Q&A with Dan Woods, CEO of El Camino Hospital

We have been looking forward to sitting down with the new CEO of long-time Fogarty Institute partner El Camino Hospital, which provides a forum where innovators can work directly with experienced, recognized physicians and conduct clinical trials, as four companies-in-residence currently are doing. Dan Woods joined the hospital in the fall of 2017, bringing an entrepreneurial spirit, passion for technology and innovation and a broad background within the industry.

Before joining El Camino Hospital, Dan served as president and CEO of Wellstar Kennestone Regional Medical Center, where he oversaw a combined medical staff of more than 1,100 directly employed and independent physicians and 4,700 employees.

Previously he had served as senior vice president at Verras Healthcare, a consulting firm that provides services to hospitals by pairing business intelligence with clinical analytics. He also served as vice president of operations for nine years at Northwestern Memorial Healthcare and concurrently for five years as president and CEO of NM Home Health Care. Earlier in his career, he spent 12 years at the University of Chicago Hospitals and Health System serving in multiple leadership roles including president and CEO of CareMed Chicago and vice president of the health system.

With more than 25 years of experience serving the healthcare industry, Dan has championed numerous program development and expansion initiatives to improve the overall patient experience across the continuum of care. He has also led multi-year improvement strategies that create higher levels of efficiencies in hospital operations while improving the overall value for patients.

We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Dan to discuss his views on the opportunities and challenges facing hospitals today, and how technology and innovation are helping improve healthcare for patients.

Q. What inspired you to join the healthcare field?

As a child, I was always interested in healthcare and even thought I was going to be a doctor. But, I later discovered that I have more of the skills associated with a business person than a healthcare provider, so I decided to meld the two by focusing on the executive side where I could work with physicians and deliver care.

I also love healthcare innovation because I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, toward the beginning of my career, I helped build and subsequently sell a biotech company while I was working at the University of Chicago Medical Center. This background provided experience that helps me see solutions more holistically, which can be a benefit in addition to understanding the internal operations of a hospital.

Q. What inspired you to move to California and what are some of the goals you set to achieve at El Camino Hospital?

If you take a look at the United States, California is very advanced in applying innovative thinking to the delivery of healthcare. While that was my biggest motivation to come here – to apply my leadership experience in this cutting-edge environment – I can’t deny that I was also looking forward to leaving the cold winters of Chicago and Iowa where I previously lived to enjoy a climate that had been described to me as “living in a little slice of heaven.”

Regarding the goals for the hospital, first I am committed to continuing to remain independent and creating a structure that is sustainable for many years to come.

From a delivery perspective, we have the opportunity to continue to provide better access and bring healthcare closer to the community by decentralizing our delivery through both urgent care settings and neighborhood clinics. We would love to work collaboratively with physicians to broaden our ability to provide access for care.

Also, we need to consider how we best leverage innovation. For example, can we triage and provide healthcare on a virtual basis so patients don’t need to travel to a physical location? This goes back to providing decentralized delivery of care and creating different access points.

Q. What are some of the biggest challenges that hospitals face today?

The healthcare market is changing, and hospitals are adapting by embracing what might be considered “disruptive” relationships, such as the Humana and Anthem merger. These unique partnerships and acquisitions are changing the healthcare system, which brings a number of benefits, but also presents challenges to how we manage patient flow into the hospital in the long term.

The direction of healthcare reform still presents an unknown; and our industry like all others, is grappling with cybersecurity as everything becomes technology-based. While we benefit from having patient histories and providing an open platform so that patients can access their own records, that expansion of technology presents the challenge of ensuring the data is protected.

Q. What are the opportunities you see for El Camino Hospital moving forward?

Our biggest opportunity comes from the potential to expand our collaboration with physicians in the community and in doing so, provide better delivery of care to our communities.

Second, we have the unique advantage of our Silicon Valley location, which allows us to capitalize on emerging technologies and figure out how we can “translate” them to the delivery of healthcare. Even though we may have our ideas, like creating the room or clinic of the future, we don’t necessarily have a solution. But we can present the issue to the innovators here in the Valley and invite them to help develop an answer using existing or new technologies.

For example, one key issue is response time for nurses. In the past, we have used the remote that is connected to the bed, but it is hard to find and falls off. We posed this problem to the innovator community, and it came back to us with a solution that utilizes existing technology in a creative way.

Q. What is your view on medical device innovation and how does it / will it help the hospital?

The more you can diagnose and treat with the least disruption to the body, the better, so we are trending toward less-invasive treatment options, which also provide better outcomes than relying on pharmaceuticals, if they solve the problem. That’s why I am a big proponent of medical device innovation and have been since I started my career with Baxter, where I had the opportunity to see first-hand the important role medical devices can play in the industry.

Q. What is your advice for undergraduate and graduate students who are considering a career in healthcare?

Healthcare is really going through a rapid state of change, which creates the possibility of things “getting set back to zero;” in other words, generating a level playing field where anyone who likes to think outside the box has the chance to try new, innovative solutions. An industry that is undergoing a re-discovery period provides a wonderful growth and learning opportunity.

For those interested in becoming healthcare providers, there will be an interesting future. I believe the industry will be revitalized when we are able to find a solution to address the burnout rate and reduce stress on physicians that is heightened by the current 24/7 access.

And on the administrative side, it’s important to be cognizant that in order to continue to advance in your career as an executive, you need to be mobile and willing to travel and move throughout the U.S. and globally.

If you look at the cyclical seasons of the U.S. economy and recessions, healthcare typically lags, but it also doesn’t have the same upswings and downswings, so in general I find it to be a more stable industry – and one that will continue to grow as the population ages.

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