Welcome to the Healthcare CEO podcast. Join us as Daniel Fernandez, healthcare leader and patient experience advocate, leads dynamic one-on-one discussions with healthcare executives, consultants, and other industry experts. Listen in as they share actionable insights and unique perspectives in the day in the life of a healthcare CEO.
*The following has been adapted from our interview with Dr. Clement, which can be found here. Please note, since filming this interview EVOLVD Health’s name has changed to Ciba Health. You can find more information about Ciba Health at cibahealth.com.
Meet Innocent Clement
Dr. Clement is the founder and CEO of EVOLVD Health. He is the former CEO and co-founder of Kaia Health, a digital therapeutic company. He led Kaia in the US — including partnerships, clinical trials, regulatory submissions, and expansion across North America. He is a trained physician from both Columbia and Harvard universities. In his current role, he harnesses the core competencies of team members to ensure optimal deployment of their skills and ensure effective and fast execution as he designs, implements, and optimizes business operations to support companies’ goals.
How Being a Citizen of the World Has Helped Shaped EVOLVD Health
Daniel Fernandez (DF): Welcome to the show, Dr. Clement!
IC: Thank you so much, Daniel! I look forward to this conversation.
DF: Columbia and Harvard. Very impressive. I feel like you are a very driven individual and would have excelled at anything in life. Why doctor?
IC: That’s a very good question. My background — my parents are originally from Nigeria. Immigrant parents usually want you to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. So they steered me towards being a doctor. I love it, because I really love to help people. And I’m glad I came into healthcare, where I’ve been able to provide that support.
DF: Tell us more background. Were you born in Nigeria? Were you born in the States? And what did that look like, to become the innovative healthcare leader that you are today?
IC: I call myself a citizen of the world. My parents were all over traveling. I’ve lived in 15 different countries across the globe. My dad was an ambassador. So I was actually born in Zurich, Switzerland, where I grew up, and every two or three years we’d move to a different country — which was great to learn about new cultures. From there, I moved to the US for school — Columbia University for undergrad. After that, I went to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Then I moved back to Columbia University for my medical residency. After residency, the next step for me was: hey, what do you want to do? I couldn’t decide. Maybe a fellowship? But at some point, I was like, you know what? It would take about five years to do a fellowship. So I decided that’s not what I wanted to do. I decided to go to Harvard instead, where I did my Master’s/Graduate training there.
While at Harvard, I asked myself what would be the next step. One afternoon, McKenzie was presenting and recruiting doctors. I thought that sounded interesting. So I talked to them, went back to my room, and applied. After two days, I got an email from McKenzie, saying that they would like to schedule an interview. I went through the process. After two days, I got another email to schedule an aptitude test. So I went through that process, got hired, and worked there for a year. I loved consulting and learned a lot in a short period of time. But looking back, in the long-term, that’s not where I wanted to be. As a consultant, it doesn’t matter your background. They train you to do whatever they want you to do. I was doing automobiles, chemicals, transportation. I only did healthcare-related consulting during my last month at McKenzie.
So for me, traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast every week was not easy. While I was doing that, I met with one of my partners at Kaia, who was at MIT and cross-registered at Harvard. We started talking about entrepreneurship. And that’s my story of how I got started to where I am today.
DF: I love how you consider yourself a citizen of the world. My wife and I have spent the last year and a half traveling the world. We’ve seen so many countries. Obviously, prior to this pandemic. If I could give you a ticket to go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
IC: I’d go back to Switzerland. I love it. It’s super expensive to live there, but I love it. The culture, the food. And because it’s in Europe, there’s easy access to so many other European countries: Germany, France, Belgium, and all of that — and their cultures, too. So yes, if you gave me a ticket today, that’s where I’d be headed.
No Person Is an Island
DF: I love it. I looked at your website and there were two things that stood out to me. The first is that you are surrounded by amazing talent. So I had to ask myself — because this is valuable information for our listeners — how do you do that? How do you surround yourself with these amazing people? It looks like you have a dream team of talent. How does that happen?
IC: I get that question a lot. For me, as a CEO and founder of a company, I understand quickly, no matter how good your idea is, if you don’t have the right team to execute on those ideas, it’s as good as nothing. I’ve learned a lot from my experience in healthcare and business school. I understood that if you really want to build a successful organization, you have to employ the individuals who will be able to support your mission and your ideas. So you need diversity. You need a team that will really buy into those ideas and execute them. It was strategic for us to identify the key individuals, that they bought into the culture, and understood what we wanted to do. You need people who are passionate about healthcare and who understand how to build on your ideas.
