Helga Rippen named president, CEO of Health Sciences South Carolina

Dr. Helga Rippen was named president and chief executive officer of Health Sciences South Carolina on Thursday (Jan. 29). Health Sciences is the nation’s first statewide health care research collaborative made up of health systems, research universities and medical schools. Rippen is a national expert in health information technology and its ability to revolutionize how patients receive care. In addition to her role at Health Sciences, Rippen joins the faculty of the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health. test

She comes to Carolina from Washington, D.C., where she most recently worked as a consultant in health information technology. Rippen has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Florida Atlantic University, a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Duke University, an M.D. from the University of Florida and a master’s of public health in health policy and management from Johns Hopkins University. She completed her residency in preventive medicine at Johns Hopkins as well as fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Germany and at the University of British Columbia. She is board certified in public health and general preventive medicine and holds a specialty board certification in clinical informatics.

What is your background and what attracted you to the health care profession?

There are two major events that shaped my path to become a physician informatician. The first is nearly drowning as a toddler, an experience that motivated me to make a positive impact in the world. The second was growing up during the era of the “Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman,” which highlighted the interface between technology and medicine — and isn’t it interesting that the science isn’t nearly as ‘science fiction’ as we once thought? As a result of these and other experiences, I pursued degrees in mechanical and biomedical engineering (as it was known then) then a medical degree. I learned how to build things as an engineer, and I learned how “building things” applies to health care systems. Most importantly, I learned patient health during my medical education. My medical specialty, general preventive medicine and public health, provides me with the tools to make a difference to many people at once (population health) and seek to prevent or minimize the impact of disease on people. What drives me is my passion to ensure that we leverage technology to improve health.

What attracted you to the position at Health Sciences South Carolina?

Health Sciences South Carolina is an amazing organization that demonstrates the commitment across universities, major health care systems and medical schools in South Carolina to work together to reach a common goal – making good health possible for South Carolinians. This is the only state in the country that I know of where this has been done. And I’m not the only one who has noticed. The American Association of Medical Colleges just presented Health Sciences South Carolina with one of only eight national Learning Health System Champion Awards. I want to be part of such an organization.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing our nation’s health care system?

The challenges are enormous: Reduce costs while treating more patients and delivering higher quality of care in a changing health care system – from health information technology infrastructure to payment models. I think all of that will fit into a tweet, but accomplishing it will take the wholehearted devotion of health systems, health organizations and patient communities over many years.

What role do you think technology and “big data” play in making improvements to health care?

Technology can provide tools to help health care systems, providers and patients in improving health and optimizing workflow. “Big data” allows us to discover, learn, assess and target interventions that can help improve health at lower cost and faster than ever before. However, with technology comes significant responsibilities. These technologies need to be effective, safe and secure. We need to view technology and “big data” as positive health care resources.

Any other thoughts?

I am also excited to be part of the University of South Carolina. I look forward to working with the faculty across the university to start a class on health innovations where students can solve real world problems in health care systems. Also, I’m reshaping my wardrobe to include a bit more garnet and black.

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