Nov 17, 2021

Navigating Post Pandemic Challenges In Healthcare, with Hannah Thomas

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Hannah Thomas is a dynamic and impactful executive advisor and health science consultant who expertly guides C-suite executives in goal attainment, including developing strategies to successfully drive organic growth, M&As, talent and workforce optimization, technology improvements, product launches, partnership building, and cultural transformations.

As Founder/Principal at New Canvas Advising, Hannah collaborates with business leaders to holistically assess their existing systems, processes, technologies, and policies and determine a strategic plan to achieve both their short- and long-term goals. While offering value to all industries, Hannah leverages her background in clinical research to specialize in meeting the complex and unique needs of clients in the life sciences, biotech, and healthcare sectors.

Having worked with/in large corporations, small businesses, non-profits, start-ups, clinical research centers, hospitals, and more, Hannah understands how to communicate with, influence, and lead technical, scientific, and operations personnel of all levels. She has earned the respect of physicians, PhDs, researchers, and laboratory personnel while also being able to advise decision-makers focused on financial management, regulatory compliance, and business strategy.

Hannah is active in her community, currently holding an appointment to the Council Salary Review Commission for the City of Puyallup. She is also a professional mentor through the Blue Scarf Society with the Puyallup and Sumner Chamber of Commerce. Previously, Hannah co-founded and directed Scent of Water Foundation to provide relief to individuals with financial challenges while suffering from all types of cancer. She has also served as a mentor for students and young female professionals through the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research and Young Women in BIO.

Hannah earned her Master’s in Health Science, focused on Clinical Research Administration at George Washington University as well as a Bachelor’s in Biology from Pacific Lutheran University. Additionally, she completed a comprehensive program at Sandford University for an Advanced Project Management Certificate.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How Hannah’s career path evolved and led to the founding of her business, New Canvas Advertising
  • Why Hannah feels passionately about the work she does, and what kinds of advising projects she organizes on behalf of clients
  • How the outbreak of the global pandemic has impacted the overall healthcare sector and how health systems are adapting to these new challenges and opportunities
  • What innovations and developing trends and technologies are emerging within the healthcare industry
  • How the global pandemic is forcing the healthcare industry to grapple with difficult new challenges and shifting patient expectations
  • Why access to robust data is crucial, and how patient surveys and other data collection strategies will be key going forward
  • What challenges and opportunities Hannah sees in healthcare marketing, and why internal marketing will be vital as we begin to emerge from the pandemic


Additional resources:  

Show Transcription:

Intro: Welcome to A Brave New Podcast, the podcast all about how brave entrepreneurial companies are unlocking their business potential using inbound marketing. Here is your marketing expert and host, Polly Yakovich.

Polly Yakovich: Welcome back to A Brave New Podcast. My guest today is Hannah Thomas. She is the founder and CEO of New Canvas Advising, which is an advising firm focused on life sciences and healthcare industries. She's going to talk a lot more about what she does and how she does it, and we're really excited to talk with her about leadership, about new initiatives, which we all know can be extremely challenging, and overcoming roadblocks, amongst other things. So, welcome to the podcast, Hannah. Thank you so much for coming.

Hannah Thomas: Thank you. It's good to be with you.

Polly Yakovich: Tell me a little bit about your story. How has your career path evolved and how did it lead you to start New Canvas Advising?

Hannah Thomas: It's been a career of being invited to come to companies.

Polly Yakovich: Wow.

Hannah Thomas: And it's been a lot of fun.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah.

Hannah Thomas: I have enjoyed my career, and I continue to enjoy my career. With the exception of one job which I did the traditional apply to the job, and that was back in the day when you found them in newspapers-

Polly Yakovich: Wow.

Hannah Thomas: ... so I did the application, and interviewed that day, and I found out that I got the job, and I was super excited. But other than that it's been executives saying, "I have a new team," or, "We've gone for a merger and acquisition," or, "We have a challenge," or, "A new initiative," something like that, and they've invited me to come and to work with their team. And there's been no role, or that they've had some other challenge, that's been my career trajectory as it is.