DF: In my role as Chief Experience Officer, I’ve reviewed tens of thousands of sites and online presence for organizations. The other thing I noticed about your site is that you have probably one of the most diverse teams I’ve ever seen in an organization. It spans age, gender, and race. Was that by design?
IC: Absolutely. It was by design. As I said, I’m a citizen of the world. So I love diversity. That’s why I love New York. Bringing people from diverse backgrounds together — male, female, Indian, Chinese, Black — the most important thing is you need to bring these people together. Because healthcare is everyone. So it’s very important for people who come to see that we are truly diverse. Not just from one place, but from all different perspectives.
Taking a Holistic Approach to Healthcare
DF: In many interviews, CEOs have talked about how the healthcare system is broken. Tell us about EVOLVD Health and what you’ve been able to accomplish.
IC: For me, as a physician myself, I understand that our patients deserve better, and I’ve seen firsthand patients’ frustrations with the system. And, as I know you agree with me, the COVID pandemic has really exposed the healthcare system for what it is today. The time is now to fix it. It has become very transactional. The patient comes in. 10 to 15 minutes, they’re out. It’s a symptom-based approach. Nobody’s looking at it to find out the underlying causes of a condition. How can you address it from its root cause? That would empower the patient. The only way to fix it is to disrupt the status quo.
How do you do that? You have to introduce technology and provide access — quality access. Make it convenient. Whatever it is. It shouldn’t be that much of a problem. That’s what I said I was going to do with EVOLVD. Quality access at their convenience, when they need it. As well as being patient-centric. Because the conventional healthcare system today is very doctor-centric. It has to be patient-centric. It’s important.
We have to be able to say, what can we do about prevention? Is conventional healthcare truly about prevention? No. I don’t think so. So what are the key pillars? Ensure that it’s patient-centric. Truly preventative. Patients should have access when they need it. It should be a multi-disciplinary approach. Also, engage providers — dietitians, health coaches. The most important thing, though, is to keep the patient engaged. IF they are not engaged, it becomes a big problem. It’s also important to integrate a functional medicine approach. Most people are not familiarized with it. Functional medicine is also medicine. Look at the underlying causes of disease and address it from there. It empowers patients in their healthcare journey.
DF: I love that. I feel like the conventional vs. functional debate has been a debate for a number of years. Are there any common misconceptions you often hear about functional medicine?
IC: All the time. People ask if it’s real medicine. We really need to create awareness and education so that people understand what it is. Functional medicine providers are like the same providers who went to medical school and are board-certified. But they go the extra mile to get certification to become functional medicine providers.
People could then gradually begin to see that this is truly what the healthcare industry needs. It’s not just about managing patients based only on their symptoms. That’s not the right approach. If you do that, you’re going to put them on medication. But for us, we want to minimize prescription medication as much as possible. But again, if it’s needed, yes, you get it. But the symptom-based approach is not solving the problem. So you have to look at the root cause and address it from there.
Lessons from 2020
DF: Let’s talk about 2020. It has been a year like no other. Do you agree?
IC: Absolutely. It’s been a crazy year. I’m hoping that it’s going to get better. Fingers crossed.
DF: I feel like you are at a distinct advantage because a lot of the things you offer are in the digital realm, when a lot of other practices were still working with pencil and paper. It was no more than six months ago when I went to see a GI physician and they gave me a clipboard with a pencil. And I thought that eventually they’d be forced to evolve. Has it impacted you in any way, this year? Whether it’s been through technology solutions, messaging strategies, or growth strategies?
IC: Yes. Absolutely. With technology advancement, we can see what it can do and how it can be integrated into healthcare for access and quality of care. Whereas once you went to a doctor’s office and used a pen and paper, now you can use technology to use your cell phone or computer to fill everything out. It’s more convenient for the patient, and it makes their information more legible. Why not integrate that?
What we did is that you are required to create a profile on our platform. After that, you complete the consent questionnaire. After that, you complete the pre-assessment questionnaire to talk about family history, medical history, nutritional history, etc… It’s very user-friendly. People can complete it in five to ten minutes. All they need to do is check boxes. Then there’s the comprehensive questionnaire to get to know the patient better. To understand why they’re coming to the provider. People really need to take advantage of these technologies. It makes it so much easier for people.
