Last Friday, Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, hosted Karen DeSalvo, MD, former acting assistant secretary for health, in a wide-ranging discussion that addressed leadership, Hurricane Katrina recovery and data sharing. DeSalvo is the latest in a group of national leaders that Minor has brought to campus to address issues ranging from diversity to clinical trials and big data.
At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, DeSalvo also served as the national coordinator for health information technology, where she led federal efforts to promote data sharing and interoperability. Streamlining access to data for both patients and researchers is key to Stanford Medicine’s vision of precision health.
Minor and DeSalvo discussed the work that needs to be done to expand data sharing while safeguarding privacy. “I have a sense that there could be a greater, more integrated approach that would probably be more impactful,” Minor said. “We haven’t had a chance to think and to say, ‘If we could do the following, this would really change health care.'”
“We’re still at this teetering point,” DeSalvo agreed. Health care consumers want access to their data, but many companies don’t understand how they would benefit from sharing, she said. Academia has an important role to play in this transition, DeSalvo said.
“What I’m understanding about what Stanford is doing really well is trying to create partnerships between academia and industry,” she said. “What academia brings to the table is asking the right questions and not just doing analytics for the fun of doing analytics, such as for things that are not really useful to advancing health.”
After a discussion of the importance of addressing disparities in health and access to care, Friday’s conversation soon pivoted to leadership. “You have some of the finest qualities in a leader,” DeSalvo told Minor. “You are an excellent listener.”
“I agree listening is incredibly important,” Minor said. “Leadership to me first and foremost is about listening and learning… [Also] I believe people are fundamentally good at heart, and our job as leaders is to see how we can bring out the best in people.”
A crisis, such as a disaster, can also provide leaders with an opportunity to bring about positive change, Minor said.
DeSalvo gained recognition for her work in advocating for health care delivery improvements in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and she said learned several key lessons about leadership during that time. “Arrogance is not helpful when you are trying to solve problems,” she said. “You have to really be open to seeing what skills and qualities other people bring.”
DeSalvo also offered advice for future leaders, saying that the federal government isn’t the only avenue to develop health policy. “Don’t be picky,” she advised. “Take an opportunity to serve and if you like it and get the bug, there are many more opportunities.”
Previously: “Predict, prevent and cure precisely,” Stanford Medicine’s Lloyd Minor urges, Precision health aims to reach everyone, Dean Lloyd Minor writes and FDA Commissioner urges universities to help unlock access to biomedical data
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