Polly Yakovich: So what kind of work have you been doing? I think that we all know those people that everyone wants to pull into their new team to solve problems. What kinds of things have you been doing? What kinds of things make you uniquely qualified for a no-role, help me build this thing, kind of role?

Hannah Thomas: Working with nonprofits. They are looking at it from an operating model perspective that are also trying to balance it from a financial element. So nonprofits are always in that tension of, we need to be more efficient, we want to give back to our community, we need to serve our stakeholders, but we also need to be financially viable. And so we can think about large health systems, they're nonprofits. So the larger health systems, they're stewards of larger financial resources. They are grappling with a bigger picture. Smaller nonprofits have less in their resource profile, so to speak. But their portfolio, the complexity is not necessarily less than the larger institutions, but their funding is more constrained.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. That's a great way of putting it. I want to get into the details of what you're doing, and why, but what led you to start your own thing?

Hannah Thomas: Because I'd been asked by many people. Working as an internal advisor, I was working with one company at a time. But then, I was asked by different people, while I was working within these different companies, "Could you work with me as well?"

Polly Yakovich: Right.

Hannah Thomas: The challenge was, is that I was under non-competes.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. That's always a challenge.

Hannah Thomas: So with my background being very heavily within biotech, pharma and clinical research, so having done organizational design and development for so many years, and then coming from the life sciences where it's ingrained in me from a systems biology perspective, I'm pretty agile in terms of moving across sectors and industries, but I've been within the life sciences and healthcare for about 19 years. So I would work within one company at a time.

Hannah Thomas: However, as my non-competes had expired, it was a very natural time for me to segue into starting NCA under my own banner, to work externally with clients, and more than one at a time.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. What's been rewarding about that journey for you? Do you like working across and seeing problems that are happening in one place, that you can bring solutions to in other places? What are some of the benefits of the work you're doing now?

Hannah Thomas: That's very nourishing to me. It's mentally nourishing to me, and also just deep within my soul, because I love to work with people, and that is challenging, because I've worked with a water company before, and one might think that working with a water company, that there isn't necessarily a lot of cross-pollination from a water company to a healthcare nonprofit, or a biotech that's in Europe. But, there is actually a lot that can be shared, because one can look at the growth stage where you're at, whether that you're in a startup, or are you in a growth cycle, and how long that you have been in business?

Hannah Thomas: That doesn't necessarily correlate to what your mindset is. Where are you at in terms of implementing technology? What are your thought processes in terms of investment? Whether that's a financial investment, a human capital investment, also, where you are located. Are you a brick and mortar? Are you a virtual? Do you want to diversify? Do you want to have a virtual presence as well as a brick and mortar presence? So to me it does help me in terms of working with different businesses, because it informs the way that I'm able to bring that to the table and advice executives.

Polly Yakovich: Talk about the kind of projects that you tend to work on. Are you looking at more like structural development of these organizations, and talking about financial health? Or are you looking at bringing new healthcare initiatives to market? What kinds of things do you find that you're working on the most?

Hannah Thomas: It varies, Polly, all across the board. I was meeting with a health system earlier this year, so it was in the fall of last year, and then beginning of this year, where their focus is around value-based care, and population health. And those two terms are often synonymized, but they're not. But what they're looking at is actually building a new hospital. Well, as one looks at building a new hospital, then you get into some pretty complex conversations around the technology, and the business operations, and ensuring that, from a technology perspective, the tail doesn't wag the dog, and bringing in the appropriate people from the business operations.

Hannah Thomas: Also, there is an element around the merging of a clinical operation, so clinical group, and making sure that the physician's voice is very prevalent because oftentimes in healthcare, there is a pretty clear distinction between the corporate side and the clinical side. So, it's making sure that there isn't just the, "Here's a PowerPoint presentation, and here's the gains that are going to be made if we implement value-based care," and then making sure that then it isn't conflated with the whole value-based care speaking from a perspective of population health, which of course, then, the clinical staff are able to differentiate between the two.

Hannah Thomas: That project, that's where it gets multi-threaded, as we say, and then we have parallel work streams. So that's the uniqueness of having a bespoke. It's not even just being tailored. It's really bespoke from one client to the next.

