Josh Marsh of Cardinal Health Sonexus™ Access & Patient Support: “Keep an open-door policy, even virtually”

Keep an open-door policy, even virtually — Over the past year as we have all transitioned to working from home, we don’t have the ability to walk the floor and have discussions with our teams like we used to. As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure […]

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Keep an open-door policy, even virtually — Over the past year as we have all transitioned to working from home, we don’t have the ability to walk the floor and have discussions with our teams like we used to.

As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Marsh, Director, Access and Patient Support, is responsible for oversight of day-to-day operations for hub services at Sonexus™ Access & Patient Support. Helping ensure that patients can access therapy quickly, Josh’s team investigates patient benefits and offers education to patients on their coverage and financial obligations. In addition, his team helps patients overcome hurdles with prior authorizations and appeals, while also identifying resources, assistance programs and foundation support to help patients afford essential medicines.

Prior to Cardinal Health, Josh spent three years in access and patient support, managing hub service centers for various clients. Before working in the hub space, he spent 13 years in retail pharmacy, specialty pharmacy, and pharmacy benefits management.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I began my healthcare career on the pharmacy side of the business, working initially as a pharmacy technician and later in analytics and business development. During my 15 years on that side of the business, I witnessed hundreds of instances when patients were unable to afford their medication or had to make the tough choice between medications and other life expenses they would have to go without for that month. This led me to research what kind of financial assistance is available for patients, and, ultimately, join the patient services and support side of the business six years ago. Today, I serve as Director, Access and Patient Support at Cardinal Health Sonexus™, a patient hub that works with leading pharmaceutical companies to provide support services to more than 250,000 patients annually. The ability to not just help patients who need assistance, but also to be a part of an organization that is raising awareness for all patients — that is where I wanted to be. As a healthcare professional, it took me 15 years to understand what resources were available to patients to assist them with getting on therapy. How could we expect a patient that has just been diagnosed with a new disease state to possibly understand that?

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

At Sonexus™, we pride ourselves on being agile and moving quickly with our partners. A typical onboarding experience for clients looking to transition their patient support program from another vendor usually takes 90 days due to the amount of onboarding and technology access needed to support these programs. A few years ago, I had a client request an onboarding in one-third of the time. That was quite the surprise! What I am proud of is how our organization immediately said yes. We met quickly internally to come up with a project plan and identify the key milestones. Our team was able to shift resources, make quick decisions and think differently about how we traditionally transitioned programs. Ultimately, not only did we meet the client’s expectations, but we did it in 23 days! I am proud to work for an organization and with a team that allows us to push the limits of “the norm” and think creatively and differently when responding to the needs of our clients and patients.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

One project that excites me is a program that we launched at Sonexus™ in August 2020 called Community Conversations. Created in response to the social injustice in our country, Community Conversations is an open forum for small groups of employees to come together in a virtual environment and share their experiences related to tough topics, including talking to your kids about racism, grief, or mental health. Since its inception, we’ve received positive feedback from our team noting how encouraging and beneficial they find this program. Creating a safe and accessible space for our team to meet and foster productive conversations in the workplace about topics that affect us all, helped us create an inclusive and supportive culture.

Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Creating an engaged and happy workforce is no small feat for an organization, particularly when most employees are still working remotely due to the pandemic.

One reason for employee unhappiness may be a lack of leadership insight. It can be difficult in a remote environment for leaders to notice what is lacking within their organization. At Sonexus™, we were fortunate to already be moving toward a remote workforce model before the pandemic began. This enabled us to really focus on what would be important to remote employees.

Another vital element that can impact employee engagement and productivity is training. The virtual training platform that we use at Sonexus™, called Birdy™, helps us to ensure everyone is receiving the information and support they need and helps keep employees engaged through gamification while still creating a customized experience based on their personal strengths and weaknesses.

Finally, the openness and availability of leadership is another important component of ensuring employees’ needs are being met. In our virtual world, we need to be more intentional about setting up time with employees to understand where they are, both professionally and personally. Frequent and deliberate communication among leaders and their employees, both individually and in a group setting, can help build a more transparent and connected workforce.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

There is quite a bit of research on how an unhappy workforce contributes to productivity, profitability, employee health and wellbeing. The most interesting to me is the research that shows that employee unhappiness results in American companies losing 3 billion dollars every year. Not to mention employee absenteeism and lower quality work.

