The US healthcare system needs to be more accessible, easier, and more transparent for patients who need to use it. There are multiple technology companies tackling the primary care space that make it easy and fast to make an appointment with a primary care provider near you. Do it from your phone for an appointment in the afternoon. As a concept, it doesn’t seem that crazy, but in this industry it’s revolutionary. Having the ability to make an appointment on my phone is one thing, but I can also text my clinician with any questions and know that they will respond. That’s literally the lowest bar possible. In what other service industry would you be surprised that they respond to you when you ask a question? Or that you can book a reservation on your phone? These aren’t revolutionary ideas. But because it’s healthcare, it’s more difficult and more complex to provide these experiences because you aren’t delivering groceries, you’re taking care of their health. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get there.
Asa part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Justin Lambert. Justin joined Nomad shortly after the company was founded to lead business development and sales. Today he is Nomad’s Chief Operating Officer and leads business operations for both the nurse and doctor markets. This includes sales, operations, HR, customer support, and account management. Prior to joining Nomad, Justin was a Project Leader in the healthcare practice at Boston Consulting Group. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a Bachelor’s Degree from New York University. He also serves on the Board of America Needs You — New Jersey. Justin lives in South Orange, NJ with his wife.
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’ve always been drawn to big, thorny, impactful things so I started my career, naturally, in government. I spent four years as a policy advisor and there were lots of things that I loved — like the impact that you could have and the big problems we were trying to solve. But there were also some things that I didn’t love, so I decided to go to business school and pursue my interest in healthcare.
After graduating, I spent four years at Boston Consulting Group learning about the healthcare industry, and advising companies, providers, and hospital systems about improving healthcare. What I realized was that I really wanted to spend time making change and I felt like the best way to do that was not from within the industry, but from the outside in.
So I started looking around for early-stage health-tech companies who had really good ideas. One topic that was particularly interesting to me is the healthcare workforce. It’s massive — over a trillion dollars of spend — and it’s not optimized. It’s not optimized for care providers or patients. So when the opportunity came around to join Nomad and start to work on some of those problems, it was a pretty easy choice.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
We started out with aspirations to solve the temporary health care system workforce issues. It’s an inefficient process. One that doesn’t have a lot of technology deployed. One that doesn’t put as much of the money that the clinicians are generating, into the pockets of the nurses and the doctors. So we wanted to create a more efficient system. And what’s been really interesting is to see that landscape open up even wider as we’ve started to collect a lot of data.
There’s such a huge opportunity to bring data into the healthcare workforce in a way that hasn’t really existed before. Because of our technology, we’re able to collect data in a way that’s accessible and well-structured. This allows us to learn a lot, very quickly, about things that can help improve the experience and efficiency for both clinicians and hospitals across the country.
We’re finding ourselves in a position to advise hospitals and other partners on how to improve their temporary staffing programs. We’re able to very transparently take a look at how their data stacks up and give suggestions on how to improve on processes to make clinicians feel more welcome and improve hire and retention rates.
So I think there’s a lot of interesting data points that we have that we can start to provide which can really improve the patient care at the bedside in ways that we originally didn’t envision.
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?
I mean, I made plenty of mistakes. So I think the funniest mistake I made is when I came to Nomad, I was so excited about what we were going to do, and I was so convinced that what we were going to do was such a good idea, that I wrote an email to a whole bunch of HR leaders at hospital systems. I spent a long time crafting it thinking that I would get 5 or 10 excited responses. So I hit send and waited.
As you can imagine, no one responded. Silence.
That made me realize that it was going to take a long time for people to buy into what we were doing, as in any industry, but especially in healthcare. Because of the nature of the work in healthcare, caring for people, it’s a conservative industry. And rightfully so. Any new innovation is always looked at with a bit of skepticism because you can’t make mistakes in healthcare — the stakes are too high. It was a good learning for me about how much we would have to share our story to get people to buy in. But I think more importantly, I realized how hard we would have to work to ensure not only that we were bringing a really interesting innovation to the market, but that it was going to improve patient outcomes. Because that’s what ultimately matters.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think what makes our company stand out most is our transparency. Nomad is completely upfront and transparent about everything from the moment you hit our platform.
All of our job posts have exact information about where the opportunity is located and full pay rate information. We also have third-party integrations to help clinicians learn about the surrounding area to help them make their own informed decisions about which opportunities they’re interested in.
A great example is a travel couple who have worked with us for over a year now in multiple different locations. They have a very unique approach to how they look for assignments: they’re adventure seekers and love going to exciting places.