Polly Yakovich: Wow.

Hannah Thomas: Versus another is saying that we want to be able to take data from a healthcare perspective, which is a goldmine, and you want to convert data into information. Health systems are looking at ways to monetize. But if you're wanting to work with a vendor, which health systems do, because if you look at it from an application rationalization perspective they tend to have... Depending on the size of the organization, will have many, many applications that they utilize. So if you're just saying, "We're going to partner to do a pilot," then you have to look at the data. So, what's the flow? Is it bi-directional? Where's the native source? And then the level of effort from the health systems itself. So where an ETL developer can have software, you're going to a data scientist. So you have to dedicate those resources to manage the data.

Hannah Thomas: Then, where's the flow of the data? Is it going to come from an EDW? Do you have a Hadoop? Where is it going? And then there's, of course, questions around patient confidentiality. Who owns the data? Again, going back to the question of monetizing it. And then, is the vendor then going to look to consumerize it? How are they going to convert that themselves?

Hannah Thomas: So then, that's a separate area of interest and conversation, because then you can look at, say, Kaiser and Mayo and some other organizations that have come together in alliance around medical homes. The genesis around that really gained some traction, and is continuing to, around COVID. So you do have these organizations that are continuing to push this forward around televisits, medical homes, and pushing the regulatory boundaries as it is, for providing cross-interstate care, from a federal perspective and a state perspective. So you then have to look at where does the data reside? How are the organizations, from a technology perspective down to the individual contributor level, how are they going to manage it? Be assigned to manage it?

Hannah Thomas: So there's the technology question, the level of effort question, the finances, because you have to do the resource allocation. So that would be another area of interest, as I said, and of bespoke. So that goes to specific organizations, and that's not going to be so much specific to a nonprofit as it is a health system. And usually, health systems of a more magnitude, a larger size.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. You just blew my mind and sent it running in 75 different directions, but one of the things you said toward the end really is something, because we've been really thinking about trends in healthcare, looking to 2022, and one of the things you said I hadn't really thought about yet, which was McKinsey said something like the post-COVID settling levels of telehealth are 38 times what the usage was before COVID. And we all know that that adoption was, we reached years and years of adoption of these kinds of tools in just a few months over the last couple years.

Polly Yakovich: So, that's going to provide health systems and just everyone with way, way, way, way more data than they've even had before, because now they have everyone interacting online, people doing virtual care, telehealth visits, and just the data is going to be so challenging to manage in addition to all the rest of the data. And then when we talk about ICD-11 coming online, how are people thinking about all of this, and are they thinking about how to use all that well?

Hannah Thomas: There is a tremendous amount of thought around how to use the data and then to convert it into information. One of the challenges with healthcare is that it is predominantly unstructured data. So if you think about technology organizations, something as, say, a cell phone provider, those text messages, it's structured data. Whereas in healthcare, if you think about a path report, largely it's the demographic as the header. You know, patient name, date of birth, and depending on the health system and its standards around what is and isn't completed, that may not be entirely completed.

Hannah Thomas: The rest of that in your electronic health record is, depending on the form itself, is not from one health system to the next, and what I mean by that is, within these very large health systems, then you have smaller medical centers. So they themselves have standard practices. So trying to have a unified standard within these health systems that cross states, that's where it gets to be very, very challenging. Because you have to also consider the population in in that the patients are being served, and what their needs are. So in the quest to standardize things, you cannot forget who you're serving, who the primary stakeholder is, and that is your patient.

Polly Yakovich: Right. What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge for healthcare organizations in the coming year in this area?

Hannah Thomas: I would say, and this might be taking a step backwards, but I think one of the concerns is advocacy. So patient advocates are having a challenge with televisits, because the traditional visits have been in-person. So for those patients who reach out and they solicit the service of an advocate, well then, the expectation is you go to the office visit, and then that's all well and good. In this new era of televisits, which quite naturally is being done in order to protect patients, to keep them out of the clinics and out of the hospitals, the link to the visit is intended for that patient. It's a one-on-one.

