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Developing a Patient-Centered Engineering Culture: Q&A With Zarina Shameer

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HS_Zarina_CureatrZarina Shameer is a veteran software engineer who was recently named Cureatr's vice president of engineering. In this position, she is responsible for mobilizing the company's engineering talent to build software solutions that transform the way providers care for their patients. Passionate about people, technology, and innovation, Zarina brings 16 years of experience in the healthcare and video-game industries where she worked for trailblazers including Mayo Clinic, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, AstraZeneca, and Digital Chocolate. Zarina holds an MS and BS in computer science from Bharathiar University in Coimbatore, India, and an executive leadership certification from Harvard Medical School.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about your background?

Zarina Shameer: I became interested in computer science because I was excited about gaming and I wanted to be in the gaming industry. I thought going into computer science was the step that would get me there. I spent my first five years working for a gaming company called Digital Chocolate. I was really enjoying my time there, but during that period, I lost my father to cancer. Seeing him as a patient is what led me to the healthcare industry.

When I was watching his experience as a patient, I realized there were disconnected pieces in his care. For example, primary care did not know what was going on with his oncology visits. Those pieces were not coming together, and his health was deteriorating because there was no insight from the different providers as to the medications that were causing problems or side effects for my dad.

We lost him to cancer, or at least that's what we thought. But a few days after his death, we figured out that he likely died from a side effect of the chemotherapy he was receiving.

That experience disrupted what I wanted to do with my life. I took a year break to figure out where I wanted to concentrate my energy. That led me to the healthcare industry and, more specifically, the penetration of technology in healthcare.

I realized that the technology integration in the healthcare industry was so low that there was no way to get a reliable, comprehensive view of a patient’s medical history. Healthcare is provided by different groups — pharmacists, providers, specialists, etc. — that are all disconnected. Viewing this disconnect from a technology perspective, I thought there could and should be a single record that can be looked at by different people to help provide unique care for the patient.

I restarted my career at Mayo Clinic in 2011. Since then, I've been in the healthcare industry working with healthcare organizations and pharmaceutical companies, always focusing on providing better care for patients.

Q: What attracted you to Cureatr?

ZS: I was attracted to Cureatr when I learned about what the company is trying to do. Whenever I pick up a project or join a company, I look at the impact I personally will be making and the problem that's at the root of what we'll be trying to solve. For Cureatr, it's medication management. One of the top causes of death in the United States is medication error. Out of that, suboptimal medication mismanagement is one of the top reasons for errors.

Cureatr's vision and mission got me excited and made me realize that this would be the right next step for me.

Q: What is your approach to software engineering?

ZS: My approach is agile, and there is a reason for that. As I said, the penetration of technology in the healthcare industries is really low. Right now, COVID is pushing us as an industry towards being more friendly to technology. There is a lot of change happening. There is no room for any other way of engineering than agile.

With agile, we can be adaptive. We can adapt to the changes, especially with a strong partnership with the product team. We have great partners here at Cureatr. With that partnership, agile is the right way to approach our work because it will help us focus on what needs to be built. We can build in such a way that it is incremental, which is adaptable and can respond to change.

Q: What do you like most about Cureatr's technology?

ZS: It's already in the cloud. This takes away a lot of problems in terms of how we maintain the infrastructure and keep the lights on. Being in the cloud allows our engineering energy to be steered towards solving real problems for our patients.

Q: What is your vision for Cureatr's engineering team? How does that vision support Cureatr's overarching vision?

ZS: We need to stay focused on "patient first." We're developing patient-first telehealth solutions that empower our clinical pharmacists, allowing them to focus on what really matters: making patients' lives better.

How do we get there? In terms of technology, we need to be agile in our approach. We need to adhere to industry standards. We need to be in the cloud. Those are things that will help us get there.

In terms of people, I dare our engineers to be leaders in their space. I encourage them to think about what we can do for Cureatr's success if each one of us is dedicated toward the vision we have, which is providing the best care for our patients.

If I'm developing something, my focus might be on how well the solution can interact with the clinical pharmacist so that it becomes natural for them to operate this piece of software. This will allow them to derive insight from it and deliver the best care they can for patients.

Q: What do you think sets Cureatr apart from other medication management companies?

ZS: What I feel is a differentiating factor is that we are empowering our clinical pharmacists to provide medication management to patients using technology that combines data from different sources so that they have a 360° view of our patients.

For example, we have information about patient medications, whether from primary care or specialty care, combined in one place. We have information about discharges from hospitals. For example, we know a patient's diagnosis, their medication history, whether they picked up a medication on time or was there a delay, whether patterns are emerging, and more. This is the kind of information we process based on the data we receive, which empowers our clinical pharmacists when they reach out.

Q: You've worked with Mayo Clinic, Memorial Sloan Kettering, and other leading healthcare organizations. How do such organizations leverage software to achieve patient care objectives?

ZS: My experience at Mayo has defined how I look at technology. Mayo Clinic has always focused on providing the greatest care to the patient. They even brought that into little things. Whenever we went on our breaks, there were chances that we would run into a patient in an elevator or sharing a table in a cafe. Mayo would have us wear proper clothes and remind us that we should do not discuss patient-sensitive issues wherever patients could hear us because this could make us become less sensitive to how patients experience the hospital.

That culture gets into you so much. Every day as a technologist, whenever I need to make a decision about what the back end of a solution should be, what the front end should be, or what it should look like, I always think: If a patient is going to experience this through a provider, am I giving the provider the right information in the best way possible? Do I need to use technology A or B so it the solution becomes more intuitive when they need to access it? Is it real time? Is it fast? Those decisions we make as technologists should always be with a focus on delivering a battery of technology that will help provide great care to patients. I think the culture Mayo established really set me up for a great career in healthcare.

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