Richard Resnick is the chief executive officer (CEO) of Cureatr, a comprehensive medication management technology and services company.
Q: What are your key takeaways from 2020?
Richard Resnick: It's not over yet and I wish it were. It has been an emotionally draining year and it's felt more like a decade than a year. I think the healthcare industry weathered it reasonably well. One measure of that is the bravery the healthcare workers who put their lives on the line, with many giving their lives, to care for people in a country that didn't need to have so many people catch this virus but failed to lead its way out of this darkness.
While this is clearly the most significant takeaway for the industry, there's no denying that the health crisis has had a significant impact on telehealth. It was booming before COVID-19, but the push for people to stay home, coupled with the desperation and need for care without being face to face, drove unbelievable demand. I believe the pandemic will permanently memorialize this model for care delivery that will create more access at lower costs for swaths of Americans, which is certainly a positive.
I think another positive concerns the role of the pharmacist in this whole endeavor of improving the health of the country and helping people live healthy lives without relying upon hospitals as much. I have personally developed an even larger respect for the pharmacy industry and license. Historically, pharmacists know so much and have been asked to do so little. COVID provided an opportunity for pharmacists to become more active member of patient care teams and use their expertise to do so much more for patients.
We are seeing this involvement grow now with pharmacists’ importance on the frontlines of vaccine delivery. But over the course of the year, the other thing I think we saw was this increasing dependence on using pharmacists in the telepharmacy realm to keep patients out of hospitals, which should continue to be a primary objective for as long as we are in this pandemic and should become a more significant after it.
Q: How do you think 2020 affected you and Cureatr?
RR: The story I would tell that I think explains how the pandemic changed me and I think changed Cureatr and the strategy for the company is what happened in March and April. It's ultimately a story about pharmacists.
It was clear to me in the early days of the crisis that the coronavirus was going to quickly sweep through urban areas. I figured this meant that we were all in danger if we kept on living our New York City lives, which is where Cureatr is based. I made the decision to shut Cureatr down and permit my team to work from home on March 6. My wife and I lived in Brooklyn and I got us out of there essentially the next day. The fear I had, which turned out to be unfounded, was that COVID was going to sweep the city so badly that the government would make it impossible to leave. So, I ran.
My family was one of the many that did the "white flight" out of New York, leaving minorities behind to suffer. I need to figure out how to reconcile that personally. Volunteering to help those communities and building a committee here at Cureatr that's focused on antiracism are steps I am taking to help do so, but I know they are not enough on their own.
So, seemingly overnight, the Cureatr team had left the office behind and began working from studio apartments or wherever it was that we were living. We essentially stabilized the company and our processes, but then we realized that we needed to quickly determine a marching mantra that would reflect the current state of the country. Ours became about not whether we as a company were going to survive this, but how are we going to help the most people, no matter what? And in that process, can we figure out how to not only survive but thrive in a new way that we have not yet clearly identified?
We began by giving away our Meds 360° software, which provides a patient's current and past medication history. We have data costs every time someone looks up a patient in our software; we need to pay a lot of money to the data providers, but we chose to eat those expenses. My board could tell that if they gave me any response other than approval to give the software away and see how things were going to shake out — in ways we didn't know at the time — they were going to lose me. They barely said okay and were quiet as we implemented the giveaway.
It turned out to be really effective. Hospitals started signing up because they could use the pharmacy fill information in the software to know the entire medication story for patients presenting. For those hospitals with enough resources, they were also able to use the software to help keep patients who didn't need to come to the hospital out by understanding their medication intake and assessing whether it was safe. This broad use and expansion of our software was really purposeful.
Q: Cureatr also launched an initiative that asked pharmacists to volunteer their time. How did this come about and play out?
RR: One day, we looked at each other and realized it was clear that the pharmacists who practice clinical care were the best professionals to use our data. We already had some telepharmacy customers but were thinking bigger. We wondered what would happen if we asked pharmacists whether they would volunteer to give away free clinical services. What we proposed was asking these pharmacists to use our software for free, with us covering the data costs, and make themselves available to talk to people at home, primarily Medicare and elderly patients who were stuck like we all were but also couldn't necessarily get to the pharmacy safely. When speaking with these patients, the pharmacists would ensure medications were safe, patients are able to get them, and if patients have any questions, they have someone to go to.
We put that call out. Over 2,000 pharmacists raised their hand and volunteered to give away their time. I have chills just thinking about it now and how hopeful that made us all feel. That was also when I understood, for the first time, the true spirit of this group.
Since then, I'm proud that Cureatr has been able to bring in a large number of those pharmacists to become part of our team. We get to pay them now, which is good, as we expand those offerings both during the pandemic and beyond to make sure patients are taking the right medications, doing so safely and without biases which cause them to change their behavior or stop taking medications, and if they have any questions or worry about something being unsafe, we have people available to resolve issues. That is the business we have become. And it's largely because a group of pharmacists volunteered their time to care for people.
From the Cureatr and Richard Resnick perspective, being a small part of the effort to help people get through this pandemic is probably the most meaningful professional experience of my life. I know that colleagues here at Cureatr feel the same way.
Q: You mentioned earlier that your perspective on pharmacists has changed. Can you elaborate further on how?
RR: My respect for the entire class of pharmacists has grown show much. These are people who are as highly trained as doctors in every way, yet we don't give them the power to provide the same level of care.
When you ask a patient to rate their interaction with a pharmacist versus a doctor, the pharmacist almost always gets the better score. To me, that is the biggest and most important trend that has been going on prior to 2020 and that we believe is the future. When you combine this growing relationship between patients and pharmacists with telehealth broadly expanding and putting pharmacists in the seat there, all while gaining more access to data in real time that allows us care for patients even though their data has been historically siloed, that is the future Cureatr is building on. I think healthcare is broadly building on this as well.
Q: What is the top lesson you have learned from 2020?
RR: The most important lesson to me is that we as a company grew a lot in 2020 and we survived and thrived. I believe it was because we chose not to try to survive. In fact, I would argue that we chose to let the company die, if necessary. We put everything on the line. We decided that rather than make money, we were going to help.
What ended up happening was that we helped a lot of people and we made good money. That mindset of knowing that I was going to be okay no matter what, even if things got worse or got better, was critical to helping me make the right decisions. I stopped worrying about whether I would survive professionally and instead painted a picture for myself and everyone around me focused on how we could be most helpful and be 10 times better than before. That construct that we all decided we were going to lock in here at Cureatr is the biggest lesson for me in my life.