Hannah Thomas: There are some systems which do allow you to have one or two other people join. But there's only a handful of those. In other cases, they're very clear that it is only that one person that can join.

Polly Yakovich: Interesting.

Hannah Thomas: So then what happens is patients are then having to report back to their advocate, or perhaps they're finding ways, and maybe they are unproved ways, to record, or otherwise find means to then share that with their advocate, whom they're paying for that service, for them to help navigate through the complexity of their healthcare. And these tend to be patients who have complex, multimodal needs, as we would say, with various different providers. So this virtual setting is beneficial for some, more challenging for others.

Polly Yakovich: Yep. It's a good reminder, because I do think for the most part, when we hear about the increase in virtual care, telehealth, whatever you want to call it, I think marketers are really wanting to push this virtual care kind of moniker, so it feels a little more descriptive than picking up a telephone. But we just think of it as convenient, right? Of course it's more convenient for people, so it's just a net positive. But it's a good reminder about, particularly when we're talking about healthcare, all the different kinds of people that need different services in their unique situations.

Hannah Thomas: Right.

Polly Yakovich: I want to step back and talk a little bit about healthcare initiatives. I think we're seeing a lot... Also, I think with some of the things that have happened lately, including the global pandemic, we've seen a lot of startup digital healthcare services jump up all over the place. In your experience... And, I think we all know that they're trying to fix gaps in the healthcare system, or see opportunities to reach people that they didn't have before, because people are thinking differently about access. But I'm curious, how do you typically see healthcare initiatives begin? What kind of things are you brought into? Is it about seeing a hole in services? Is it about a new marketplace? When you're talking about a new hospital? How are people thinking about what's next, how to do new things, what the factors are?

Hannah Thomas: So it's the quadruple aim.

Polly Yakovich: Yes. Absolutely.

Hannah Thomas: Improved clinician experience, better outcomes, lower cost, improved patient experience. So going back to the example that I was using about the new hospital, in that case, it's based on data that they used, and slicing, they were able to ascertain their patient population and their payer mix. So they then were able to say, "This particular area, so if we were to say our zip code area, is not being served." Then as I then drill down further, I said, "You're also, from a behavioral health perspective, and a primary care perspective, there is a urgent need for providers."

Hannah Thomas: So as they're looking and they're saying, "We're going to bring these specialties, these types of providers will be housed in this hospital." Then my conversation with them is around the value-based care, and the type of patients that you have, and again your payer mix, you can accomplish what you're trying to achieve to serve this particular patient population with your preponderance around patients that are 65 and older with a care advantage. You can further serve them, your behavioral health, mental health and wellbeing, and your primary care, which then will also serve to reduce the need for cardiac services [crosstalk 00:18:27] and so forth.

Polly Yakovich: Sure, sure. Yeah. Yeah.

Hannah Thomas: So then that's where it goes back to these fundamentals, if we're saying that we're having better outcomes. We're also looking at it from a lower cost. Because then again, you're looking at what your payer mix is. So if you have finite dollars, you have to balance that. So that's how, if you want to just boil it down to holes, there's holes in the system. That's how some of the gaps, as we would say, or the holes, are to be identified.

Polly Yakovich: Are you seeing more organization shift to a value-based care framework?

Hannah Thomas: There are organizations that are attempting to do that. They certainly are. It's certainly a challenge to do that. So they're implementing, from a population health perspective, they are striving to do that. They're looking at the areas, the low hanging fruit that they can accomplish. So if we have diabetic patients, if we have patients as far as their BP, those are areas in terms of the review of systems that's in the charts that they can monitor. And if they're seeing their primary care, their internist, that kind of thing, those are opportunities that can be pretty monitored. Again, those are your low-hanging fruit. But in terms of implementing of formalized programs, that's where it gets more challenging.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. And I would imagine that it would expose a lot of holes, like the one you were talking about, with behavioral health services being, I think, one of the big ones.

Hannah Thomas: Yes. And that's where you get into the positive feedback loops, the negative feedback loops, or as some might say, the chicken egg.

