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Kaul (Rebecca), MBA, Oral History Interview: Home

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Interview Profile

 

Submitted: 2017

Interview Information:

Interview Information
Two sessions: 24 February 2016, 26 April 2016
Total approximate duration:   3 hours
Interviewer: Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.

For supplementary materials:

Please contact, the Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library:

Javier Garza, MSIS, jjgarza@mdanderson.org

About the Interview Subject:

Rebecca Kaul (b. February 10, 1978 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania) came to MD Anderson in July of 2015 as Chief Innovation Officer and Vice President of Innovation in the Office of Strategy and Innovation.  This interview was conducted as part of an effort to capture the perspectives of individuals who are guiding the institution through its current period of change.  Ms. Kaul is tasked with identifying and advocating for more creative and effective approaches for delivering MD Anderson services, focusing specifically on technology and digital applications.

Major Topics Covered:

Personal background and education 
Roles in healthcare before joining MD Anderson
Definitions of “innovation” and the role of an Innovation Officer
Assessment of MD Anderson and status of innovation
Relationship between technology and workflow and service delivery
Examples illustrating how technology can intervene in complex healthcare problems

A note on transcription and the transcript:

This interview had been transcribed according to oral history best practices to preserve the conversational quality of spoken language (rather than editing it to written standards).

The interview subject has been given the opportunity to review the transcript and make changes: any substantial departures from the audio file are indicated with brackets [ ].

In addition, the Archives may have redacted portions of the transcript and audio file in compliance with HIPAA and/or interview subject requests.


 

Table of Contents

 

Interview Session One: 24 February 2016

 

Defining ‘Innovation’ and the Role of an Innovation Officer
Chapter 01 / Overview

Early Experience with Healthcare Leadership
Chapter 02 / Personal Background

A View of Innovation Rooted in Personal Experience
Chapter 03 / Overview

Multiple Majors Train a Problem-Solver
Chapter 04 / Educational Path

International Study and Work after Graduation
Chapter 05 / Professional Path

 

Interview Session Two: 25 April 2016

 

Directing Strategic Business Initiatives at UPMC
Chapter 06 / Professional Path

Developing an Innovation Center at UPMC
Chapter 07 / Professional Path

A Commitment to Working in Healthcare –and Addressing Cancer
Chapter 08 / Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas

A New Role in the Department of Strategy and Innovation
Chapter 09 / Building the Institution

Projects and Next Steps in Building a Culture of Innovation
Chapter 10 / Building the Institution

 


 

Chapter Summaries

 

 

Interview Session One: 24 February 2016 (listen/read)

 

Chapter 00A
Interview Identifier (listen/read)

Chapter 01 (Overview)
Defining ‘Innovation’ and the Role of an Innovation Officer (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • Growth and/or Change
  • Obstacles, Challenges
  • The Healthcare Industry
  • Technology and R&D
  • The Business of MD Anderson
  • Discovery, Creativity and Innovation

In this chapter, Ms. Kaul discusses her definition of the term “innovation” and describes the relatively new role of the innovations officer in organizations.  She also discusses the need for this kind of role in the context of healthcare organizations.

She begins by defining the role of an innovations officer as “driving transformational change” and notes that her role as the first innovations officer at MD Anderson is evolving.  She explains that a great deal of her work will involve planning how the institution can take advantage of information technology and medical devices to keep pace in the evolving healthcare environment and attract and serve “customers” well.  She comments on using the word “customer” for patients.

Ms. Kaul says she is increasingly impressed with MD Anderson since her arrival in July 2016: it is “really a special place.”

She notes that the institution must become more “digital” in its operations at a micro level.  She explains that innovation means using data and technology to optimize performance at all levels of the organization.  She explains that the “holy grail” of innovation is the integration of all levels of data.

 

Chapter 02 (Personal Background)
Early Experience with Healthcare Leadership
(listen/read)

Topics Covered

  • Personal Background
  • Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • Patients
  • Patients, Treatment, Survivors IMAGE
  • Cancer and Disease

In this chapter, Ms. Kaul explains some of her early experiences with health and healthcare.  She first explains that she was exposed early to dealing with big organizations and the drive to build things because her father built UPMC and was (and continues to serve as) CEO of that institution.  She saw early what it took to “be out in front” of an institution.  She talks about UPMC then discusses childhood experiences that taught her to be self-reliant and independent.

[The recorder is paused.]

 

Chapter 03 (Overview)
A View of Innovation Rooted in Personal Experience (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Finance, Entrepreneur, Biotechnology
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Working Environment
  • Discovery, Creativity and Innovation

In this chapter, Ms. Kaul talks about more about her view of innovation, noting that her father shaped her perspective.

She begins by sharing his lesson that “if the crowd is with you, you’re probably not thinking ahead” and that it’s important to be future oriented, seeing “today as a jumping off point.”  She explains the challenges of educating individuals about this new role, which is focused on “designing tomorrow.”  She talks about difficulties in documenting the contribution of an innovation officer.

 

 

Chapter 04 (Educational Path)
Multiple Majors Train a Problem-Solver (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

 

  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Discovery, Creativity and Innovation
  • Personal Background

Ms. Kaul traces her educational track, noting the evolution of her interests in high school, the impact of an internship she had in an artificial lung laboratory, and her initial interest in becoming a physician.  Her father talked her out of it, spurring her toward an alternative interest in “being in the driver’s seat of healthcare.”  She explains how her college major in chemical engineering (Carnegie Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, B.S. conferred in 2000) taught her how to approach and solve problems.  She also talks about her additional majors in English and Public Policy, the latter providing a framework for her study of Information Technology.  (She worked on her Masters of Information System Management, conferred 2001, while she was finishing her undergraduate work.)  She discusses the lessons she learned through this cross-disciplinary work, stressing her interest in applying her knowledge to the complexity of real business applications.

