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*The following has been adapted from our interview with Dr. Nedd, which can be found here.
Meet Dr. Khan Nedd
Dr. Nedd serves as a Chief Executive Officer of Answer Health and is the founder and CEO of Infusion Associates. Additionally, he serves on the board of directors for the Kellogg Foundation, Hospice of Michigan, and Hope Network. He’s also held leadership positions in the community at the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute and is a current member of the campaign cabinet of the Grand Rapids Ballet as well as a board member of Key Green solutions. Along with being involved in a variety of business ventures and startup companies — including Infusion Associates and the Hospitalist Organization of Western Michigan — Dr. Nedd enjoys playing soccer, basketball, and traveling.
From the Beaches of Grenada to Snowy Michigan
Daniel Fernandez (DF): Tell us about your background and how it prepared you for success in your current roles.
Dr. Khan Nedd (KN): I was born in the Caribbean in Grenada and moved to the US when I was 16. I came here to Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan in the winter of 1977, which was one of the worst winters of the century. It was quite a shock coming from the ideal Caribbean climates to the freezing cold — all in the pursuit of a good education.
DF: Do you feel like you took some of the things you learned growing up in Grenada with you when you moved?
KN: Yeah, I think that the values you carry with you are fairly foundational in the way you spend your early life, and it’s shaped by the experience you have there. I’ve spent probably over 40 years now in the United States, and as much as I’m truly American and have adopted most of the customs and culture, those foundational years are still a guiding principle. A lot of what I do and how I think of the world emanates from that early part of my life and has made me into a broader, more global-thinking human being. It takes a variety of experiences from a lot of different places to really develop a better society And, I think in America, the richness of a lot of immigrants from a lot of places have come together and is creating a culture of acceptance and bringing different people together.
DF: What made you want to become a doctor? What did your journey look like?
KN: I had a younger brother that passed away at the age of three and I was probably seven or eight at the time. In retrospect, we believe that he died from some kind of lymphoma. But, in the 60s in the Caribbean, there were not a whole lot of opportunities for good care. When my brother got sick we ended up spending a lot of time in Trinidad, which was an island next to us, and even then, the idea of good healthcare was not something that you knew was available. We were just about thinking of bringing him to New York, and he died that night at my home.
That’s a really sharp memory for me and I remember visiting him in the hospital with a kind of bright interest but also a sense of fear and concern and not knowing what any of it means from a healthcare standpoint. That shaped a lot of my ideas into who and what I wanted to be
The other thing is that my mom was a social worker. I remember summers as a little kid I used to travel with her. She worked for the Save the Children fund at the time, and part of her work was visiting children where most of the issues were heart-related, poverty-related, or other issues like infectious disease and so forth. And I still remember a story that’s stuck with me. One day I was visiting with my mom and we went up a hill and got to a place, and the kid we were there to see was nowhere to be seen. Finally, as I’m sitting on a big rock in that person’s yard, a group of kids about my same age came up the hill and they were all laughing and having the greatest fun, and all of a sudden the group opened up and there was this kid in the middle who had no legs or arms. But he had the absolute best smile that I’d ever seen. To this day I reflect on that experience and how things can be so impactful into who you are. And I think that shaped how I approach things in a lot of ways, and I tend to be much more optimistic. I think back to that kid with no arms or legs and how glee-eyed he was. I think we have an obligation to lift and engage others so that they can enjoy the same kind of quality of life and peace and happiness that we all want.
Crafting the Culture of a Healthcare Organization
DF: As a leader of an organization you’re looked at as the visionary, the cultural champion — do you feel like those previous stories you shared help you craft your own culture internally?
KN: Yeah I think so, to a large degree. Part of the framework is understanding who and what you are. I’ve found that along the way if I can understand who I am and who we are organizationally and what we are about, it’s easy then to align the interest of others towards that end.
One thing that was really instrumental to me has been living in America and the experience of my educational growth and my career growth within a culture as a minority. In many ways it opened my eyes to a lot of things that — growing up in Grenada — I never realized existed. I had to think, how do you take the bad experiences in your life or the experiences that were not so healthy and reshape them and reform them into something that can be an opportunity for yourself or for the rest of society?
I tend to look for places where people don’t want to go or don’t know how to navigate because I think that’s sometimes where the best opportunities are. Part of growing up as a minority in the United States is that it’s easy to be invisible or for people to not be aware of your existence or the benefit you can give to a situation. I always say it’s a great cover. You can do a lot of things because people don’t expect you to do it or aren’t looking your way. It’s an opportunity to concentrate on what it is you really want to be and what it is you want your organization to be. It helps you stay focused. With any of the businesses that I build, it’s not terribly important that people know who I am or that I’m the leader of a particular business, but more importantly, I want the product and the work we do to speak for me.