DF: We’re having this call on Zoom. If you would’ve asked the average American at the beginning of the year what Zoom was, they would’ve looked at you like a deer in headlights. Yet, everyone knows what Zoom is today. Patient expectations will change because of this. Do you agree? How will this help shape the practices of tomorrow?
IC: It’s already happening. We launched EVOLVD in June. As of today, we have over 600 patients. The stats are there. 70% of patients right now don’t want to go to a physical location right now. They’re concerned about going in there and getting infected with COVID. So people are starting to see that as long as everything is HIPAA compliant, they’re ok with it. People are really adopting technology to access healthcare. The key here is the convenience that it provides. You access it when you need it and you have quick options. There are a lot of vendors offering the telehealth option. So you look for what provides you value. You don’t have to wait three or four weeks to schedule an appointment and see a provider.
A patient should be able to see a provider when they need to. So we have an algorithm built into the platform. Patients go to their phones and get matched with a provider who’s available in real-time.
DF: This year has been challenging. For the most part, CEOs we’ve talked to have mentioned how this can be a lonely role. When it comes to mental health, how do you take care of yourself personally?
IC: It’s important. I ensure I exercise, I eat right — I know it’s sometimes difficult to do. But I do it for my mental health and for my physical health. Because if I’m not healthy, I’m not going to be able to do what I want to do. I also use Headspace. I’m not sure if you’ve used that before, but it’s very helpful if I want to relax. I also go on daily walks for an hour. Every day. I do push-ups, listen to things that will make me relax. It’s crucial to stay healthy. If you aren’t healthy, how are you going to lead a team to success? So for me, it’s very, very important. I also want to ensure everyone is healthy.
Lessons in Perspective
DF: I learned long ago that leaders are readers — and I’m also an avid reader. What’s the last great book you’ve read?
IC: The last book I read was a book by an Indian author. It’s about the economics of the world. I live here in the first world. But there’s a lot also going on in the third world. He was one of my professors. There are a lot of misconceptions from people in first-world countries about third-world countries, and that book really brings out what it is like to be in a third-world. There are also commonalities. And that book really helped me understand to look at things from a different perspective. And it was important to me, because, as I said, as a kid, I grew up all around the world, exposed to so many different cultures. So for me, learning about this is important. I love learning new things every day. No one has a monopoly on knowledge, and it’s important to keep an open mind. Look at things from a different perspective.
DF: I personally consider myself a student for life. What has this year and this pandemic taught you?
IC: I’ve learned a lot. During the pandemic itself, I was in New York — the heart of the COVID epidemic. I was right in the middle, providing care for patients. A patient comes in and they don’t know what you do. I’ve never felt so helpless in my entire training as a doctor. I’ve never been in that situation where I see a patient and I really don’t know what to do with the patient. You try to manage them, but they want more. What else is there? But you don’t know. There are no protocols. There’s so much. For a lot of us, the training we got was our saving grace. Patients would come in, we didn’t know what to do, and we did the best we could. Treat them with compassion. People are going through a lot — and it’s important to understand where they’re coming from and how you can best support them. My key takeaway is that it’s very important to be very compassionate. Put yourself in their situation.
DF: This is a show by leaders, for leaders — in hopes that there’s shared learning. What advice would you give to listeners during this time of need?
IC: For me, when I build a team, I build a culture. First of all, we’re all human beings first. You have to be cognizant of that before you start to build the company. The culture has to be right. You want to be very transparent and available. You want to keep an open-door policy. As a CEO, you live in a lonely world. You think, “Ok. I’m the CEO. I’m the founder.” You want to know what’s going on. For you to know, you have to keep that open-door policy. And you want to be very compassionate. Make people feel important and supported. Keep your word. At the end of the day, you have to be compassionate and carry everyone along. We’re all in this together. If you don’t walk as a team, you won’t be able to succeed.
DF: In closing, you’re leading this company that’s disrupting and really challenging the status quo. What would you like p people to know about EVOLVD Health?
IC: I want people to know that we’re building a company that’s innovative and provides value for our patients. We’re very patient-centric. We truly care about patients.
DF: After talking to you today, I genuinely believe from the bottom of my heart that you do care. I think that, as a leader, that’s important. With that in mind, I want to thank you for your time and for sharing your knowledge.
IC: Thank you Daniel and Jodi for the time. I enjoyed it. I consider my service an agent of change. I take one day at a time and I want to always create value for our patients and audience. I love what I do and I will continue to do this. This is my passion and I will continue to do this until we find solutions for all patients.
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