Healthcare to keep you healthy — As we talked about earlier, healthcare needs to be about wellness and well-being and not simply about diagnosis and disease treatment. Being free of symptoms and having standard health parameters within range does not constitute wellness. There is a reorientation required to think of the individual patient as a whole person, a human being, existing within an ecosystem, and not a mechanical machine. Factors such as nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, emotional and psychological well-being, environmental factors, discerning genetic predisposition, among others, are required to achieve wellness.
The COVID-19 Pandemic taught all of us many things. One of the sectors that the pandemic put a spotlight on was the healthcare industry. The pandemic showed the resilience of the US healthcare system, but it also pointed out some important areas in need of improvement.
In our interview series called “In Light Of The Pandemic, Here Are The 5 Things We Need To Do To Improve The US Healthcare System”, we are interviewing doctors, hospital administrators, nursing home administrators, and healthcare leaders who can share lessons they learned from the pandemic about how we need to improve the US Healthcare System.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure to interview Fred Turner, CEO and Co-Founder.
Fred Turner is the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Curative, a COVID-19 testing and healthcare company scaling a self-collected oral fluid swab for the detection of SARS-CoV-2. A British scientist from West Yorkshire, Turner attended the University of Oxford. Mr. Turner was named one of the top 100 practicing scientists in the UK by the Science Council 2013. Turner was also included in Forbes “30 Under 30” list and ranked first in the European Union Contest for Young Scientist.
Turner previously founded and led a 16z and YC-backed diagnostics (Dx) startup that built a CLIA lab for validating and launching a STD testing product in Menlo Park, California. This product was administered to over 10,000 patients in medical centers across 5 states. Other previous roles include Chief Executive Officer at Shield Bio, which was focused on sepsis diagnostics and testing.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into our interview, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and a bit about what brought you to this specific career path?
Back in England when I was a teenager, I wanted to get into a microbiology lab, but no one in the UK would let me in at the age of 16. I decided that the only way to make it happen was if I built the equipment myself from scraps that I bought off eBay. So, I built a PCR machine, which is the backbone tool of most molecular biology, in my parents’ basement. A cattle farmer heard about my PCR machine and he mailed his cows’ blood samples that he wanted me to test with a check taped to it. Once the farmer received the test results, he referred all of his farmer friends to me and this was the start of TL Biolabs, my first diagnostics startup company.
I moved to the Bay Area after leaving Oxford University to pursue my passions because I knew that I could learn and achieve more while exploring the questions and topics that fascinated me outside of the classroom. Prior to Curative, I started and pivoted two biotechnology companies in Silicon Valley. One was an a16z and YC-backed diagnostics (Dx) startup that built a CLIA lab for validating and launching a STD testing product. This product was administered to over 10,000 patients in medical centers across 5 states. I was also named one of the top 100 practicing scientists in the UK by the Science Council 2013.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I would have to say that given the opportunity to make an impact on the public health response in this country during a global pandemic is definitely one of the more interesting stories so far. I always wanted to provide solutions for patients and if there was ever a chance to put that into action in a real and effective way it was over the past year and a half.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
During my very first startup, back when I was still living in England as a teenager, I had been up very late the night prior to an investor meeting working. The next morning when I was supposed to meet the investor, I overslept and missed the meeting. I awoke to many missed calls and it was one of the most agonizing moments I had felt. In the end, the investor ended up investing in the company after all was said and done. But it was quite the embarrassing moment for me as a young entrepreneur.
I’ve always been a night owl and work late into the evenings. When possible, I schedule meetings in the afternoon, but just in case, I set 3 different apps so I ensure I make it to a morning meeting.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There’s a Shia Laleouf meme that I find particularly relevant which probably requires a keen meme sense and the visual to accompany it. Nonetheless, the meme is “What are you waiting for? Do it!”
We can always come up with reasons why to not do something. It’s finding the reasons to start something, to work on difficult problems, and to make a difference that shouldn’t wait. I like to think of myself as a do-er and someone who won’t wait for the opportune moment, but rather start right now on making a difference.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
What’s always seemed obvious to me was that the term healthcare is a bit of a misnomer. What we call healthcare is disease treatment. Do we really engage with the healthcare system to promote health or treat disease? Imagine a world where not only ailments and illnesses are addressed, but the primary focus is providing a team of multidisciplinary experts who can provide an individualized plan of care designed to promote wellness and a true sense of well-being. That would require a radically different way of thinking about healthcare. At Curative, as we wrestle to put this pandemic to bed, we would like to take our expertise in providing complete end-to-end solutions in healthcare to reimagine not only the delivery of care but what actually constitutes that care.
How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?
In addition to rethinking what we mean by healthcare, we need to make all care patient-centric. Today’s healthcare delivery is largely designed around the needs of providers and not patients. There are many examples of this, but just for a moment, think about the typical exam room. If patients had any anxiety about engaging with the healthcare system, the design elements of your standard exam room would only exacerbate that anxiety. The whole design is crafted around the needs of the providers and not the patients. Related to that, imagine any other business that would offer appointments and routinely require its customers to wait long periods after their designated appointment time. In almost any other industry, that business would not survive with those practices. But today, we’ve grown accustomed to expecting substandard treatment as the “customer” when it comes to healthcare.
