L. Eleanor Herriman, M.D., M.B.A., a physician executive with 20 years of healthcare industry experience, was recently named Chief Medical Informatics Officer at Viewics. Prior to joining Viewics, Dr. Herriman was a Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, working with Professor Michael Porter on value-based healthcare strategy. She has experience in laboratory and pathology market research and strategy, as well as startup medical technology ventures.
Dr. Herriman has an M.D. from Baylor, an M.B.A. from Harvard, and a B.S. in electrical engineering from Rice, with a minor in bioengineering. I was intrigued by her varied background and wanted to know more about her. She graciously spent some time sharing her story and insights into her new role at Viewics. Here is part one of my interview with her.
Heidi: Tell us a little about yourself and how your path led you here.
Eleanor: I’ve had a long career in medical technology, and, in particular, entrepreneurial medical technology. When I went to medical school, I realized that a lot of what doctors were learning could be very much helped by computers, by artificial intelligence. I saw connections between engineering and medicine, and I wanted to bring those two together in the business world — through a startup — rather than in research or anything else. So, even though I did a pathology residency, I quickly joined a startup that used artificial intelligence in the form of what’s called neural networks and computer vision to read Pap smears. And that startup was one of the major components of my whole career. I was one one of the first 10 employees. In my eight years there, I was the medical director and chief medical officer. That’s where I got the startup bug, and that’s where I saw what medical technology could do. It really brought together so many different aspects of what’s driven my career, which is, again, the power of what technology can do in medicine, and also how it can help improve healthcare.
“I saw connections between engineering and medicine, and I wanted to bring those two together in the business world.”
Heidi: What made you decide to go to medical school?
Eleanor: I wanted to go to medical school because I had decided that engineering was interesting, but a little too dry. I needed something to apply the engineering to that would give me an emotional and psychological motivation. I had to have a domain that I would feel passionate about. Medicine was that domain, and the idea was that I would apply the engineering to the medicine. So, the plan was to eventually have my career be about medical technology in some shape or form, but I wasn’t sure how.
Heidi: What appealed to you about engineering initially?
Eleanor: I like math a lot. I like science. I like physics, believe it or not. I was at Rice, which is known as an engineering school. And, frankly speaking, it was a practical kind of major. My father was a very practical guy. He grew up very poor. He encouraged engineering because there were lots of jobs for engineers. It had a practical side to it. That’s why I was an engineer, too. And it was computers. Even then, the computing side of it was of interest, too.
Heidi: How did you decide to move into business, specifically market research and strategy?
Eleanor: I went to business school after my Pap smear company went public because I realized that, not having a formal business background, there were things I could learn that were important and there were some mistakes we had made along the way in that startup. As for the market research and strategy part, you have to find what you’re good at, what your nature is most drawn to, and where you find you have the best fit. That, for me, had a lot to do with the big picture, and areas where I could do some creative thinking. Also, there was a faster pace to it than there was in medicine, or certainly academia or research. I just had to have things move a little faster than any of those or I would get totally bored. What was appealing about market research was the brainstorming and creativity, and coming up with ideas, and building things — all of that is about creativity and that type of thinking.
“What was appealing about market research was the brainstorming and creativity, coming up with ideas, and building things.”
Heidi: Of all the projects you’ve worked on, which has been the most fascinating to you?
Eleanor: Probably the project I did for the College of American Pathologists. The president of the College of American Pathologists said, “We’d really like for you to be able to say laboratory testing is only 3% of costs, but it generates 30% of value.” And people said, You can’t really do that. There’s no way to do that.” And I said, “I’ll try; I’ll do it!” I love challenges like that. It’s very hard to do. I mean, who knows what value really is?
There is something called Prometheus payment — one of the systems that Medicare uses for payment — and they defined, using claim systems, their own model for what’s called “potentially avoidable costs,” and they quantified it. It’s the measure of performance for a bundled payment. For example, these are all the things for this bundled payment for heart failure that you should be trying to avoid. These are the care gaps to avoid and the dollars associated with them. That is a measure of value. I looked at all of those dollars and complications, and I went through the pathology and lab literature and said, “All right, what laboratory interventions — informatics or advanced types of services — could be used to avoid those complications?” It was this six month super challenge that I just had a great time with. And, believe it or not, I did get to about 30%.
Heidi: What attracted you to join the executive team at Viewics?
Eleanor: It was an opportunity to bring to the marketplace what I thought was an extremely important technological vision — important for the future of our healthcare system, as a business opportunity, for improving healthcare — and from a personal standpoint, it was important because it was something I’d dedicated a lot of my own time and effort to while at G2, and I feel very strongly, from a professional and scientific perspective, about its potential. I feel that Viewics has the vision and the passion, and believes in it as well. It is a very strong company, and has already accomplished a great deal in the short time it has been around, and so has the capabilities to pursue this. So, it was an easy decision for me, because I felt like this was really the only way of realizing the opportunity to bring the power of lab data and information to the healthcare system in terms of bringing it to outcomes through analytics. The only way to do it, really, is through an entrepreneurial play. So, I don’t know that there was really any other way to do it than with Viewics. Not with any other company. It was an easy decision.
“This was really the only way of realizing the opportunity to bring the power of lab data to the healthcare system.”