During their time on Nomad, they’ve viewed almost 400 different jobs in all different places, usually around national parks. Looking at such a high volume of inventory is really only possible on an open, transparent platform like Nomad’s. They’ve been able to go to places like New Hampshire, Georgia, and Alaska, one right after the other because they were able to find good jobs in places that they found interesting. I think the transparency around the job search has made that possible for them.
What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders to help their team to thrive?
This one’s easy. I think the biggest thing that you need to give your teams is a sense of purpose and a sense of ownership.
People have to know why they’re coming into work every day and spending most of their waking hours on a particular project. Equally important is making sure that they feel a sense of ownership over that process.
Nobody wants to be told what to do and just be expected to do it without any questions. I can’t imagine anyone ever wanted to do that. But that was the state of work for a long time and I’m glad we’re in a place now where people are looking for not only the purpose, but also a sense of ownership. They want to know that they can actually impact results. And when you hire the right people into that structure it will pay off tenfold.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
If I had to boil it down to three reasons, I’d say that it’s inaccessible, opaque, and also very complex.
In terms of inaccessibility, the contrast is especially clear in comparison to every other aspect of our lives which has been made easier and more consumable by technology. For example, how do you book a flight? How do you book a hotel in a place you’ve never been to before? With technology, everything is so easily accessible and healthcare has not caught up with that.
Think about trying to find a doctor. How would you do it? How would you make an appointment? We want to make healthcare more accessible so that people engage with the healthcare system before they can’t take the pain any longer and they’re forced to the emergency room. Preventative care is so important, so making it as accessible as possible is crucial to ensuring that people get care when — or before — they need it.
The complexity factors in when a patient actually starts to engage with the healthcare system. Insurance details are never clear and it’s often hard to find out exactly how much a procedure will cost you until it’s already been done. If you go get a sore throat checked out, is that going to cost you $10 or $100? For most Americans, that’s a huge difference. Depending on cost, someone may hold off on a procedure until it gets worse, something that could be avoided if it was more clear.
When it comes to actually figure out how the system works, it’s incredibly opaque. Treatments vary greatly depending on where you go and what level of income you have. Levels of care vary from hospital to hospital and it’s hard to know where to get the best treatment.
All of these things lead to a health system that doesn’t function very well for the patients.
You are a “healthcare insider”. If you had the power to make a change, 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.
I think the changes I’d make relate directly to the problems we discussed in the last question — the US healthcare system needs to be more accessible, easier, and more transparent for patients who need to use it.
There are multiple technology companies tackling the primary care space that make it easy and fast to make an appointment with a primary care provider near you. Do it from your phone for an appointment in the afternoon. As a concept, it doesn’t seem that crazy, but in this industry it’s revolutionary. Having the ability to make an appointment on my phone is one thing, but I can also text my clinician with any questions and know that they will respond.
That’s literally the lowest bar possible. In what other service industry would you be surprised that they respond to you when you ask a question? Or that you can book a reservation on your phone? These aren’t revolutionary ideas. But because it’s healthcare, it’s more difficult and more complex to provide these experiences because you aren’t delivering groceries, you’re taking care of their health. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get there.
The healthcare startup world is particularly exciting because in the last 50 years or so, incumbent hospital systems and large biopharmaceutical companies have realized that they need to start working with more tech-forward, small companies. This has really opened the floodgates for innovation.
Healthcare is 18% of the entire US economy. That amounts to about $3.5 trillion dollars. For an industry that’s that big and hasn’t been touched by some sort of the tech revolution that’s touched almost every other part of the economy, that’s a good 50 years of innovation to get to where we need to be.
Ok, its very nice to suggest changes, but what concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest these changes? What can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to help?
For individuals, there’s tons of things you can be doing. Go to your doctor, trust your doctor, and hope that corporations and leaders are making the system easier to engage with over time. Make sure your friends are doing the same thing and encourage them to take preventative care.
Corporations have a huge role to play. Most Americans get their healthcare through their work, so employers should be actively involved in how the healthcare system works. C-level leaders should fully understand the benefits being provided to their employees and actively work to better negotiate these rates across different providers and maximize them for their employees.
I think for communities, one of the biggest priorities should be making sure that people know where to go if they need care. One nice thing that I’ve seen recently is the proliferation of more urgent care centers. I think that’s really help drive change in how people engage with healthcare in their communities. It makes it much easier — and much more likely — that someone will get checked out if they know where their local urgent care is and they feel like it will provide them with good care. This is definitely something that everyone should be advocating for in their own communities.
