image02Samsung is a household name in mobile devices, electronics, and appliances of all kinds. More recently, Samsung has tried to leverage the reach that their numerous popular product lines offer to dive in to the digital health space.

One of the leaders of that effort is Dr. David Rhew, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Global Healthcare for Samsung SDS. In a prior life, Dr. Rhew was an infectious disease specialist at UCLA. Now, he and his team hope to connect patients and their providers via the cloud, and go beyond healthcare portals to digitally connect everything that patients use: televisions, beds, homes, cars, and more.

Here, we continue our conversation with Dr. Rhew, focusing on the path that took him from studying vaccines to becoming an executive at this global electronics and technology giant.

Dr. Rhew, you’ve specialized in infectious disease in the past. For your position at Samsung, do you focus on any particular conditions?

We want to have a very large impact on patient care. As we think of different diseases, it’s often the chronic disease that tends to be of highest interest in cost, and morbidity and mortality. We want to create solutions that help that group of patients, but we recognize there are a variety of other elements that communications can benefit. We’re exploring areas in chronic disease management.

Most physicians don’t even work in the technology world. I’m just curious: how did you get started with your health technology career?

In college, I went to the University of Michigan, and I could not decide between computer science and molecular cell biology — pre-med studies, I should say. Ultimately, I did both, and it’s a large part [of what made me who I am today]. I liked creating video games, programming, and creating new things. And using computers to do that, I thought it was really cool and fun.

I thought my career at the end of the day was going into medicine. The only exposure I had with computers was through word processors, and I thought that would be my path.

As I went into residency, I had the opportunity to gain exposure to a variety of programs, one of which was health services research, to improve health outcomes. That was something I was very passionate about. I wanted to find ways to improve the outcomes. What really surprised me was the huge amount of variability occurring, as I took care of patients with different attendings. The level of service with different attendings was so different. Why was it that some were doing better care than others? How do you get better care? And how does one create systems of better care?

How did you answer the question of researching better health services delivery?

That led to my project as a fellow. We did a randomized controlled trial on pneumococcal vaccinations, and what we wanted to do was find out: if you empower nurses to give the vaccines themselves, could you improve the vaccination rates? Sure enough, that study showed you were able to do so.

I was excited, and thought my career was heading down this research. But as soon as the project ended, vaccine rates went back to normal. I thought I couldn’t keep standing there just monitoring this decline. We needed more sustainable solutions.

That’s where these computer systems became more acceptable. We created more computational mechanisms to keep healthcare sustainable, more involved, and change a lot of decision-making.

I did a lot of research in this area. This led to working with people to create what today is called clinical decision support systems. Workflow and ease-of-use were key variables, so we focused our attention on healthcare providers to make this seamless.

So what then? How did you end up getting to become CMO at Samsung?

That launched an opportunity for me to enter this business world. The organization I was with ultimately was acquired by Cerner, and then sold to Hearst. At that point, I was doing half of my time in the clinic, and the other half of the time I was traveling to hospitals and health systems selling these applications, getting people to understand how they use this to improve their workflow. Ultimately, the end result was improved outcomes.

And so, as you know, healthcare has been moving out of the hospital and moving towards more patient-centric models. Consumers are a critical part of this whole solution, and yet, at the same time, the majority of our healthcare technology is geared towards providers. I wanted to find a way to create and take these technologies that consumers already use and help better inform and engage these consumers towards better health.

That’s when the opportunity with Samsung came about 1.5 years ago.

Thank you for your time, Dr. Rhew. Any final words you’d like to tell our readers?

The most important thing is that Samsung is committed to both apps for consumers and healthcare providers, and solutions to improve and engage healthcare individuals to better health. But, at the same time, we have a whole series of solutions to improve workflow efficiency for healthcare providers and create technologies that can be used in the hospitals.