Evolutionaries Podcast Interview – Ran Whitehead, CEO of PeaceHealth Labs

Hi you Evolutionaries you! This week we have something very special, an interview with Ran Whitehead, CEO of PeaceHealth Labs. This is an evolutionary you’re going to want to listen to!

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Podcast Transcription

  • [Intro music]
  • Randy: Hi, welcome to the Evolutionary’s Podcast. I’m Randy Harrington.
  • Carmen: And I’m Carmen Voillequé.
  • Randy: And today, Carmen, I’m very excited. We have a wonderful guest with us. His name is Ran Whitehead. He is the chief executive officer and chief mission officer, I like that …
  • Carmen: Cool!
  • Randy: Yeah, that’s cool … of the Peace Health Laboratories which is a substantial medical testing facility serving lots of Oregonians and probably even be on that.
  • Ran, welcome! It’s good to have you here.
  • Ran: It is great, thanks for having me.
  • Randy: Thank you! Uhh, you know, I met you and was struck immediately by the fact that you are in a business that is changing just crazy fast. Would you agree with that assessment?
  • Ran: Absolutely.
  • (laughter)
  • Ran: Between the, the financials of health care and the health care affordability act that’s now playing out, uhh, there’s just massive changes going on our industry, uhh, every … almost each and every day.
  • Randy: And so from the lab’s perspective, uhh, we all go through this: we go to our doctor and our doctors as well. You need to go and get your cholesterol checked and we need to get this checked and all of that goes through you, is that correct?
  • Ran: Yeah, typically that’s how, how, how it works today.
  • Carmen: Lives depend on this.
  • Randy: That’s right.
  • Carmen: It’s not, we’re not talking about, “Well, this business is changing a lot and you know, we might not use the same kind of Kleenex in the future.” I mean, this is a big deal, right?
  • Randy: This is a big deal, yeah, absolutely.
  • Ran: Yeah it is. And when you talk about laboratories, a statistic that I share with folks that they probably don’t readily know is that roughly 80% of the objective data in a patient’s medical record is laboratory information. But yet, we’re only 4% of the health care dollar expenditures in this country.
  • Randy: Wow.
  • Ran: And so, uhh, you get a lot of value out of laboratory information.
  • Randy: See, now that’s, that was a great, that’s a great statistic right there. That’s a happy health care statistic; we often don’t hear those.
  • (laughter)
  • Randy: Uhh, you know, [00:02:00] uhh, I was, uhh pleased to be able to get a tour of your lab facility and it’s a stunning facility and one of the things that really knocked my socks off was the fact that you’ve got, uhh, you know, a lot of floor space dedicated to and I’m gonna call it traditional testing just because I’m gonna make it easy. And then you’ve got this other area where we’re starting to talk about genetic and molecular-based testing.Can you give me a quick view of how those tests are coming into popularity in the medical field right now?
  • Ran: Well, you know, due to the human genome that was unmapped and uhh, increasing technology, we’re now able at a very seemingly low-cost today and I’ve heard numbers of even like a thousand dollars a test, you could do a total molecular map of an individual. Where that’s important is if folks go along and they uhh, get sick or have various kind of cancers. Cancers evolve in different ways depending on an individual’s genetic makeup. And one person who has breast cancer may not respond to the same kind of therapy that the next patient does and by being able to do these genetic tests and being able to give the provider an idea of the kind of cancer they’re dealing with that’s specific for that individual, they can find the treatment that would be far more effective for, for an individual. So, this molecular test is becoming massively important to help clinicians make sure that the right kind of treatment is given to the folks and that they don’t have to suffer through treatments that don’t do them any good at all.
  • Randy: So clinicians are beginning to develop an appetite for these tests. They’re, they’re beginning to value the information that’s coming from these tests because we’re getting new treatment modalities that actually work better.
  • Ran: Oh yeah, absolutely. And you know, not a month goes by that you can’t pick up a medical journal and find some other new treatment modality that’s being recommended. But they’re really targeted based on these molecular testing, uhh, regimes that, uhh, [00:04:00] we’re now getting into.
  • Randy: So here you are, you’re running this operation and you’ve got a lot of people that work for you and you’re looking ahead, two, three, five, ten years … how do you manage leading change in this kind of environment? What are the challenges that you face?
