look at how they manage their health and their wellness overall. It will help start to stem the tide of chronic diseases because people will have more information and partnerships with providers to get care. We’re all looking at how to get to the tricorder on Star Trek, to scan everything and diagnose it in the palm of your hand. I think that’s one of those north stars we have to keep pushing for. We’re making progress. We have to look at how we take all the information, in all the ways of collecting it, and make it usable, make it a tool that can be leveraged accordingly.   

As we continue to work on our platform, now we look at how to start to expand our horizons to work and partner with other teams. Truveta has given us confirmation of all the things that we’ve been working on — that we were not only down the right path, but there are others who are pushing that envelope just as much as we are.  

 

Truveta is the world’s first health system-led data platform with the vision of saving lives with data. Truveta aims to help researchers find cures faster, empower every clinician to be an expert, and help families make informed decisions about their care. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter for more information.