Alum Charles Blanksteen Discusses the State of Healthcare and How Technology Can Help

Charles Blanksteen, Dean Sreenivasan and Students

Charles L. Blanksteen (’79) was the latest alum to keynote a Dean’s Roundtable event, addressing a select group of students who had been invited to attend on the basis of their stellar academic performance and service to the school.

Blanksteen, a nationally recognized healthcare consultant, works with several large healthcare systems, insurers, Fortune 100 companies, and a healthcare venture capital firm, and he is the co-founder of Guidewalk Health Systems, which supports the important process of bundled payment management. Additionally, he was the co-founder of ActiveHealth Management and co-patent holder of the Care Engine technology, a clinical and disease management technology and service company that served more than 10 million people. (The company was acquired by the Aetna in 2005.)  His earlier career also included stints at Metropolitan Life Insurance, Johnson and Higgins, and Mercer, where he astutely founded four coalitions: the New York Hospital Coalition (8 New York hospital systems), the National HMO Purchasing Coalition (14 Fortune 100 companies), the National PPO Coalition (10 Fortune 100 companies also known as “the Study Group”), and the Rx Purchasing Coalition (17 Fortune 100 companies). 

Blanksteen assured the students that as engineers they had a large role to play in the arena of healthcare, which is becoming increasing data-driven and high-tech. “Hospitals are run by massive software systems, and unfortunately I see a great deal of bad software,” he said. “Get involved with cutting-edge companies that are breaking down the old, entrenched ways of doing things, think about integration and connectivity, and you can really make a positive impact.”

He gave an overview of the building blocks of his work and an “assignment” of sorts for those wanting to enter his field. “When I think of healthcare systems I include software, software integration, workflow, and end users,” he said. “As the healthcare system consolidates and integrates, it will need engineers who can think systemically across the healthcare landscape. In fact, a fun exercise would be to draw the schematic showing how patients move from the hospital or ambulatory surgical center directly to the home. This then has to overlay the current systems and work flows. Once that is done, then setting the measurement is the most critical step.”

He explained to the students that he had originally earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, assuming he’d work with children, before changing directions and earning a graduate degree in finance and economics from what was then affectionately known as Poly. Changing paths is sometimes a very good thing, he asserted. “If you’re doing the same thing three years from now that you’re doing now, that might be indicative of a problem,” he quipped. “That old cliché about the devil you know being better than the devil you don’t know is wrong. Get to know all the devils.”