But beyond the numbers is the impact that a happy workforce can have on our work quality. At Sonexus™, having an engaged workforce is critical because we work with chronically ill patients every day. Because of this, it’s that much more important for employees to show up every day feeling motivated, compassionate, and committed to performing their best. In the patient services space, our clients hire us to ensure their patients’ needs are being met. If we weren’t meeting those standards, we’ll see that directly impact our profitability.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

  1. Keep an open-door policy, even virtually — Over the past year as we have all transitioned to working from home, we don’t have the ability to walk the floor and have discussions with our teams like we used to. Ensuring that you block time to meet with your team — through skip levels, team meetings, virtual town halls — is so important. Even more important, is that your team understands that you are available at all times to jump in and help them manage through an obstacle. I recently had a front-line employee reach out to me because she was having issues with the VPN on her laptop and kept getting kicked out of her call queues, which impacted her adherence scores negatively. Through this discussion, I was able to escalate the issue to a particular group within IT who assigned an analyst to her ticket and resolved the issue very quickly. All it took was pulling the right lever, something we used to be able to do in the office — but at times can get lost in this new remote world of working.
  2. Create an outlet for your team to discuss personal issues — Since 2020, our team members have all been through a lot. From the pandemic and work/life balance, to racial inequality, to kids schooling at home — it’s been tough. Our focus at Sonexus™ has been to give our teams the ability to discuss these important topics, while being in an environment where they could be open and honest. This resulted in the creation of our Community Conversations series. There were many benefits to this — team members who have been impacted by these topics were able to share their stories. In addition, team members who have not been directly impacted were able to listen and learn from their peers. The response from the team has been incredibly positive, at times even therapeutic.
  3. Communicate effectively with your employees — Don’t confuse communicating frequently, with providing effective communication to your teams. With how busy we all are, it is important to take advantage of the time that we do get with our teams. Use this time to discuss changes happening within the organization that impact them and point out what they should communicate down to the front-line associates. Is there a new program launch coming up next year? Make sure all levels understand that idea as it intertwines into their goal setting and your talent planning discussions. I recently had a program that was downsizing due to the maturity of the product in the market. We communicated this well in advance to the team, but also made sure that we discussed upcoming launches and new opportunities. The team immediately realized that the news of their current program downsizing created an opportunity to launch a new product. With this launch came dozens of opportunities to promote employees within the front-line and leadership level.
  4. Take the time to recognize employees — As we have transitioned over the past year to working from home, those opportunities to regularly walk the halls and say thank you are not as readily available as they once were. Take time out of your day to say thank you to a team member for pushing forward a project or going above and beyond for a patient or customer. I also make it a habit to push this message down throughout my organization to my leaders and front-line associates. Getting a kudos or virtual pat on the back can change someone’s day!
  5. Take the time to coach employees and provide them with meaningful feedback — As tough as these conversations can be, employees need and want constructive feedback. When you identify an opportunity, have a timely discussion, address the issue and explain why it is important. To create a fantastic work culture, top performers need to see that everyone on their team is being held to the same standards. Additionally, employees with areas to improve need to clearly understand the expectations and be given a roadmap on how to become a top performer.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

There are many ways society can contribute to a broader positive change to the work culture in our country, and I believe it starts with the workforce. Offering the flexibility of a remote workforce, even after the COVID-19 pandemic, can have many great benefits to this effect. Remote work allows for greater work/life balance by enabling employees to work on their own terms, which can increase productivity. Remote work also allows for more diverse and talented candidates to apply to your organization by removing the geographical barrier that exists when commuting to an office space is required.

