Executive Spotlight—John Halamka on his move to Mayo Clinic and what excites him about the future of health IT

head shot photo of John Halamka, M.D.
John Halamka, M.D., calls the Mayo Clinic Platform an "innovation factory" that can accelerate new advances in healthcare. (Mayo Clinic)

John Halamka, M.D., has got to be the busiest person in healthcare.

He's a recognized health IT executive, a practicing emergency room physician, a public policy expert, a Harvard professor, a speaker and an advocate for the industry. 

He leads technology initiatives at some of the most respected healthcare organizations in the countryat Beth Israel Lahey Health for 20 years and now at Mayo Clinic.

On Jan. 1, Halamka took on the job of president of Mayo Clinic Platform in Rochester, Minnesota, to lead the hospital's digital health and artificial intelligence projects.

He also runs a farm, like a real, working farm. Along with a cidery and a winery.

Halamka and his wife, Kathy Halamka, founded the Massachusetts animal rescue organization Unity Farm Sanctuary in 2016. It's home to 250 animals as well as a working farm with 30 acres of agricultural production.

And Halamka says he is as passionate about his alpacas, miniature horses, cows and pigs as he is about health IT. Each rescue has a special story. That includes Dudley, a Scottish Highland bull who has become a big attraction and now has 6,000 followers on Facebook.

FierceHealthcare was able to catch with Halamka back in December to chat about his move to Mayo Clinic, what most excites him about the future of healthcare technology and what will happen to his beloved farm.

FierceHealthcare: What is the Mayo Clinic Platform?

John Halamka: The idea is this: If you look at the next five years, there's going to be more use of machine learning and big data, especially as we embrace more personalized medicine and precision medicine, and there's going to be more internet of things (IoT), connected devices and more mobile apps. All of this done in the context of bulletproof privacy and security, and every healthcare system is asking, "How are you going to do that?"

Healthcare is in the middle of a transformation, with business models, reimbursement and workflow. Gianrico Farrugia, the CEO of Mayo Clinic, developed a 2030 strategic plan for Mayo and he said, "We need platforms." The idea is this: What if this platform of technology, policies and people was able to radically shorten the time to evaluate emerging companies and create an "innovation factory" for collaboration? The platform will have components that can be reused for many kinds of innovations.

My role is running the digital health care businesses for Mayo with the goal of ensuring that we have regularized and high-quality components so we can embrace innovation and business model changes quickly and safely.

FH: What kind of initiatives will you be working on?

JH: Let's look at the experience of arranging home hospital care for an aging parent. I did it for my father, and the healthcare system was not quite ready for it. What would a home healthcare platform look like? It would have things like the capacity to deliver medications in the home, a monitor in the home, blood pressure or glucometers, and services delivered to the home such as supplies. Some of those resources will be supplied by third parties. So how do we ensure that all third parties can plug into a common set of technological resources?

That's where platform components come into play, with policies and privacy and security built in to determine who can see what data and how you can use it. We can build a clinical data platform for home healthcare and help to inform the care of patients in the future.

FH: What most excites you about the potential for technology to improve healthcare?

JH: My father-in-law, my daughter and my wife. We had to set up home hospital care for my father-in-law who had pancreatic cancer, and it was very difficult to set that up. In my work at Mayo, if we can create quality and safe care at home, that will be, in effect, my tribute to my father-in-law and his experience.

My daughter is 26, and when she's hungry she can use the Grubhub app on her phone to order food, but she told me her doctor wants her to fax her medical records. If I can enable a platform so that my daughter's healthcare experience from her phone or IoT device or wearable is near that from any other industry, that's a tribute to my daughter.

My wife was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2011. Back then, I had to mine the data to figure out the best treatment with the least side effects. Every cancer patient should have the benefit of that kind of personalized medicine. To be able to inform the future care of cancer patients, that's a tribute to my wife to work on that.

FH: With your move to Mayo, what will happen to Unity Farm?

JH: I'll be in Rochester four days a week and will fly back on weekends. The farm and 250 animals will stay in Massachusetts.

FH: How do you find the time to do all this?

JH: I've been vegan for 25 years. It works for me and gives me 20 hours a day of energy where you don’t have the high highs or low lows and don't have that feeling of being sleepy after a meal. The vegan diet and lifestyle help. I don’t drink a lot of alcohol or a lot of caffeine. 

And there's nothing like a farm, where you have to get up a 4 a.m. and shovel manure. That will get you fit. And it keeps you humble.

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