I’m particularly interested in the interplay between the general healthcare system and the mental health system. Right now we have two parallel tracks mental/behavioral health and general health. What are your thoughts about this status quo? What would you suggest to improve this?
I love this question. Actually, when I was looking around at startups, I spent a lot of time looking at startups that were doing interesting things in the mental health space. I think if you look at any data, the United States is woefully underserved in terms of the mental health care access. It’s not only the stigma, mental health care is also rarely funded at the level that traditional care is by insurers.
If you think about the overall interplay between mental/behavioral health and general health, I think they actually need to be brought together much more closely because they’re absolutely aligned.
For example, say someone had diabetes and heart issues, and needed to continuously take medicine and see a doctor in order to manage those issues. But say this person is also severely depressed and has trouble getting out of bed in the morning. What are the chances that they will actually take their medicine when they’re supposed to or make all of their scheduled appointments? The answer is zero — which leads to trips to the emergency room.
So not only do we need to invest a tremendous amount of money and infrastructure into mental and behavioral health, we also need to equip primary care physicians with the knowledge to spot these issues and the power to refer them to a specialist. I honestly think everyone who is at an entry point into the healthcare system — whether it’s an urgent care provider, primary care physician, or school counselor — should be trained to screen for mental health needs and know exactly where to refer patients if needed.
There’s a lot of great startups in the mental space that are starting to help address this issue. Some are providing phone or video interaction with a mental professional to make care more accessible. Others are partnering with primary care providers to give them the tools necessary to make the right referrals when needed. A lot of this comes down to transparency and accessibility across the board which can be said about the whole healthcare system in general.
How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?
Aside from a deep level of expertise — which is something that all providers have — I think what truly separates an excellent healthcare provider is outstanding bedside manner.
The more information a provider has, the better they are able to properly diagnose and provide care for a patient. A great bedside manner can help make the patient comfortable enough to share how they are feeling. Creating an environment where people feel comfortable sharing honest information about their health — which can often be a taboo subject — can help you better share with them why they may need a certain treatment and how it will help them get better.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s funny, I actually have one. It’s a Winston Churchill quote — “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
This has helped me get through a lot of tough times because it’s applicable throughout your life. Whether you’re in college trying to get those midterm papers in, or failing at a job and trying to pick yourself up, it encourages you to keep going.
Both success and failure are fleeting, what matters is that you’re willing to keep pushing. So if you’re on a mountaintop and everything is going great, enjoy it, and help bring people along with you. At other times you may find yourself in a place that isn’t as comfortable, and those will pass. This is a mentality that I certainly try to live by and apply to every situation.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My exciting new project truly is Nomad. We have a lot of work yet to do and I think it’ll help a lot of people.
For clinicians today, trying to balance life with the demands of work, they’re often called upon in a much more frequent and intrusive way than most other professions. They do incredibly stressful work. If I have a bad day, it’s probably because we don’t hit our targets. If a doctor or nurse has a bad day, they may have to tell someone they no longer have a brother, sister, or mother.
So we want to make their lives and their profession easier. Stripping out all the complications around licensing and credentialing, finding work and changing jobs, and just having a more flexible life are things that we’d like to bring to healthcare providers.
Ultimately, I think if providers are happier, more rested, and more content with where they are in their career, that will help improve patient care. Having the option for a more flexible schedule is not always something that providers had. We need to make it easier for them to work when and where they want since there’s already a huge labor shortage in medicine.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
I’m not a doctor and I don’t have a PhD in fluid dynamics, but you don’t need those things to get involved in healthcare and make a meaningful difference. So my podcasts tend to be more general business and leadership podcasts and books. I think healthcare needs well-rounded leaders and if your background is in medicine, then that’s even better!
If I had to name one specifically, I usually find myself listening to a lot of NPR. I really enjoy it during long drives since there’s always something interesting to learn about. I also listen to the New York Times Daily in the mornings.
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.
I think I honestly would go back to the mental health aspect. I wish that everyone would have a six month checkup, just like they do for the dentist, with a mental health provider. An hour long conversation to address questions like: How are things going? What’s happening in your life? How are you handling them? If we made that the norm, then no one would feel weird about going, because everyone would be doing it.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m really more of a consumer of social media rather than a participant. So I’d recommend following Nomad! You can follow us on:
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!