Winning in the COVID – or Any – Economy

While some industries are deploying robots to gain efficiencies during COVID, and Healthcare’s use of telehealth is skyrocketing, Mimi shares how several ABL Members are using each other to Win during COVID – or anytime.


This past weekend The Wall Street Journal’s “EXCHANGE” section headline rang out: “Winning in the Covid Economy: Robot Co-Workers and Hands-Free Pizza Delivery.” The feature went on to extol “companies best positioned for the Covid era [that] had technology that allowed them to adapt quickly to changing times: touchless transactions, robotics, online commerce or the infrastructure needed to support a decentralized workforce.”

Nestled between homages to Domino’s hands-free pizza delivery and Stanley Black & Decker’s robot co-workers, was a section about a company whose “business model is made for this technology,” according to Kaiser Permanente’s EVP of health plan operations, Dr. Artie Southam.

Hi, I’m Mimi Grant of the ABL Organization.

Just last December, at ABL’s 22nd annual “Innovations in Healthcare Awards” Artie was presented with ABL’s “Leadership in Innovation” Award, since long before COVID, Kaiser Permanente had implemented their robust electronic medical record system that put EPIC on the map.

Their EMR and telehealth program already enabled the majority of Kaiser’s physician-patient interactions. However, according to the Journal, last year video consults represented less than 1% of scheduled visits, and telephone only 16% (although many more “e-visits” were held via email exchange).

But, once COVID hit, by April, 74% of its visits were by phone, and 7% by video. Three months later – once restrictions started to lift – televisits by phone receded to 42%, but video visits continued to climb, to 14%.

The great news is that patients across the country are now able to take advantage of telehealth. Just this past week Kim Darling, CEO of Competitive Health, was the Featured Member Presenter at our ABL-Health Orange County ZOOM Table. Kim has developed a “Healthcare Marketplace” of “Tele-everything” offerings for payers, TPAs, employer groups, brokers, and associations. Among the most popular among a range of telehealth products is their tele-behavioral health programs, particularly since, as The Washington Post announced as early as May, “A third of Americans now show signs of clinical anxiety or depression, [the] Census Bureau finds amid coronavirus pandemic.”

The Census Bureau? Yes; it turns out the National Center for Health Statistics partnered with the Census Bureau to create the “Household Pulse Survey” to assess the impact of COVID on the nation’s mental health, with virtually all cohorts more anxious and depressed in July than they were in April.

Of course, even CEOs can feel the anxiety that comes with wondering if they’re making the right decisions. That’s why, since 1983, ABL’s been convening CEO’s of, first, technology companies, and by the late ‘80’s, healthcare organizations.

Fortunately, one of the SO/CAL/TEN medtech Members who helped us make the leap into Healthcare was Bob Funari. At the time, Bob was the president of Pharmaseal, one of Baxter’s largest divisions, since then he’s also been the CEO of Syncor International; Crescent Healthcare; the Chairman of Nx Stage; and currently he’s Executive Chairman of Patient Care America.

We’ve also been fortunate to have Bob as the Chairman of ABL’s Healthcare Executive Council, serving as our guiding light for many years – as our Members “grapple with the challenges that we face in healthcare,” even during the best of times, and use the Round Tables as an “opportunity to bring your problems to a knowledgeable group of people and get good advice and counsel,” particularly during this time of high stress.

One of our Members who vicariously feels the stress of millennials in working in Silicon Valley’s tech epicenter is Cecile Currier, CEO of CONCERN, the Valley’s largest Employee Assistance Program – which, of course, is now providing online counseling services to wherever tech employees may be moving to. Fortunately for ABL’s Silicon Valley Healthcare Round Table, Cecile hosts our sessions in El Camino Hospital, “the Hospital of Silicon Valley,” where she’s also a VP.

El Camino has to be among the most tech-enabled hospitals in the country with robotic tugs delivering linens and pharmaceuticals, the most advanced surgical and radiology equipment, and multi-facing cameras, microphones, and screens in each of their impressive meeting rooms. Luckily for us, a few times before the State was shut down, and all of our ROUND Tables became ZOOM Tables we were able to “practice” holding hybrid In Person/ZOOM Tables at El Camino.

As you might expect, the med-techy Members in the Group gave me hands-on coaching, including at the Round Table the week before the first of what have been 45 all-ZOOM Tables since then.

To echo the words of Grace Li, CEO of On Lok Lifeways, “ABL provides an excellent opportunity to share knowledge and expertise on the most current issues in the healthcare industry,” including how to facilitate a ZOOM Table with typically 16-18 Members sharing their best practices, consulting each other on their toughest business issues and providing what Debbie Toth, the CEO of Choice in Aging, calls her “think tank family.”

And frankly, the silver lining of COVID has been NO TRAFFIC! Members are ZOOMing into their Round Tables from their home offices, backyards, extended vacation hide-outs, and their plants in Taiwan and China.

Best of all, for three hours they’re with fellow Members they trust, who, as Oli Thordarson, CEO of Alvaka Networks, says “become more than business associates that meet once a month – you become friends.”

And we’d love to have you with us.

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