As healthcare is projected to account for a third of new employment in the next decade, we have the opportunity to build health into our society with new models of care and access; address the social determinants of health head-on; and revolutionize chronic disease and mental health.
Accomplishing all of this, however, calls for inclusion of varied viewpoints and lived experiences in problem solving and decision-making. This is how Onboard Health views sustainable health innovation — through the inclusion of change-makers from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
Onboard Health’s The Sustainable Future blog is dedicated to giving a voice to these talented individuals hard at work creating lasting change in our society. This post, featuring Cristian Liu of Google Health, is the first of a Q&A series — “How I’m Building” — highlighting members of the diverse Onboard Health community.
Where do you work? What’s your current title?
I currently work at Google, as the Head of Strategy & Partnership Solutions for Health Business Development.
What were you doing before this?
I started out my career as a software developer, doing front-end web application development with Red Hat.
During that time, I realized quickly that I wasn’t as big of a fan of software development as my college years studying to be an engineer at Duke University had led me to believe. As a result, I looked for something that would be the polar opposite of software development. The answer to that was a position with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services!
My time with HHS solidified my interest in the healthcare sector. It was both energizing and purposeful to be part of the government agency that was implementing the Affordable Care Act, and helping millions of Americans by ensuring high quality, improving access, and lowering the cost of care.
Having spent time in both technology and government, I wanted to get a better understanding of what happened when public policy met the real world. To that end, I enrolled at the USC Marshall School of Business to get my MBA and try to get a better understanding of business. During that time, I helped out with a venture capital firm focusing on healthcare tech and interned in a management consulting firm in their healthcare strategy group.
Leaving business school, I felt like I wanted to get broad experience in the healthcare sector, and my mentors suggested that continuing my path in consulting would be the best way to get that breadth of experience. That’s how I ended up at Booz & Company, and subsequently at the Boston Consulting Group just prior to this latest position at Google.
At the Boston Consulting Group, I was a core member & leader of the healthcare: payer, provider, and services practice area. In that role, I had the opportunity to work with some of the nation’s largest health insurance and health systems in solving their strategic and operational problems. I really loved the people, clients, and work that I did at BCG, but wanted to have a more technological focus to the solutions I was bringing to bear, which is why I ended up joining Google Health!
What vision do you and your colleagues have for your new role? What do you hope to accomplish?
In this role, I’m hoping to contribute to all of the amazing work at Google Health by adding some strategic expertise and bringing some industry knowledge to bear. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to bring some of the great innovations that are being discovered here to market, positively impacting healthcare by lowering the cost of care, and improving quality and access.
What is a common misunderstanding about data and the business of health that you can help demystify?
I think a common misunderstanding about data and business of health is that there’s a belief that the players in the industry only have their own income sheets and balance statements in mind, often at the detriment of the healthcare consumer. I believe that it is more of the case that byzantine rules and walls put up by legacy operating models are the cause of the frustration and inefficiencies in the system.
For the most part, if you talk to the front-line caregivers, you find people that are dedicated to providing the best care possible; with administrators and non-clinical staff, you’ll also find people that are dedicated to ensuring that outcome as well. End of the day, there are committed folks everywhere in helping make healthcare better, because it directly impacts our friends, families, and ourselves.
If you could have one wish — or one missing ingredient — for the U.S. healthcare system, what would it be?
I think the missing ingredient for the U.S. healthcare system is a truly interoperable data standard so individuals can take their healthcare record from when they were born, and use it to inform caregivers and support healthcare diagnosis and decisions. The amount of times I’ve had to fax my healthcare information when I’ve changed employers is mind-boggling to me and something that I hope will not live through to the next generation. Also, I’m pretty sure that somewhere in North Carolina exists a CD-ROM with my MRI on it, and I guarantee that no one now knows how to access it anymore (myself included).
What is one thing you wished you had known earlier in your career?
One thing I wish I had known earlier in my career is that the pathway to where you are trying to get to is never a straight line. If you had told me when I graduated college, or when I graduated business school that I would now be at Google doing healthcare technology work, I would never have believed it was possible.
Would knowing this earlier have changed the outcome? I don’t think that it would’ve, but it certainly would’ve led to less stress!
What does Onboard Health’s mission — “building an inclusive health workforce” — mean to you?
Building an inclusive health workforce is so important to me because healthcare is foundational to everyone’s lives. It’s critical that the healthcare workforce be representative of everyone’s experience — especially with direct care, so that patients are able to find caregivers that they connect with on a personal level. The human connection is so important in the work that we do in healthcare, and inclusivity is a big part of making sure that connection stays alive.
What advice would you give someone trying to create change in the health space?
Keep at it! Change comes slow in the health space (unless it gets hit by a pandemic, then things accelerate very quickly). Don’t get discouraged if your idea doesn’t immediately get traction as persistence, valuable relationships and hard work do pay off in this field.
Are there any resources that helped you along the way?
Besides the Onboard Health community? I think having mentors and advisors (both people that are senior to you and peers) that can give you a different perspective on the path that you are taking is really important. You never know what blinders you have on, and looking to others who can help you with thinking through the next step is critical.
What are you reading now? Or, whose work is inspiring you lately?
The last book that I finished was Bottle of Lies by Katherine Eban, which provides a fascinating look into the world of generic drugs. Currently on my reading list is What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith & Mark Reiter — a great book for anyone facing a transition in their career. Both books were recommended by my colleagues at BCG.
Finally, let’s address the elephant in the virtual room. How are you coping through quarantine?
There are a few things that are important for me during quarantine:
- Keeping a schedule and sticking to it: It’s really easy to keep on working through the day, evening, and night, especially if you just roll out of bed and to your laptop. I find that it’s important to set a schedule with breaks and keep to it so that you’re keeping active throughout the day.
- Going outside for a walk or run when you can (with the appropriate face covering): Without a daily commute, there’s basically zero fresh air or sunshine in my schedule anymore. So if I can spare it, I like to take a walk or run with my wife around the neighborhood, making sure to appropriately protect ourselves with face coverings.
- Cooking dinner at home: One of my joys in life is cooking, and being at home without opportunity to travel has enabled me to cook for dinner every night (this has ranged from a spatchcocked chicken to shepherd’s pie made with plant-based protein).
Where can the Onboard Health community connect with you online?
Thanks for taking the time, Cristian!