Jeff Semenchuk, Chief Innovation Officer, on embracing the unknown

After jobs at several startups, including two in health care, what drew Jeff Semenchuk to an 80-year-old company with thousands of employees? Below, he shares his love of the messy process of making something new and why we can’t be afraid to fail.
Jeff Semenchuk, CIO

What do you do at Blue Shield of California?

My job is to support and accelerate innovation, which we define as anything with an uncertain outcome. I lead my own small but mighty team. Part of our time is spent contributing directly to big initiatives designed to shape the future of health care. The rest of our time is focused on supporting our colleagues so they can innovate themselves. That might mean sharing practices they can deploy on their own teams or giving them resources to create something new. We do all this with our end goal of creating a healthcare system worthy of our family and friends. That drives everything we do.

Why did you join?

One reason was the exceptional leadership – from Paul Markovich, our President and Chief Executive Officer, to the senior team, to the Board. They get that health care is ripe for disruption because it hasn’t transformed in 20 years. For example, claims processing takes weeks if not months of effort and causes a lot of headaches for people, but technology could make this process easier, simpler, and more efficient.

Part of the problem is the healthcare industry is so complex that no single company can successfully innovate and improve it on its own. You have to partner with an entire ecosystem to make a difference. Blue Shield’s leaders recognized this, and they were taking action long before I arrived, as you can see by our robust infrastructure, customer base, and choice of products already in place.

Our location is another big advantage. California is very progressive in healthcare policy, and being in the Bay Area gives us access to partnerships other companies don’t have. My background is in healthcare startups, and I’ve seen how new players are beginning to disrupt the industry, just as they did with retail and financial services. External forces are going to play a larger role in the future of health care, and I liked that Blue Shield is embracing that shift.

Tell us about some projects you’re working on.

There’s a world of potential in data right now –figuring out how to capture the right data, keeping it secure, and using it to help members make better choices. It’s more than traditional analytics; it’s driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence.

One example is a pilot program with the startup Notable. We’re looking at using technology like natural language processing to improve both the physician and patient experience. Historically, physicians spend hours every day, and often at night, writing notes about patient visits into electronic medical health record systems. But what if you could capture that information in real-time, and the physician just had to make quick edits? It would dramatically improve the experience and quality and reduce costs. That pilot taught us a lot about what already works and where we need to make improvements, and it’s just one of several partnerships helping us define and reimagine what’s possible with healthcare data.

We’re also helping people understand and start practicing innovation inside Blue Shield with an innovation guide. It includes frameworks and practices people can use – from the moment someone identifies a need and are figuring out how to start – all the way through prototyping and scaling. We want to inspire a design-thinking, human-centered approach to our work that empathizes with peoples’ needs, whether they’re members, providers, or our own colleagues.

What’s your approach to leadership?

Innovation is a team sport, so my approach is focused on collaboration, internally and externally. To transform the claims process, for example, we need diverse perspectives and input from people who can look at the process with fresh eyes.

I also look at leadership through the lens of three areas:

  • Human: Everything we do is about serving people, and that drives the way I support my co-workers and partners.
  • Honest: Innovation requires trust. It’s unpredictable by nature, and we have to be real about that
  • Courageous: I want people taking chances. It’s my job to get folks comfortable with the fact that innovation is messy and help them understand an experiment can be a success regardless of whether the idea actually worked. It’s about having a learning mindset. You adapt, you iterate, and eventually you get where you want to be.

What are you most excited about?

We’re about to start experience journey mapping. We’re defining what a member’s experience should look like three to five years from now – and doing the same for providers, employers, and our own colleagues. Essentially, we’re designing the company’s new operating model, and we’ll start to figure out, unrestricted by our current processes or capabilities, what we need to deliver those experiences. For example, what will it be like when there’s no such thing as pre-authorization? It will take years of experimenting, prototyping, and testing to make it a reality, but it will be super cool work, and make a big difference.

I’m also excited share innovation stories happening at Blue Shield. And not just the successes, but the things we tried that didn’t work, and what we learned from them. I want people to know that even when things don’t go the way we expected, it’s all part of the process.

Interested in innovating with Jeff and the rest of the team?

Check out open roles and apply.