The Blog to Transform Advanced Care

Advancing Care through Innovation, Observation and Collaboration.

Announcing Leadership Profile Series – Matt Gonzales: From Software to Palliative Care

(Photo by Bear Gutierrez)

The 2019 C-TAC Summit will focus on cultivating the next generation of leaders in the advanced care movement. This profile is the first installment in a series of posts that will highlight emerging leaders in advanced care.

Dr. Matthew Gonzales has always been interested in technology. But serving as a caregiver for a gravely ill family member motivated him to study medicine.

“It was a profound experience,” Dr. Gonzales said, “I realized we can do a much better job of caring for people with serious illness and their families.”

When he was a software engineer, he helped develop a public database that allows clinicians to personalize medicine for those with HIV.

In medical school, he considered focusing on HIV care and cancer treatment. Then Dr. Gonzales was assigned to palliative care during an internship at the University of California, San Francisco. It was here he found his tribe.

“We were able to help patients and families in a meaningful way,” he said.

Dr. Gonzales is now the chief medical information officer of the Institute for Human Caring at Providence St. Joseph Health – the nation’s third-largest health system. The position marries his passion for technology and palliative medicine. He also works side-by-side with one of his mentors, Dr. Ira Byock, who founded the Institute and serves as its chief medical officer.

During his time as a palliative care fellow, Dr. Gonzales read The Four Things That Matter Most, in which Dr. Byock explains how expressions of thankfulness, love and forgiveness can have a significant impact in our lives.

“Those themes are so deeply personal and human,” Dr. Gonzales said. “It has helped me so much in my care to help people process the end of life.”

But Dr. Byock has taught him more than the finer points of how to deliver quality palliative care. Dr. Byock also emphasizes the value of self-care and the need to recognize the short and precious nature of life.

“Watching someone well-respected in the field do that every day is a true privilege,” Dr. Gonzales said.

In 2017 the Cambia Health Foundation selected Dr. Gonzales to participate in the Sojourns Scholar Leadership Program. This honor comes with a $180,000 grant, which Gonzales is using to customize the Epic electronic health record.

He has developed a framework to guide clinicians in leading advance care planning conversations and capture the results of those discussions electronically. He notes that ensuring advance directives are completed and honored can improve the patient experience.

“Something I’m most impressed by is the impact advance care planning and goals-of-care conversations have on patient satisfaction,” Dr. Gonzales said. “To me, that means we’re doing a good thing.”

Yet Dr. Gonzales warned that when used improperly, technology such as electronic health records can cause doctors to pay more attention to screens instead of patients.

The software engineer-turned palliative care physician offers this prescription:

If advocates can identify ways for technology to improve palliative care – such as people accessing their medical records via mobile devices – engineers can apply their innovative expertise to meet the real needs of patients and families.

“Ultimately, engineers like to solve a problem,” Dr. Gonzales said. “They like to dig in and create a solution.”

If you would like to nominate an emerging leader in advanced care to be featured in a future profile, please contact C-TAC Communications Manager Stephen Waldron at swaldron@thectac.org.

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