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HIStalk Interviews Diana Nole, CEO, Wolters Kluwer Health

March 9, 2020 Interviews No Comments

Diana Nole, MBA is CEO of Wolters Kluwer Health.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’ve been at Wolters Kluwer for five years, and in and around healthcare since 2006, starting in the radiology area. Wolters Kluwer focuses on the education of medical practitioners, nurses, and pharmacists and helping them with clinical decision support tools and ongoing educational tools. The business itself is a little over $1 billion and has around 3,000 employees. We employ a lot of clinical people, which is a rarity among vendors. We couple technology and clinical expertise.

What progress has been made in turning research findings into frontline provider decision support?

We are heavily focused on that area. People search journals for a tremendous number of use cases. One of our core clinical decision support tools, UpToDate, was created from the discovery that you can’t just have somebody looking through all the journals, yet you need this information updated and you need it in the actual practice of decision-making and the clinical workflow. Even within UpToDate, we still serve up the information based on what the clinician is asking for, kind of the “Google for doctors,” but deeply curated and precise.

A customer told me they love the product, but don’t want to completely rely on the doctor knowing what to look for. More and more we are integrating the information with the EHR systems to support the patient context. We can serve up the most relevant topics for the topics for that particular patient. That’s why we introduced UpToDate Pathways. 

On the journal’s content, we continue to look for things that would be easier to absorb. We’ve applied artificial intelligence to pharmacovigilance for the life sciences industry, where we can sort the information that they’re looking for so that information that is more relevant and might need to be addressed sooner appears right at the top.

We continue to talk with customers about what they do with the information after they get it. What other systems do they need to have it integrated in? What’s the workflow? That will be more and more of our focus — deeply integrating it into the practical workflow. There’s an overwhelming amount of information for those who are practicing.

What’s involved with tailoring the information to the patient level?

You rely on interoperability with the EHR systems. We always have it resident within — you can launch it from the EHR — but more and more we’re trying to have relevant information from the patient record passed into UpToDate, which can then augment a search, but it can also tell you that clinical pathways exist for this particular context of this patient.

Let’s say they have AFib and you need to figure out the best treatment pathway, with particulars about this patient. What other kinds of things are you dealing with in terms of this patient? That helps get the evidence and the information that you want to look at down to a smaller, personalized set.

How do you see artificial intelligence affecting your business and healthcare in general?

It’s a big topic. I’m smiling because of my computer science background, where I always think technology should make something more useful. We are applying it, like many other vendors, and trying to be pragmatic. We’ve all seen these big taglines where the robot will see you versus the doctor. We don’t think that’s going to be be the immediate use of AI. We’re focusing on how to reduce variability in care. 

We even start way back at education. How is the person educated? It’s not in a lecture hall any more. Now we have tools that use AI and do adaptive testing, so the student can self-test their knowledge. You can’t game the system – it asks the student in many different ways how they would answer certain things. That has been proven to get a much deeper level of education and clinical judgment, to  get them ready to get out there.

Other specific use cases involve strong evidence, where you just need the information quicker. We are applying AI to areas like sepsis detection, C. diff, another hospital-acquired infection. AI that can constantly learn the pattern that indicates that a patient may be experiencing it can make the information available sooner. It can be better than a human at continually checking those things.

In my prior world of radiology, AI will be applied to some promising areas involving the images themselves that will help the radiologist. We’re seeing a good impact and tangible improvements.

How much of clinical practice can be directly supported by available evidence? Do you have to consider in product design that recommendations aren’t as black and white to the clinician as they are to the computer?

Everybody wants to help a patient get better. The patient themselves always wants to get better. But so many breakdowns exist within the system, so that even if the doctor follows the evidence guidelines, will the rest of the care team play out and will the patient follow it? It was surprising to me so see on a recent survey just how often that doesn’t happen.

Why somebody might choose to not follow the evidence is probably a deep psychological issue. In addition to having toolsets, not everything is black and white. Clinicians build their knowledge base through other assets, such as talking with their fellow clinicians. There’s also complexity, and sometimes in the most complex cases, I have to make a decision, see the result, and then take another fork in the decision-making and see what that is.

Where we focus is to your earlier point. For certain practices where there is extremely strong evidence, there shouldn’t be any reason to not follow it. That is being more and more adopted. People ask, if we move from from fee-for-service to value-based care, will that push it even further? I think maybe it does, but in general, everybody is trying to get access to the evidence in the best way possible way and to follow it, but there are definitely places where that can fall down.

What is coronavirus teaching about using technology to address a quickly changing and widespread medical situation?

People have compared and contrasted it with SARS and other things in the past. Getting constant news and updates is creating a lot of uncertainty. What should I be thinking? What should I be doing? We and other vendors are trying to help by putting the best evidence and information out there so we can get people focused on the facts at hand and how to treat it best. 

People are being prudent at the settings they put themselves in. They are saying, why put ourselves at risk for further issues by having conferences, meetings, or heavy travel? People are starting to be much wiser about that.

What is different now than in the past is this constant update of information and the lack of true facts on what situations you should avoid. They are in contrast with one another. We need to focus on the facts at hand, what people really know about the situation.

How are providers and life sciences companies using technology to work together on research?

Our Health Language product, which normalizes data, is being used in a life sciences setting for post-clinical trials, where a drug is out in treatment. They are getting data from patients who are using the drug in real time from EHR and other systems. They normalize it to potentially adjust the treatment pathway for this specific patient, and then more quickly understand through their own research whether things need to be modified.

It was impressive to me to learn how this normalization tool can be used in such a great way. In the past it, it probably fell apart a bit — how you get the data out, make sense of it, and do that across so many disparate systems. At least nowadays, everybody really is in a digital record of some type. That’s on the back end for the treatment purposes, but obviously you can see where people could get access to data and then try to work on things across systems of data. That will hopefully help solve problems like coronavirus and others more quickly.

Do you have any final thoughts?

I really am glad that I made the move into healthcare from a vendor perspective in 2006. I continue to be so impressed with the people who I get to work with and the customers I get to interface with. There are big problems out there, but I see tremendous tenacity and passion for trying to solve them.

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