Shahid Shah: renaissance man, value builder, coach

"Innovation is often about removing a barrier, not just thinking about new ideas."
By Scott Tharler
08:07 AM

When Shahid Shah's family immigrated to Texas in the 70s, he got infused with a strong sense of competitiveness — and hooked on playing and watching football.

To this day, the game informs his project management. "One of the things I've always loved about football is the idea that nobody can do anything alone. People have to work together in one particular direction." It's no wonder the team of 35 developers he headed for the American Red Cross often called him Coach.

Shahid Shah is a board member for software developers Hybrent and Ryhohee, chairs IMN's nationwide HealthIMPACT conferences and the OSEHRA advisory committee; manages the editorial at HITsphere; for the past 14 years has been the co-founder and CEO of Netspective Communications, inspired the YourTurn talks at HIMSS; and of course is one of the elite and prolific HIMSS15 Social Media Ambassadors covering this year's show (@ShahidNShah).

Even though he's known as "The Healthcare IT Guy,” Shah's work reaches into government, finance and insurance. He finds the variety helps him connect the dots in whichever industry his projects may be.

Despite the similarities he notices between government and healthcare (namely their complexity, speed of change and permissioned nature), government's command and control structure makes decisions at the top and forces agencies under to follow.

"That's something that doesn't work so well in healthcare," he said. Payers don't have that same level of direct influence on healthcare institutions, nor hospitals on the doctors in the community. Progress in healthcare must be more bottom-up, collaborative, payment-model driven and appropriately incentivized.

To that end, this active speaker, inventor, entrepreneur, writer, IT architect, engineer, teacher and futurist sees his most important role as a technologist. But Shah's focused less on the technology itself and more on extracting the inherent value to patient outcomes and aligning the players to make it happen.

His method for evaluating technological innovation starts by separating the fun aspects (simply having ideas, the newness of the technology) from the practical purpose with these three key questions: 1) Specifically, why do we believe this new technology helps us with a patient outcome of some sort? 2) How are we going to determine whether or not we accomplished this, measuring the metrics of today against future goals? 3) When do we know that we failed?

Almost counter-intuitively, he suggests that the best way to fail is fast! As he points out in his article, 'It’s easier to get in than to get out' failing doesn't mean giving up on the initial why, but figuring out how to quickly move on and make success happen another way.

For example, the problems of Meaningful Use began with a flawed premise: "We created a false demand ($30 billion incentive given out) and a false supply (forcing people to use it)." The lack of perceived value continued because EHR's were not properly aligned with the needs of doctors or patients.

In other words, it's not simply doctors disliking technology. After all, as Shah points out, healthcare uses some of the most advanced technologies known to humankind. And no one had to incentivize scads of them to run out and buy iPhones. They saw the devices as useful and valuable.

"Physicians, nurses and clinicians aren't afraid of technology,” Shah said. “We try to get them to do things that they have no business doing [data entry, analytics]."

Coming up on the road to value-based healthcare, Shah sees payment reform as hugely important: "Over the next five or ten years, payment reform by itself is going to do more for technology than the [Meaningful Use] incentives ever could have."

In the meantime, he'll keep looking beyond the buzzwords to architect value. He recently launched a socially ranked article aggregator site at And in the next year to 18 months, he plans to jump into a "higher volume (and variety) of innovations through an investor style model." He'll build a platform to help partner investors with the means to scale up multiple ideas faster than he could as a lone serial entrepreneur.

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