Nanobyte insights: Providence’s Chief Digital and Innovation Officer Aaron Martin shares why he returned to healthcare

After a nine-year stint at Amazon leading the retail giant’s self-publishing and print-on-demand business, Aaron Martin returned to the healthcare space in July 2016 as senior vice president and chief digital officer of Renton, Wash.-based Providence.

Mr. Martin spent the early part of his career in healthcare, working as an engagement manager at McKinsey & Company’s healthcare practice where he advised senior executives in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. He then pivoted into the technology sector and served in executive and board positions with a handful of startups before landing at Amazon in 2005.

While overseeing Amazon’s CreateSpace business, Mr. Martin came across other tech job opportunities, but it wasn’t until he was presented with the job at Providence that he chose to leave the retail giant and bring his combined healthcare and IT experience to the new role at the health system. Mr. Martin told Becker’s Hospital Review that the decision ultimately boiled down to two reasons: Providence’s leadership and mission. 

Described as “one of the most mission-driven organizations” he’s ever worked for, Mr. Martin said it’s Providence’s ethos of serving the entire community, including the poor and vulnerable, that attracted him to the organization. That, coupled with the forward-leaning leadership of President and CEO Rod Hochman, MD, and Mike Butler, operations and strategy president, convinced him of the opportunity. Mr. Martin said he recalls first meeting with Dr. Hochman and Mr. Butler, who zeroed-in on discussions about topics that back then were “two horizons away,” such as industry consumerization that would fuel major disruption in healthcare.

“They kind of had me at ‘Hello’,” Mr. Martin said. “It was one of those things where you start thinking of the possibilities in a new job and if you’re obsessing about what you could do there, then it’s probably time to take that new position.”

Here, Mr. Martin shares some of his own thoughts and rapid-fire insights on health IT innovations, from healthcare’s biggest disruptors to the future of artificial intelligence.

Editor’s note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: Mac or PC? 

Aaron Martin: This is going to sound weird and very political but both. I run Windows on a Mac laptop, so I like Apple’s hardware but I like the Microsoft software because I’ve been using it since birth.

Q: iPhone or Android? 

AM: iPhone.

Q: What has been your go-to tech device during the pandemic? 

AM: Probably my phone.

Q: What innovation or technology has made the biggest difference in your organization’s COVID-19 response? 

AM: In terms of what my team has done, I’ll give you three. The first is the Grace chatbot we built and then integrated Microsoft’s natural language processing tech with it to allow patients to self assess for COVID-19. The second is our same-day care platform DexCare, which allows our clinicians to see patients via video after they self assess as being at risk for the coronavirus. And the third is a combination of our remote patient monitoring platform Twistle and our digital health tools prescribing platform Xealth.

Q: What’s the No. 1 tech device you couldn’t live without at work? 

AM: Probably my Macbook.  

Q: What’s your go-to voice assistant: Amazon Alexa, Google Home or Apple Siri? 

AM: Amazon Alexa. She just woke up and she’s right next to me, so she’ll probably talk in a second.

Q: If you could add any tool to your EHR tomorrow, what would it be? 

AM: The good news is that I can add any tool to my EHR tomorrow because that’s what Xealth does. We have the ability to integrate pretty quickly new technologies on the fly; we stood up that remote patient monitoring platform in a matter of about three days.

Q:  Which retail or tech giant will be the biggest disrupter to healthcare? 

AM: I think it’s going to be a tie but in very different markets. In the millennial/commercial market, it will probably be Amazon. And in the Medicare market, it will probably be Walmart. 

Q: If you could only have three apps on your phone, which would you choose? 

AM: I’m a checklist guy so I would say this app called Any.Do that I use and then probably Twitter and Outlook.

Q: What excites you most about the future of AI in healthcare? 

AM: On the patient facing side, I think AI is fundamentally going to solve a big problem in healthcare. If you do the math of the demographics and how many patients are going to need to be taken care of – first baby boomers and then millennials after that – the supply of providers will not meet the demand of patients. AI will help take over in low acuity and low risk situations so clinicians can practice at their top of license.

Q: What’s one professional skill you’re currently focused on? 

AM: In the context of COVID-19, myself and my leadership team are spending a lot more time in one-on-ones, leadership meetings and all hands meetings to try and preserve that connection with the team. Connecting is a little bit easier if you’re all in the office together, but we’re still working remotely.

Q: What is one health tool you think should stay analog? 

AM: The connection between the clinician – who is in the clinic room or at the bedside – and the patient needs to stay analog. We call this connection the sacred encounter; technology should improve this connection by removing distractions such as EMR documentation and paperwork to make the encounter as frictionless as possible.

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