Basow made the switch to digital innovation when she began working for UptoDate, when it was a startup.
Long before the healthcare industry embraced digital innovation, Denise Basow, MD, was riding the first wave. After working as a physician for four years, she made the switch after meeting the founder of a healthcare IT startup, UptoDate.
“Back when this started, which was the mid- to late-90s, there wasn’t a good way to get updated medical information. You had textbooks, you had research articles, you could call people, but if you needed something while you were treating patients, there wasn’t a good way to do that,” she explained. “The idea was to create an updated resource that was evidence-based for physicians where they could find answers to clinical questions from the point of care.”
Basow joined UptoDate as its deputy editor in 1996. Though she worked more hours than with her practice, her new role offered more flexibility, which she appreciated, having young children at the time.
“As we were growing this startup, as you get bigger, a lot of people that begin in startups are really innovative and have great ideas but aren’t necessarily great at management,” she said. “So, I started taking on management roles because I was there a long time and seemed to have an aptitude for that.”
As one leadership role led to another, Basow ended up learning the entire business, from marketing to customer service. By the time UptoDate was a sold to another company in 2008, Basow was its editor-in-chief.
When the CEO at the time left after the acquisition, there was no succession plan in place. Noting her aptitude and knowledge of the company, the new CEO asked Basow to take over running the business. To supplement the knowledge she already had of the business, she learned about the finance side by having discussions with the chief financial officer and made sure to hire individuals who could fill the gaps.
While knowing the business thoroughly is an advantage for any leader, that leaders must give their employees the space to do their jobs to the best of their ability, Basow said.
“In a leadership position you have to be able to hire people that are really good and that challenge you,” Basow said. “It’s easy for me to say that now. I wouldn’t say that that came naturally at the beginning, but I think over time that became very clear.”
She admits that this stage of her career was “uncomfortable,” mainly because of the new territory she was exploring and all that she was learning—which is something that women feel anxious about doing.
“Women more than men feel they have to be perfect for their role,” she said. “They have to build their resume, be perfect for whatever they’re doing. I was willing to take a chance on myself to figure out the things I didn’t know, and then also take a chance that I could hire a team that could put all of that together.”
After 13 years with UptoDate, Basow joined Ochsner Health system in January 2022 as its chief digital officer. Having worked with healthcare systems in the past, and noticing the way technology has disrupted the industry, she believes the disruption should instead come from within systems.
“I still feel that the best way to innovate in healthcare is to have a combination of technology and data for sure, but also the process and the people that go along with it,” Basow explained. “And no one understands those processes better than the healthcare systems. Nobody has the people to solve it like healthcare systems do.”
As chief digital officer, she’s tasked with continuing the system’s efforts to innovate how digital tools are used to improve care within it. She will also work to develop ways to commercialize those same tools externally, as she did with UptoDate.
However, doing so with the resources of a health system brings different challenges in finance and staffing.
For example, figuring out how to employ digital tools within the system has required a deeper understanding of healthcare finances and payment, which she has had to learn.
“I’m still in the learning phase but having to navigate some of the complexity of a health system and figuring out how to build businesses in a different way,” Basow said. “There are some things that resonate with a previous role but also some new challenges.”
“I still feel that the best way to innovate in healthcare is to have a combination of technology and data for sure, but also the process and the people that go along with it, and no one understands those processes better than the healthcare systems. Nobody has the people to solve it like healthcare systems do.”
Denise Basow, MD, chief digital officer, Ochsner Health
Showing iniative, in addition to her management capabilities, allowed Basow to step into a number of leadership roles throughout her tenure with UptoDate.
While she familiarized herself with all areas of her organizations, she understands that as a leader, its important to hire good people that can do the work in those areas.
As technologial advances continue to disrupt the industry, Basow believes health systems should innovate from within.