Providence taps new chief digital officer after predecessor returns to Amazon

Providence has named Sara Vaezy its new chief digital officer and executive vice president a month after the health system’s last chief digital officer left for Amazon.

Vaezy previously served as chief of digital and growth strategy at Providence, where she worked to build and maintain organizational relationships with digital and innovation teams, venture capital firms, industry analysts and other companies while designing the health system’s strategies for digital innovation and commercialization.

“Our team built a strong digital platform and foundation for growth and transformation,” said Vaezy in a statement. “I’m excited to lead our efforts to apply that foundation in new ways that make a difference to both our organization and others outside of Providence through commercialized solutions.”

Along with Vaezy’s promotion, Shweta Ponnappa has been tapped as the health system’s chief marketing and digital experience officer, where she will handle marketing and digital experiences across the health system’s 52 hospitals and 1,085 clinics.

Providence’s last chief digital officer, Aaron Martin, spent eight years at the health system before leaving to serve as vice president of Amazon’s healthcare division.

During his time at Providence, Martin oversaw the creation and spinoff of digital health companies DexCare and Xealth as part of Providence Health’s Digital Innovation Group.

Martin joined Providence in 2014 from Amazon, where he directed content acquisition efforts for the tech giant’s Kindle and Print on Demand platforms.

While digital health companies once trailed far behind long-standing health systems, those companies now pose a significant competitive threat. A March report from the Chartis Group revealed most health systems ranked virtual health companies, tied with other hospitals and health systems, as their top rivals in digital transformation.

Hospitals and health systems across the country are investing in digital innovation out of necessity, but most can’t keep up with the pace of virtual care companies. Only 13% of hospitals and health systems felt they were ahead of the pace of change expected by patients, according to the report, and only 11% of health systems said they’d made it to the implementation phase of their digital transformation strategies.

Amazon and other tech companies loom large in healthcare, too. More than a third of health system executives said they see tech giants as their highest competitive threat.

Providence reported a hefty net operating loss of $714 million last year, more than double its $306 million loss in 2020.

The health system’s net income also fell to $812 million from the prior year’s $1.12 billion.

The 52-hospital nonprofit characterized higher operating expenses as the result of an increase in returning patients plus boosts in salaries and benefits and an uptick in supply expenses.