  • Ran:  Well, one is, you know, we have a technical force that you saw a lot of folks as you were touring our facility, you probably saw that they had a lot of gray hair.
  • Randy: (laughs)
  • Ran: (laughs) And the uhh, the average of our technical staff currently is over the age of 55, and they will be, uhh, in the next four, five years, reaching the average age of 62, so, we’re gonna have to be replacing folks, not only that can do these kind of molecular testing that I’m talking about, but they’re also gonna have the appreciation for how to become consultants and manage a lot of complex information and be able to work with clinicians and eventually patients, I mean what does all that mean? There’s a day in the not-too-distant future, fact there’s a company right now in Southern California that’s just developed a patch that you put on your arm that will continuously do electrolyte levels for you so your potassium level and your sodium levels …
  • Randy: Mm-hm.
  • Ran: … can be monitored, uhh, you know, continuously and be sent to, you know, your providers to monitor your care.
  • And so, you got all this information that’s coming uhh, from now the patient’s homes that’s gonna have to be put together, aggregated and then put it into a format where clinicians can understand that and affect the, the course of treatment.
  • So, in the future, we’re gonna have to have a folks that have a far different skill set than they do today. They’re not only gonna have to understand the world of laboratory medicine, but they’re gonna have to understand informatics, they’re gonna have to understand to social media … so in addition to all the health care reform is changing, the information age is rapidly changing [00:06:00] the skill sets that we’re gonna require.
  • Carmen: Ran, as I listen to you telling that story, I’m thinking, “Why wouldn’t you want to do this?” I mean, it would seem to me that there would be young people beating down the doors because this sounds like a really exciting future. So, is it a lack of interest in becoming one of these future technicians that you describe or are there other barriers?
  • Ran: Well I think there’s two things going on. One is we’re just not a well-known industry. Uhh, everybody, when they think of health care, they, they know what a doctor is and they know what a nurse is, but they don’t necessarily know what a clinical laboratory professional is. They may go get their blood drawn occasionally but they never think about the folks that are behind the scenes doing all these very complex kind of testing. So first is just recognition of, you know, the profession that, that, that I lead and second is the, the number of schools across the country which, oh, maybe ten years ago there was 6 to 700 schools that would train these kind of folks is now less than 200.
  • Randy: Wow.
  • Ran: The, the training programs had been reduced, the demand continues to increase and in addition to now, we have an Asian workforce. So, we, we haven’t done as good of a job as we probably could have in, in advertising who we are and what we do and why it’s important.
  • Randy: Well I hope this helps. Uhh, I really hope that you know the word gets out that this is I think one of the most exciting medical frontiers that I’ve seen. I’ve done a fair amount of work in healthcare and all kinds of different aspects of the hospital environment and this is one of the places that just really knocked my socks off. Carmen, to your point exactly, this sounds like a great career.
  • Carmen: Mm-hm. It does, it absolutely does. And you know, we, we talk a lot about evolutionaries and I could see evolutionaries … this is a new frontier, this is a pioneering, you know, crazy wild west in some ways and that’s just attractive.
  • Randy: Right. Well, and then to brag on Ran just a little bit, one of the reasons that we’re talking to you Ran is that, he, he not only kind of gets this future vision, but he really [00:08:00] is beginning to see whole new economic models working, uhh, in this environment as well and really trying to, to deliver a full quality service to the provider that they currently don’t have. If I could put you on the spot to briefly describe the works that you’re doing that allows uhh, providers to avoid adverse reactions in their prescriptions by some of the testing that you’re doing.
  • Ran: Yeah well there’s you know, speaking of evolutionaries we, there was two of our individuals in the organization who recognized that they are interested in enormous overdoses going on in society for uhh, routine narcotics that people are taking for pain medication. In fact, there was a CNN special on it last night. The, the, the number of people that are dying from drug overdoses is more than automobile accidents, heroin and cocaine and all those combined. So it’s just incredible. But, anyway, these two individuals came, came to me and says, “Well you know, we know how to operate these Mass Spec machines. Uhh, and we think we could measure these narcotics and we could be able to help physicians know if their patients are actually taking the medications that the physician prescribes rather than diverting them on the street, or if they’re taking too many or in some cases, patients hop around to different physicians and get prescriptions all over the community …
  • Randy: Mm-hm.
