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“To be a good internist,” Lynne Nowak says, “you need to know a lot about a lot. It covers the entire spectrum, head to toe—anything that could make a person sick.” It’s very much a job that involves data and analytics.
Nowak explains that internal medicine is about ingesting information—a lot of it—and then synthesizing the information to figure out what’s next.
“It’s all those things about the patient,” Nowak tells me. “Their symptoms, their background, their medical history, their social habits … they’re all data points.”
It follows that Nowak’s journey from internal medicine to Surescripts Chief Data and Analytics Officer isn’t quite the sharp right-angled turn it seems to be. As an internist (and later as a hospice physician), Nowak was working with data and analytics before “Data and Analytics” was on the tip of every company’s tongue.
Nowak’s journey took her from the University of Notre Dame as an undergraduate to the University of Illinois for her M.D., after which she became a resident at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She spent 15 years as a board-certified internal medicine physician, founded an inpatient hospitalist practice and served as the medical director of a hospice.
And it was always clear to Nowak that data could be—often was—a matter of life and death.
“You have a wide lens of the entire patient,” Nowak says. “You could say that internal medicine is the ‘big data’ of medicine.” She continued to peer through this lens as her career shifted from internal medicine to hospice and palliative care. For people at the end of their lives, Nowak tells me, the physician’s goal is the same: It comes down to gathering and analyzing information to solve the problem.
In hospice, that usually means solving for a measure of comfort and peace.
Nowak quit medicine after 15 years, in large part because of the burnout that comes with sitting at a kitchen table at night with a stack of documents two feet tall.
“I was doing more paperwork than patient care,” Nowak says. “My daughters knew my life as a physician as a life of paperwork.”
So, she brought her wide lens with her into the business of healthcare, and as a physician executive, the prominent role of data and analytics quickly became apparent. “I needed information to figure out what to do,” Nowak says. “I needed information to make good decisions. Exactly like I did in medical practice.”
It has now been about a decade since Nowak left medical practice, and in that time, she led teams focused on data science and business intelligence for Cigna Healthcare subsidiaries Express Scripts and Evernorth. She also led Cigna’s enterprise-wide, multi-year focus on interoperability and health information exchange. Through it all, Nowak came to see how technology could streamline prescribing workflows and influence clinicians’ approach to patient care.
“You should not be spending your time on the phone appealing a medication just to have it finally approved two weeks later,” Nowak says. As she explains, technology and the data it provides will help everybody make better decisions, from the doctor to the patient, from the health plan to the pharmacy benefit manager (PBM).
“That’s how I got here.”
On autumn weekends you can find Nowak out tailgating at the University of Notre Dame, where her twin daughters are now seniors, rooting for the Fighting Irish.