Episode #128: Helping healthcare systems & providers enter the digital era, with Ries Robinson MD, CEO of Graphite Health


Just about every major industry, with the exception of healthcare, has moved into the digital era. This is not my opinion alone. It is the collective perspective of the numerous guests that I’ve had on this podcast. And far from being a nice-to-have, these experts argue that in order for us to achieve the quality, cost effectiveness and experience that consumers expect, healthcare systems & providers will need to shift from being so-called digital laggards to being firmly engaged in the digital era of healthcare delivery. What is at stake, they argue, is nothing less than relevance in the market.

In this episode, we have the privilege of hearing from Ries Robinson, a physician healthcare executive and serial entrepreneur who, along with his colleagues & partners at Graphite Health, is tackling the significant roadblocks in the digital transformation of healthcare, and doing it in a uniquely collaborative way.  

Ries Robinson MD, is the CEO at Graphite Health. He is also the Chief Innovation Advisor at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, the largest integrated healthcare delivery system in New Mexico. Prior to joining Presbyterian, Ries founded a number of companies, including: Rodin Scientific LLC, dedicated to creating a heart failure management solution; InLight Solutions Inc. focused on creating non-invasive glucose measurement techniques; VeraLight, which established a non-invasive screening test for type II diabetes; Luminous Medical, an ICU-based continuous glucose monitor; and TruTouch Technologies, which developed a noninvasive alcohol monitor. Ries serves on the American Hospital Association ‘Center for Health Innovation Leadership’ Council.  Previously, he served on Presbyterian Healthcare Services’ Board of Directors. Ries graduated from Stanford University, where he received a bachelors and masters degree in mechanical engineering, and he also graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.  

In this episode, we’ll discover:

  • The challenges that even large healthcare systems face as they attempt to evaluate and deploy digital solutions.
  • The reasons that becoming digitally-enabled is critical for providers and healthcare systems. 
  • The advantages & benefits Graphite Health is bringing to healthcare systems through the creation of a “democratized public utility infrastructure” and “digital health marketplace”.
  • Some of the challenges that Graphite Health will need to overcome in order to achieve its mission.
  • The names of a few of the healthcare systems that have already signed on to be part of the Graphite Health consortium. 

Many other experts and entrepreneurs have recognized the importance of the digital revolution in healthcare and the transformative transition we are about to make into the digital era.  But, there are a number of unique reframes that differentiate the approach Ries and his colleagues are taking. 

First is the fundamental thesis that the challenge of digital transformation is not one that healthcare systems can solve individually.  As he states, “We believe that the challenge of digitally transforming our industry is bigger than any single system can solve alone.”  Ries not only states his thesis, but he takes us through the painful journey and the significant challenges that individual provider groups and healthcare systems face in attempting to work with vendors and suppliers in adopting digital solutions.  

Second, Graphite Health is adopting a “public utilities infrastructure” approach. They are convening and coordinating a healthcare system-led collaborative that will create tremendous economies of scale and achieve efficiencies through standardization and aggregating the tremendous costs of digital transformation across multiple organizations. This consortium will perform numerous tasks such as vetting digital health solutions, contracting, assuring HIPAA standards, creating standards for interoperability and consumer use, and more.  When I asked Ries how he would construct an ROI or value proposition argument for healthcare CFO’s, he mentioned lowered costs, fewer resources and people, and accelerated speed to market in digitally-enabled care. He also added “market relevance”, citing the demise of Sears Roebuck as a classic case study of a large, hugely successful company that could not cross-over into the digital era.

The third differentiating feature of Graphite Health is its non-stock, non-profit status and approach. Graphite is not venture capital or private equity backed. It is not attempting to enhance its market valuation with a plan to exit in five to seven years. It is member-driven and uniquely mission driven in this respect. Along these lines, Ries is very keen to point out that Graphite Health will not use its patients as products. What he means by this is that Graphite Health – unlike many digital companies – will not sell its customers data, nor will it profit in other ways from its primary customers. Taking a lesson from CivicaRx – another non-profit, member-driven, healthcare-system led consortium – Ries is creating a sustainable business model for the long run.

Graphite Health has a clear sense of its purpose – which is to make healthcare better for patients and providers, assist healthcare systems and providers enter the digital era, and create far greater effectiveness and efficiencies in the healthcare system. There is also a very human side to this mission. Toward the end of our interview, Ries shared a story of speaking with a Chief Informatics Officer, who literally began to laugh as he was describing the mission and outcomes that Graphite Health would deliver.  He asked her why she was laughing. Her response, “I was just imagining how much more fun healthcare would be if we could do what you just described”. Far from being frivolous, I find this story to be hugely relevant to our times. We are witnessing an epidemic of burnout and resignation in the American healthcare system. By my reckoning, most healthcare leaders would agree that we could use a bit more fun to relieve the frustrations, strains, and burdens that providers and patients experience daily.  

Until Next Time, Be Well.

Zeev Neuwirth, MD