  • Ran: … and they end up having a, you know, a magic cocktail that they didn’t plan on and end up dying because of that.” And so, umm, they developed this test; it was so specific and some of the algorithms that they wrote were so different than what was out there that we applied for a patent and actually received it last year.
  • Randy: Wow. How cool is that?
  • Ran: Uhh, yeah, we need to have a patent that, uhh, helps physicians make sure that their patients are safe as well keep them out of legal hot water ‘cause the drug enforcement agency monitors physicians in their uhh, prescription writing. So, it’s good all the way around.
  • Randy: It’s a win-win-win, it met a need and look at what you did you crazy leader guy.
  • Carmen:  (laughs)
  • Randy: You actually listened [00:10:00] to the people who came to you and said, “Hey we’ve got an idea here, uhh, we can actually make this happen”
  • Ran: Yeah, absolutely. And recently they came to me again and said, “We wanna take our learnings from pain medication and we wanna extrapolate that to approximate 400 prescribed drugs.” ‘Cause one of the problems that physicians have today is they don’t know what their patients are taking.
  • Randy: Right.
  • Ran: They, they know, they, they hear what Uncle Joe says, “it’s in the, in the bottle with the pink pills,” uhh, and maybe they know what’s in the medical record but they don’t know what’s onboard with the, with the patient at any particular time. Uhh, so, uhh this crew once again came to me and said, “You could give us a little more money, we can go after this and do kind of a market and expand our, our service to, to physicians, to, to measure many, many more prescribed medications.”
  • Randy: Really, ain’t it cool, Carmen?
  • Carmen: Wow. Yeah, it’s very cool. Well, I, I, boy, I could talk to you all day!
  • (laughter)
  • Randy:  I know.
  • Carmen: I would listen all day, umm, but we are running out of time and I just have one last question for you while we have you. For our listeners, what does the general public really need to know about labs and the work that we can see in the next ten years? What do you want people to know?
  • Ran: Well, I, I often tell people that, uhh, if they think of labs in their basements somewhere and they’re kind of crazy people doing crazy things, but we’re really an information company that just happens to do lab tests. And, as I started off at the top of the podcast, that, you know, we’re 80% of the objective data in a patient’s medical record and I think it’s helpful for people to know the information that a laboratory provides uhh, not only it’s good to know to help you stay well in this wellness era that we’re trying to move more people towards, but it’s also vitally important to the diagnosis and treatment of a disease when, when you come upon that. And it’s those laboratory professionals in the back room that are providing the information to physicians that helps them diagnose and, and treat patients.
  • Randy: You know, there’s so much handwringing and gnashing of teeth in the healthcare world [00:12:00] today associated with the transitions that we’re facing and from my perspective, I see wonderful people like Ran Whitehead out there leading the future. And he’s such a good example of what we talk about in evolutionaries: he, he’s, he’s managing today, he’s doing the work today, but he’s actually living ten years from now. You know, he’s actually building his vision now for what needs to be there ten years from now.
  • Carmen: Well, thank you Ran, for your time. We need more people like you. Thank you for the work that you do.
  • Ran: Great, thank you so much.
  • Randy: Yeah, you’re really amazing, and I’m gonna go ahead and say I want to have you back. I want this conversation to go on so we’re gonna, we’re gonna book that down the road just a little bit but thank you very much and I hope you get a little time for the holiday.
  • Ran: Yeah, you’re welcome. Great and same to you.
  • Randy: Alright. Cheers, my friend. Bye!
  • Ran: Take care.
  • Randy: So that was Ran Whitehead, chief executive officer, chief mission officer for Peace Health Laboratories.
  • Carmen: Brilliant man.
  • Randy: Really just a knockout guy and uhh, he’s so articulate, you know, he can explain that stuff so well.
  • Carmen: Yeah.
  • Randy: One of the people I, I’d like to go work for. I think he, I don’t think he’d give me a job.
  • (laughter)
  • I don’t know.
  • Carmen: I don’t know if technician is in your future.
  • Randy: I don’t know, I have a little trouble with the details.
  • Carmen: But you’d go on more tours
  • Randy: But uhh, we certainly hoped you enjoyed that conversation and I’m serious, we’re gonna have him back on and uhh, I’d like to go into more detail on this whole new cancer treatment concept that he’s talking about. I think it’s very, very exciting. And we have a lot more great guests coming up on our next Evolutionary’s Podcast. We look forward to seeing you there. Thanks so much!
  • (Outro music)

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