Trustee Profile: Rema Padman, PhD

​Rema Padman, PhD.​

Professor of Management Science and Healthcare Informatics, Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College of Information Systems & Public Policy

  • JHF Trustee beginning January 2019
  • Health Careers Futures Trustee since 2017
  • Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative Trustee since 2018

Rema Padman was born in Doha, Qatar, where her father worked in the petroleum industry. Around age 9, she and her family moved back home to Kerala, where she stayed until leaving to pursue a chemical engineering degree across the country, at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur. She earned a PhD in operations research from the University of Texas at Austin, followed by a faculty position in the Carlson School at the University of Minnesota. She moved to Pittsburgh in 1989 with her husband, Ramayya Krishnan, who is dean of CMU's Heinz College and the William W. and Ruth F. Cooper Professor of Management Science and Information Systems. They raised their daughter and son in Fox Chapel. Their son will graduate from CMU next year; their daughter graduated a few years ago and is working in New York.

In her first decade in Pittsburgh, most of her research, teaching and consulting focused on operations research and operations management in industrial and commercial sectors. Then she read To Err Is Human (the landmark 1999 report that helped launched the modern patient safety movement). She had begun a fellowship in biomedical informatics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and was shifting her focus to health care.

"That was a life changer," Padman recalled. "I'd wanted to move into something that I could be passionate about, and I absolutely found it."

Several years earlier, she'd gotten involved with JHF as it became a champion for detection, screening, and outreach around breast cancer. In those early days of the Internet, Padman advised a capstone project with several graduate students to create a one-stop online source of information about breast cancer in the Pittsburgh region. Over the years, she has advised the foundation on other programs, and taken its mission into her classroom, engaging graduate students in projects creating decision support technology and analytic models around maternal health and mortality, among others.

What are some of the ways your contributions to the JHF board are unique?

My research with my students and colleagues is at the intersection of information technology, analytics and health care. We develop quantitative models and data-driven decision support methods to bring visibility to some of the challenges in the healthcare context: around health literacy, maternal mortality and morbidity, patient safety and care quality issues. Karen (Wolk Feinstein, JHF's CEO) talks about transparency and having access to data; we can bring the IT and analytics tools to develop a solution. For example, working with the data from a community nephrology practice in southwestern Pennsylvania, we have developed methods and tools to learn "practice-based" clinical pathways from routinely collected data in the Electronic Health Records that enable comparison against evidence-based pathways reported in the literature and discover both new best practices and gaps in care.

What part of JHF's work is most resonant or meaningful for you right now?

I'm excited about Liftoff PGH 2020. I very much agree with its premise — to see how our regional resources can be better leveraged to make Pittsburgh a center for healthcare innovation and development.

I understand the apprehension that healthcare professionals may have about a technology future. There is a firehouse of information that is being thrown at them. The system basically moved from paper-based to digital in a decade. Most of that digitization is still in early versions, and every environment is different. And until technology is in the hands of the end users, we really don't know what works and what doesn't. It's not easy for the people living through it. There are great advances that could make the work of health care easier and better informed, but we haven't yet reached an equilibrium where humans, technologies and information work synergistically to make information more consumable and usable. JHF's initiatives to highlight both the challenges and opportunities in improving patient safety and healthcare quality, developing the healthcare workforce of the future and addressing women's health issues are resonant with the needs of these times.

Are other countries or U.S. healthcare providers adapting better?

Other countries are trying to figure out these challenges, too. There are health systems that are more efficient, lower cost, and working better for patients in places such as Scandinavia. Perhaps in single-payer systems, the central organization makes it a little easier, but there are tradeoffs that come with that, too.

I've talked to colleagues and clinicians at the Mayo Clinic, for example, where they put patient-centered care into practice by creating care teams that help patients navigate the entire care journey with less friction. Of course, these are patients with very complex conditions; that approach may not work on a daily basis for less acute or chronic care conditions. But patients leave that system very satisfied, so it could be an exemplar for others to adopt and adapt.

Liftoff PGH 2020, I hope, will be a starting point for us in Pittsburgh to see how IT and analytics can facilitate transformation of healthcare delivery with lower costs and better management. I'm very glad to have the rare opportunity to join this effort and work toward a successful outcome.

What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?

Mainly to really take advantage of opportunities to make a difference with the work one does, find stimulating collaborators to work with and actually have some impact in the real world. We all talk about work-life balance, but it's really hard to keep it. I've struggled to accommodate that.

What are some of the non-work things you enjoy about the region?

My family and I love Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania – the rivers and hills, the great cultural facilities, the history and food, the healthcare institutions. People who visit us are always impressed. It's a great city and region.

So, do you take in any of its outdoor recreation? 

My husband loves the outdoors, but my interests are more in literature and the arts. I do love to travel, and I really love literature and history. I like to have a book in my hand, rather than read on a digital device. I also find detective and mystery stories fascinating, especially those that tap into my interests in history and travel. I enjoy the British novelists like Ruth Rendell, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, P.D. James – I loved her Death Comes to Pemberley [which continues Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice as a murder mystery], Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens… when I'm in the UK, I visit their museums and homes and the settings of their stories. That's how I have fun.

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