September 23, 2021 Episode 034

The Retailers are Coming: Walgreens CMO Kevin Ban On the Future of Community Care

From his time as an exchange student in Italy to serving as CMO at both Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and AthenaHealth, Kevin Ban’s career prepared him to guide pandemic response and the future of healthcare at one of the nation’s largest retail pharmacy chains.

The Retailers are Coming: Walgreens CMO Kevin Ban On the Future of Community Care

Since its first store opened in 1901, Walgreens has been embracing innovation in the retail pharmacy space, fueling its expansion to become a neighborhood health destination with more than 9,000 locations. As the healthcare industry navigates major structural changes – and a global pandemic – Walgreens is staying true to its roots of innovation and guiding what the future of healthcare looks like in America.

Kevin Ban joined Walgreens as Chief Medical Officer in January 2020, and by the end of February was already being thrust into pandemic planning and response. In the short time since, he’s implemented guidelines to ensure customer and team member safety, launched and expanded COVID-19 testing services across thousands of stores, and rolled out COVID-19 vaccinations, all while focusing on Walgreens’ long term goals for the strategic role it will play in healthcare.

During this episode of Healthcare is Hard, A Podcast for Insiders, Kevin draws on these experiences – as well as past roles including time spent as CMO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, CMO at AthenaHealth, and Professor at Harvard Medical School – in a wide-ranging discussion with Keith Figlioli. They touch on a number of topics including:

  • Decades of VBC Lessons – While value based care in America is still in its early days, Kevin has been a student of value-based arrangements for two decades. He describes time he spent in Italy in the early 2000s where he was exposed to the single-payer model, and what he calls the epitome of value based care. For example, he remembers the Italian health system being exceptionally good at delivering care outside of the hospital in a way that the U.S. health system would have never imagined. He also talked about how that background prepared him to become involved with one of the nation’s first VBC experiments – Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’ Alternative Quality Contract – at a time when his peers showed little interest. (for more on AQC, listen to the Healthcare is Hard Episode with Pat Gilligan, Chief Commercial Officer at BCBSMA)
  • Pairing primary care and pharmacy. In his time at Beth Israel, Kevin says he was amazed at how often plans for patients fell apart because of the challenges with medication management after discharge. These experiences formed Kevin’s beliefs about the imperative for getting medication reconciliation right. He says that any time you can pair primary care and pharmacy together thoughtfully, it will drive better outcomes, and talks about different strategies for ensuring synergy in the future.
  • Community care and retail’s role. Kevin knows how important the last mile of care is and says that connecting with people outside of the hospital was a continued source of frustration during his time at Beth Israel. However, that paradigm is completely different at Walgreens. People trust their pharmacist because they’re accessible and deeply knowledgeable, but overall, they’re an underutilized resource within the health system. While not long ago, it’s even difficult for Kevin to remember a time before pharmacies administered flu shots. And now, people go very comfortably to their local pharmacy for vaccines and testing, making them an important new site for primary care – just as Walgreens is delivering through its investment in and partnership with VillageMD.

To hear Kevin and Keith talk about these topics and more, listen to this episode of Healthcare is Hard.