Now for the main focus of our interview. The COVID-19 pandemic has put intense pressure on the American healthcare system. Some healthcare systems were at a complete loss as to how to handle this crisis. Can you share with our readers a few examples of where we’ve seen the U.S. healthcare system struggle? How do you think we can correct these specific issues moving forward?
This gets back to our earlier discussion on how we think about healthcare in general. If healthcare is currently conceived as disease treatment, public health gets relegated to second-class status. In spite of being warned for many years about the possibility of a global pandemic, even with the precursors of HIV, SARS, MERES, and Ebola, the US public health system remained sorely underfunded.
When testing was the best line of defense against identifying and reducing the spread of the virus, Curative mobilized its logistical and planning expertise to set up high-throughput, quick-turnaround testing sites. Depending on the situation within the local community, these testing sites were original designs that were adapted to meet the specific needs of each community. The existing healthcare infrastructure was not capable of handling this type of high volume mass testing.
In terms of correcting, we need to take the lessons from responding to the pandemic and not continue with business as usual. Business is no longer usual for healthcare. We’ve seen incredible changes with the evolution of care to be more digitally integrated, taking place closer to people’s homes, and with a focus on accessibility. We need continued work to put primary and preventative care at the forefront of our healthcare system to keep people from being sick in the first place and that requires funding primary and preventative health programs adequately.
The story was not entirely negative. Healthcare professionals were true heroes on the front lines of the crisis. The COVID vaccines are saving millions of lives. Can you share a few ways that our healthcare system really did well? If you can, please share a story or example.
You are correct. Tens of thousands of healthcare providers stepped up and literally worked around the clock to provide care for the millions of Americans who were physically and psychologically devastated by this pandemic. Putting themselves and even their families at risk, they worked tirelessly providing care when optimal treatment protocols weren’t available or even known.
In addition, by piggybacking on new technologies (mRNA) that were in development for years, the rapid formulation, testing, and deployment of the vaccines against COVID-19 saved and will save countless lives here in the US and eventually around the world. The same urgency that we applied to the development of the COVID vaccines can now be used for other life-threatening diseases that have limited or no treatments.
In addition, the pandemic forced the rapid adoption of existing technologies that were underutilized or totally neglected. For example, telemedicine had been available for years, but due to reimbursement challenges, was often not an option for patients when a quick and convenient remote consultation would have been more effective and efficient modality for both patient and provider.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. As a healthcare leader can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
- Healthcare to keep you healthy — As we talked about earlier, healthcare needs to be about wellness and well-being and not simply about diagnosis and disease treatment. Being free of symptoms and having standard health parameters within range does not constitute wellness. There is a reorientation required to think of the individual patient as a whole person, a human being, existing within an ecosystem, and not a mechanical machine. Factors such as nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, emotional and psychological well-being, environmental factors, discerning genetic predisposition, among others, are required to achieve wellness.
- Patient-Centered Care — What that means in practice is that the physician is no longer in control of the healthcare paradigm. The patient is in control. Within this reimagined model, the physician is one member of a care team all working off of an individual wellness plan specifically designed for every patient.
- Vertically Integrated Care — No other marketplace has such misaligned incentives as we see in healthcare. The customer is not the consumer, and the consumer is not the payer. The patient, the provider, or the insurer often have different judgments on how to achieve positive outcomes. The incentive structures animating such perspectives differ widely for each segment, are often in conflict, and most assuredly result in suboptimal care. By creating a vertically integrated structure, you collapse the disintermediation between sectors and develop a network of aligned incentives, all in the service of the patient.
- Leverage technology — Almost everyone walks around with a healthcare computer in their pocket with the introduction of smartphones which is more powerful than all of the technology that existed only a few decades ago. We need to harness that technology in the service of health and make it actionable. In addition to real-time monitoring, technology can provide coaching, motivation and enhance compliance and adherence.
- Social Determinants of Health — While reforming healthcare will not solve the social problems that create health care inequities in our society, recognizing and addressing the social determinants of health at the individual level can result in enhanced outcomes and greater wellbeing, one patient at a time. Today’s healthcare largely ignores these factors. Where someone lives, their education level, their economic status, the social and communal situation, and numerous other factors impact someone’s health and wellbeing. Healthcare needs to better incorporate these factors as we work to make people healthier and not just treat disease.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
As Curative continues to grow and change shape to meet the needs of patients across the country, all of the updates can be found on our website: curative.com. When I have free time, I like to share what the incredible team is working on via personal Twitter is @FredTurnerBio.
Readers can also like Curative on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/CurativeInc) and follow us on Twitter @Curative and Instagram @curativeinc.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was very inspirational and we wish you continued success in your great work.