Ashok Chennuru – Elevance Health
While Ashok Chennuru earned his degrees in computer science and engineering, he’s been more fascinated by how to apply the information underlying the technology.
“I have a passion for data and turning it into insights to drive positive impacts and outcomes,” he says.
As chief data and insights officer for Elevance Health Inc., formerly Anthem Inc., Chennuru has seen changes in how data is collected and stored, such as going from large on-premises data warehouses to the cloud. He’s also seen data, including images, gain wider use in areas such as electronic medical records.
As Anthem rebranded in June to become Elevance Health and provide more than health insurance, Chennuru was leading the development of a digital platform that will be shared throughout the health care industry.
“Data is really the new currency,” he says. “With all the digitalization happening in health care—and when you look at the collaboration between providers, payers, government and pharma—we’re really partnering with stakeholders across the industry.”
A depth of data
Elevance Health serves about 118 million people, including nearly 47 million through its health plans. That means Chennuru and his global staff of more than 800 draw from a very deep data well that grows daily.
“In the past, end users looked at static data and made decisions. We can now drill down more,” he says.
To make it easier to analyze data, he’s working with collaborators that include Epic Systems, a health care software company, to develop a platform. When completed, the platform’s data will be used by internal stakeholders, external collaborators, strategic partners, and researchers. The aim is to guide preventive care and treatments, as well as to spot health trends and conditions, Chennuru says.
Chennuru and his team began planning the cloud platform in 2021 with partners such as Google, Amazon Web Services and Snowflake. When chatting with Toggle in May, he estimated the platform was 40 percent integrated and hoped to have it completed by the end of 2022.
Share and share alike
To power artificial intelligence, the platform will use internal capabilities and services from vendors such as Tetrasoft and HiLabs. The AI will enable a more complete use of data to help drive health care assessments and decisions, Chennuru says.
For instance, when done, the platform will direct members to the closest available providers for specific health conditions. It will share images more quickly, as well, and speed up authorizations for treatments and procedures by digitizing processes that are still often done by fax.
Chennuru says the platform will also help providers make care decisions after initial treatment, including the steps patients need to take as they recuperate.
Ideally, the platform’s shared data will better inform health care decisions and treatment for groups of patients who are in the same age range and have similar conditions. For instance, if a 50-year-old has a cardiovascular condition and is pre-diabetic, providers will be able to see care options for those circumstances, Chennuru says.
He adds the data platform can be expanded to include information for behavioral health treatments, vaccine registries and information about pharmaceutical expenses and the effectiveness of drugs.
Protection a priority
When data is analyzed across groups, it will be de-identified to comply with guidelines in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The data will also be used in compliance with strict personal protection laws, Chennuru says, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act, which allows members to opt out of allowing use of their medical information.
While complying with the regulations, Chennuru says he also needs to prevent data and information getting used improperly to create biased algorithms based on demographic information found in zip codes—even though a zip code can give insight into the public health trends and conditions in the area.
He’s also looking to expand his team and offers definitive ideas on the qualities and skillsets people need for working with data.
“A passion for continuous learning is more essential than experience,” Chennuru says. “You need to have the problem-solving mindset and to have a curious and analytical mindset. You must also communicate well and crisply because these are large teams and meetings.”
Grounded in analytics
Chennuru earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering in 1991 from Madurai Kamaraj University in southern India, then his master’s in computer science from Missouri University of Science and Technology in 1994.
He says he became interested in applying data, as opposed to software engineering and programming, because he built a data analytic product before joining Anthem. Chennuru was an enterprise technologist at Liberty Mutual from 2002 to 2006 before joining WellPoint in Columbus, Ohio, as its director of enterprise information architecture.
In June 2012, he shifted to then-Anthem (the companies had merged) as its staff vice president of enterprise information management and architecture. In May 2013, he was named staff vice president for enterprise provider and clinical analytics. Chennuru became vice president for enterprise data and analytics in February 2017 and was named to his current position in June 2020.
“We’re transforming from being a health plan to focusing more on the whole person and being a lifetime, trusted health partner,” Chennuru says. “We’re not just building something for Elevance Health. As one of the largest integrated data sets, this could be something that benefits the industry.”
View this feature in the Summer II 2022 Edition here.
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