DF: You mentioned having a positive outlook. In these unprecedented times, the average stress level for many CEOs is pretty high because they’re feeling the pressure of having to guide an organization through rapid change. What advice would you give them?
An interesting piece from my experience living as a minority in the United States is that you’re constantly living with some stresses, and so living with that sort of thing is not new for me. I’ve found that when I’m faced with stresses like the pandemic or otherwise, it’s really easy to look on the other side and say how do I get to that other side and how do I get through this? In a way, I’m built for this — I’m built for overcoming.
With the pandemic, we were kind of caught flat-footed in many ways. We may have in some way failed ourselves by not having been prepared for something like this, but nevertheless wherever you are is wherever you start. As we learn and as we know more, we adapt and make the changes that need to occur. As a healthcare provider our focus is really to deliver the best care possible to a patient in an effective, safe manner. We are doing this because we believe that the summative good that it can do is greater than the negative impact it can have. The trick is really how to design a system in which you care for patients well but also to find a way to individualize that care for each of them.
Building an Independent, Collaborative Environment
DF: You’ve described yourself as an independent collaborative physician. Can you explain what you mean by that?
KN: When I was growing up and wanted to be a physician, never did I dream that it would be as a hospital-based physician. Maybe it was the movies I saw or the things i saw in my neighborhood, but I was always an independent guy. With the evolution of big hospitals, we have hospitals dealing with acute care and more significant things, but historically it wasn’t the case. You’d have one doctor in a town whom the people would go to for everything. I never dreamt of this ideal where we’d come to identify a doctor with a hospital.
Don’t get me wrong — I think hospitals play a significant role in healthcare, but I don’t think it serves us well, in the long run, to think that the best way to be successful or to not get left behind as a physician is that you have to work for a hospital system. Whether a physician works for a hospital or by themselves, I think the question is how do we collaborate together and serve our community. I don’t think it’s an either/or. I think it’s a both/and.
I believe when you compare performance statistics on quality physician costs and patient experience, the independent traditions by themselves do better than most hospitals. But again, the incentives are aligned differently. If you’re an independent doc you know that patient. They’re your investment. It’s your relationship. It goes beyond you. It’s serving communities and families, and the bottom line is integrally tied to what you’re doing. But I think there are a lot of things we can really learn from each other, and as we move into that next sector of healthcare, I think a lot of those learnings are going to be really important for leaders to really incorporate and say, you know, if I’m going to be a hospital system, how do I make them still feel like they’re experiencing this same level of care?
Adapting and Thriving in Difficult Times
DF: What advice would you give to other healthcare CEOs right now who are struggling to adapt a new technology or to maintain a culture in times like these when you already have a stressed team?
KN: On the way to being a leader I discovered that there is no way you can come up with a solution that pleases everyone. There are always different things going on at the same time, and we are faced with making decisions that affect a broad group of people — but it’s not always the right answer for everyone.
If you know what you’re trying to build, you’re always looking for ways to really align yourself with that. So, it’s not so much about these smaller questions but how does this help me in achieving what I want to achieve, and if I’m not trying to achieve the best patient experience, or if this isn’t helping us be able to do so, then it’s not the right thing.
I understand that the experience of the patient is the most significant thing that I do, but I also understand the infrastructure and the cost of doing that. We don’t have unlimited resources, and so you have to figure out how you can afford what you can do and how you can do it within the contract.
In our current model, it’s unsustainable to provide health care where it always costs more if it gives us more. I believe we have an obligation to provide a certain kind of service that gives good quality outcomes and the best patient experience, but we also have an obligation to keep it in a cost-controlled environment. Similar to selling cars, even though the technology advances every year, you’ve got to stay in a reasonable price range for the consumer’s sake. I think in healthcare we haven’t figured out how to do that yet, and I think that’s one of the opportunities ahead of us.
I think being a physician is still about being a physician. In terms of your Hippocratic oath, I think that’s what you’re trying to achieve. Every person has value and everybody is trying to uncover how they can bring to life that value. I think when you look at practices or hospitals that do well, it’s really the ability to understand who and what they serve and how to do it as a team that allows them this success. I don’t submit to the notion that for you to scale and do well you have to cut down to size so that you can do well economically. I think if your product is strong, and if it is received well by patients, people will come to you and bring along other people who want to adopt and do the same thing that you do.
Learn More about How Dr. Nedd and Other Healthcare Leaders Are Shaping the Future of Healthcare
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