Episode 97: ‘How COVID-19 is Reframing Healthcare in America’ with Robert Pearl MD – former CEO of The Kaiser Permanente Medical Group

Dear Friends & Colleagues,

On Friday March 27th 2020, I launched a limited podcast series addressing how the COVID-19 pandemic is reframing American healthcare.  You can find the introductory episode here.  In this series, I am interviewing future-facing, courageous healthcare leaders and entrepreneurs – asking two questions:

(1) How is the COVID-19 pandemic immediately changing the way you are delivering healthcare?   (2) How will COVID-19 reframe American healthcare for years to come?

In this interview we’ll hear highly strategic, science-based insights regarding the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, and specific recommendations and illustrations for what we need to be doing in the face of those implications over the next couple of years.  We’ll also be discussing, in some depth, how to create a new and better healthcare, leveraging the learnings and catalyst of this pandemic, as an opportunity to rapidly reframe our approach to chronic disease management and overall healthcare delivery.

Our guest this week is Dr. Robert Pearl. Dr. Pearl was the CEO of the Permanente Medical Group & the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group of Kaiser Permanente, where he was responsible for over 5 million patients’ lives.  He and his colleagues at KP set the bar for what value-based healthcare could and should look like, and the outcomes that can be achieved.  Since leaving his position in 2017, Dr. Pearl has written a book entitled, ‘MisTreated: Why we think we’re getting good healthcare – and why we’re usually wrong’.  He currently teaches healthcare strategy and policy at Stanford Graduate School of Business and has been named one of Modern Healthcare’s 50 most influential physician leaders.  I’ve had the good fortune of speaking with and interviewing Dr. Pearl numerous times over the past couple of years.  You can listen to one of those discussions on Episode #46 of ‘Creating a New Healthcare’.

In this interview, we’ll cover a number of topics including:

  • 3 Coronavirus facts Americans should know before returning to work or school.  (Read the article by Dr. Pearl here)
  • Dr. Pearl’s strategic recommendations for how to utilize testing and deploy a safer approach to reducing social distancing. This is a strategy that balances our socioeconomic need to reopen businesses and other social venues (like schools and places of worship) with the need to protect the most vulnerable individuals in our society – what I’m calling a “risk-stratified segmentation” approach to social distancing.
  • The flaws in our healthcare system that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed, including the fragility and unsustainability of our Fee-For-Service payment model.
  • Robbie’s thoughts about what lessons we should learn from this current crisis to inform how we reframe and reform the American healthcare system moving forward.

Dr. Pearl has the incisive thinking and measured approach of a surgeon, combined with the practical experience and insights of a healthcare CEO, combined with the knowledge and nuanced understanding of a healthcare policy expert.  It’s nothing less than awesome to listen to how he utilizes clinical science and evidence-based reasoning to dissect the current pandemic situation.  His prescription for how to go about dealing with the pandemic is hopeful and encouraging.  Robbie is neither an optimist or a pessimist, but instead a realist; and I appreciate his scientific and data driven objectivity. What I appreciate as well is the palpable sense of compassion and empathy that drives his passion for what he is doing – which is informing the lay public and medical field on why and how we must reframe healthcare.  It’s clear that he, like myself, views this current COVID-19 pandemic as a catalytic opportunity for reforming healthcare.

What also emerged during the conversation is that Robbie is authoring a 2nd book.  I am looking forward to reading it and learning more from one of the most knowledgable, experienced and discerning healthcare experts of our time. In the meantime, you can access some of Robbie’s writings at www.robertpearlmd.com.

Until next time, be safe and be well.

Zeev Neuwirth, MD