Another way to improve work culture is by focusing on creating safe and accessible spaces for employees to participate in important conversations. Whether it be something like our Community Conversations program that I mentioned earlier, or something slightly more standardized, like an employee survey, facilitating and encouraging these sometimes difficult conversations is incredibly valuable. Our global Voice of the Employee (VOE) survey provides every employee the opportunity to share what they like about working at Cardinal Health Sonexus™ and where we can make improvements. Annual feedback on employee engagement, manager effectiveness, inclusion and recognition provides a platform for dialogue, action planning and continuous improvement.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I would describe myself as a transformational leader. Within the patient support services industry, we are constantly being asked to be more innovative and think of new ways to connect with patients to assist them throughout their journey. This results in working internally with other stakeholders to launch new technology and e-services, and to ensure that our team members on the phone have been trained to the highest caliber to provide exceptional customer service to our patients. As a result, I am constantly working with my teams to identify areas of needed change, create a vision and ultimately deliver and execute on that project or initiative. While all of these workstreams take a large group of stakeholders, I believe in setting the right vision and direction and then providing my team with the autonomy to go and deliver on their part. Allowing my team to run with their own deliverables and make their own decisions is incredibly important, but it is also important that the team knows that my door (even virtually) is always open if they need my input.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

After graduating college, I started working at a mail order pharmacy in operations for a large pharmacy benefits manager. I was a front-line team member, taking phone calls in a contact center environment, assisting patients with ordering their medicine and consulting with our staff pharmacists. About six months after starting there, we had a new director join the organization. He picked up on my work ethic and desire to grow within the organization fairly quickly. When a supervisor opportunity became available, he pulled me to the side and suggested that I apply to get familiar with the interview process. I did not get the position, but he spent the time afterward giving me very candid feedback on the interview and areas that I should focus on. Six months later when another opportunity became available, I got the job. A year later, we were talking about my career path and he asked if I would be interested in moving over to support the organization as a business analyst, as a liaison between IT and operations. I was hesitant at first, because I wanted to stay in operations, but decided to make the jump. While I did not stay on that career path long-term, that time as a business analyst helped me connect dots on how we ideate, create new projects and deliver on them as a team. I look back on that time in my career with fond memories, as I encountered a leader who saw my potential and helped me to create a career roadmap that I could take control of — if I was willing to put in the work. He pushed me out of my comfort zone, exposed me to projects that I had no experience with, and was never afraid to share feedback and have tough conversations if there was an area that I was struggling with. I have taken that mindset into all future roles, always looking for that next leader to mentor.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have two things that drive me every day.

First, is to create an environment where my team members can grow themselves professionally and achieve remarkable results. The success of my team creates goodness in the world as we build a bench to lead our organization with fresh talent and ideas.

This results in the other thing that drives me, which is my passion to help patients. The work that we do every day, to improve access for patients to life-changing therapies, brings so much goodness to the world. Not just for the patient, but for their caregiver, their family, and their friends. The hurdles those patients have to go through are at times very challenging. Having a high-performing team that can create new processes and services to help patients navigate those complexities is a tremendous help.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The way to succeed is to double your failure rate.” — Thomas Watson

This quote has stuck with me throughout my career. I have watched organizations resist pushing boundaries because of the fear of failing, which instead resulted in them trailing behind competitors. Cardinal Health Sonexus is different. We listen carefully to understand the needs and gaps of our customers and use that to define how we can innovate to provide new services and technology. As an organization, we create an environment that encourages our team members to think outside of the box, pushing the boundaries of being uncomfortable. Creating a culture of innovation requires being comfortable with confusion, disappointments, and failures. That is not always easy or pleasant, so it is imperative that our teams know that failure is okay. Failing allows us to course correct, learn, grow, and do it right (and better) the next time.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

There is still so much education and awareness that is left to accomplish in regards to health equity in the U.S. I mentioned earlier how I have worked with thousands of patients who struggle to afford their medications. I made a career change to the patient access and support side of the health business because I do want to make a difference. What gets me excited is how the industry can partner together to do more about health equity. As an industry, we need to refocus our resources on educating patients about the reimbursement and financial services that are available across the board, not just for the products that we support.

In addition, there are other areas that we need to provide education and resources to for areas throughout the country. Cardinal Health has taken the lead on expanding mental health services, increasing access to healthy foods through “food pharmacies”, increasing access to stable housing and improving educational outcomes and graduation rates for high schools throughout the Ohio area. My ask for everyone in the industry, lets lock arms and go all-in together on health equity. Whether it is a large company like Cardinal Health, a pharma company, a health insurance organization, or any company in between — we are in a unique position to be able to provide education, awareness, and resources that will have a positive impact on our communities and change the trajectory of our country.

That is not a pipe dream, it’s a reality if we all work together — whether ally, partner, or competitor.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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