 

 

Chapter 05 (Professional Path)
International Study and Work after Graduation (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Discovery, Creativity and Innovation
  • Personal Background
  • Educational Path

Ms. Kaul begins this chapter with a discussion of her first job working as a consultant for the insurance company, Swiss Re.  She then talks about her decision to return to school for an MBA (conferred in 2006 by New York University’s Leonard Stern School of Business) and her creation in 2004 of the independent consulting firm, Panacea.

Next, Ms. Kaul talks about the impact of her summer internship studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1999.  She talks about family reasons for wishing to study in Israel.

[The recorder is paused.]

She notes that this international experience reinforced her native interest in big-picture thinking and its impact on real people and real processes.

 

Interview Session Two: 25 April 2016 (listen/read)

 

Chapter 00B
Interview Identifier (listen/read)

Chapter 06 (Professional Path)
Directing Strategic Business Initiatives at UPMC (listen/read)

Topics Covered

  • Finance, Entrepreneur, Biotechnology
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Discovery, Creativity and Innovation
  • Discovery and Success
  • Technology and R&D
  • Fiscal Realities in Healthcare
  • The Healthcare Industry
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations

In this chapter, Ms. Kaul describes her work as Senior Director of Strategic Business Initiatives in the International Commercial Services Division at UPMC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  This was a new, entrepreneurial venture for UPMC and it involved creating opportunities to work with other companies to develop and sell technology.  She explains one project that involved developing computer-assisted medical coding.  She explains why this is a challenge and why the technology is valuable in healthcare.  She managed the eventual joint venture between UPMC and A-Life Medical and she tells the story of how the project evolved and explains the lessons learned.

 

Chapter 07 (Professional Path)
Developing an Innovation Center at UPMC (listen/read)

Topics Covered

  • Finance, Entrepreneur, Biotechnology
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Discovery, Creativity and Innovation
  • Discovery and Success
  • Technology and R&D
  • Fiscal Realities in Healthcare
  • The Healthcare Industry
  • Leadership

In this chapter, Ms. Kaul talks about the next phase of her work at UPMC, establishing the Technology Development Center at UPMC.  She explains how the national economic climate at the time influenced the projects they took on.  She talks about developing a clinical documentation improvement system that saved the institution $28 million.

Ms. Kaul talks about lessons she learned while spurring innovation at an academic medical center.  She comments on leadership issues, including team building and providing incentives.

Next she discusses information technology differs from innovation, which includes product development and taking the product to market.  She sketches challenges that arise during this process.  Then she tells the story of developing a free app that helped helicopters find emergency locations and send EKGs to hospitals in advance of patient arrivals.

Ms. Kaul observes that it takes an organization’s entire culture, rather than individuals working separately, to create innovations.

Ms. Kaul returns to the story of the records coding software and talks about working with the UPMC health plan to develop risk assessment coding.  After mentioning a few other projects she worked on, she notes that UPMC wanted to change the focus of the Innovation Center to external investments.

 

Chapter 08 (Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas)
A Commitment to Working in Healthcare –and Addressing Cancer (listen/read)

Topics Covered

  • Personal Background
  • Joining MD Anderson
  • Professional Path
  • Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine

Ms. Kaul begins by noting that she began thinking about leaving her role at UPMC as the focus of the Innovation Center began to shift to investment banking.  By July 2014 she had left the institution and began doing some consulting work.  Through a colleague she met at a conference, she was introduced to individuals in the Texas Medical Center and was invited by Dan Fontaine to interview as the new CIO of TMC/X.  She tells the story of how her focus shifted from the Medical Center to MD Anderson explicitly.

Ms. Kaul explains that she was attracted to MD Anderson because of her personal connection to cancer, the commitment that the executive leadership had to innovation, and her attraction to Houston, where she can offer a good lifestyle to her family and children.

Chapter 09 (Building the Institution)
A New Role in the Department of Strategy and Innovation (listen/read)

Topics Covered

  • Leadership
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Overview
  • Building the Institution
  • Critical Perspectives
  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • Growth and/or Change
  • Obstacles, Challenges

Ms. Kaul explains the scope of her job and her strategy of learning about MD Anderson and how innovative solutions might serve it.  She explains her philosophy of learning about institution culture, building relationships before introducing change, and learning why individuals find innovation threatening.  She talks about her findings after several months at the institution.

Ms. Kaul assesses that MD Anderson is “way behind” the industry in developing technology and infrastructure, a situation connected to the institution’s status as a comprehensive cancer center.  She goes on to explain that patients currently factor cost/care transparency into their selection of a healthcare institution. 

Chapter 10 (Building the Institution)
Projects and Next Steps in Building a Culture of Innovation (listen/read)

Topics Covered

  • Leadership
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • Overview
  • Building the Institution
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • Growth and/or Change
  • Obstacles, Challenges

Ms. Kaul sketches projects she is currently pursuing: how to use technology to expand the MD Anderson network and scale the standard of care optimizing clinical time developing a culture of innovation.

Next, Ms. Kaul gives her view of the launch of EPIC, which she says does not quality as “innovation” as she understands it.  She comments on EPIC as a company.

Finally, Ms. Kaul talks about cultural values she hopes to instill at MD Anderson.  She talks about a project under development that will help MD Anderson people with innovative ideas present and find support to develop their ideas.