Polly Yakovich: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I have so many things I want to ask you about. One I want to ask you about, because I know you're working with this population a lot, is what are you seeing the challenges healthcare leaders are facing and balancing right now? What is leadership thinking about? What are successful leaders thinking about, and doing and prioritizing?

Hannah Thomas: I think the immediate pain point is around COVID. So people are exhausted, and that's what I'm hearing from my network of colleagues, and the challenges that they're facing. So to some extent it even puts pauses on the initiatives that they have from a hiring perspective. So for example, I had a meeting with an executive a couple of weeks ago. That meeting was canceled. I mean, the meeting came and went, and I only found out later that there was positive COVID on this person's team. Then a whole team had, it was a flurry to get the whole team tested.

Hannah Thomas: So this is top of mind for everyone. But also then, depending on what state you're in, the mandates to be vaccinated, so we think about Washington State, everyone needs to be vaccinated or demonstrate that you have been vaccinated by October 18th. So then of course you've got Kaiser, which has indicated in terms of layoffs, you've got... So there's all of these different large health systems that are really facing some difficult decisions, and then some staffing choices. And then, how do you rejigger?

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Do you think that that will pause some healthcare innovations over the next couple of years as people really work to balance their team, deal with an exhausted workforce, deal with gaps in their workforce, deal with just the lasting effects of the pandemic?

Hannah Thomas: Yeah. Last year, we saw that many things were put on pause until there could be a reevaluation. With 2020, of course, people did their budgets in 2019 to allocate for 2020, and so there was a pause from the perspective of the resourcing allocation for people to actually do the work, but the budget dollars were still there.

Hannah Thomas: So then, once people got acclimated to the notion of, we're going to work from home remotely, we've got people settled, then work started to pick back up. Then there's the 2021 budget, and that's where there's the evaluation around the constraints, and what does or doesn't need to be done, what staff do we not need to hire? And evaluating attrition. So what projects are we going to do and what are the regulatory constraints? And what is the response level going to be to that in relation to innovation, and how does one define innovation? Is innovation tied to technology? Is innovation tied to process changes? Is it tied to overall system design? And are you going to redesign particular opportunities, when you're thinking about virtual care? Because virtual care is not just a technology driver. So yeah, I think that those are pretty big topics of conversation, but it's also topics of consideration and thought for them, which are going to go well beyond 2021 and 2022.

Polly Yakovich: That's really interesting. Talk to me a little bit about where the patient sits in all of this. I talked to somebody yesterday in a major cancer research hospital and system, and they were saying that one of their main focuses is getting people back into preventative kinds of activities, because over the last couple years, everyone's put off screenings and things that seemed extra, or was hard to get in, or it just didn't seem like a priority with everything else being much more urgent, or hospitals being fuller. When we talk about the patient experience coming out of, and I say that very loosely as you know, coming loosely out of the pandemic, at some point, touch wood, slowly, how are we thinking about the patient experience? How is the patient experience going to change with the adoption of telehealth or virtual kinds of experiences? And how are health systems going to change with patient expectations? A big, big, big, massive topic. Can you just tell us everything that's going to happen in 2022 and how we can market that well? That'd be great.

Hannah Thomas: Oh, goodness. Yeah, all of those are very big topics.

Polly Yakovich: I know.

Hannah Thomas: They're really-

Polly Yakovich: But if anyone can answer them it's definitely you.

Hannah Thomas: Exactly. I think that those are really big unknowns at this point. I think anybody who has their crystal ball and says, "I know," I would like to meet that person.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. I'm just curious about this, and we can wade into it piece by piece, but do you think that most health systems have the right vehicles to hear from patients? Do most health organizations have a patient advisory board? Do they get good feedback loops?

Hannah Thomas: That's my personal opinion, my experience as a patient within health systems, within multiple health systems, as well as having worked within them. So the answer is no. That having been said, the people that are working within health systems have a heart, and I-

Polly Yakovich: Oh yes, of course.

Hannah Thomas: ... am painting with a broad brush.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah.

Hannah Thomas: They absolutely have a desire to hear. They want to know. But to funnel, to become aware of it, that is not something that is well-constructed. So there are departments within hospitals, so within individual locations there are patient advocacy departments. And if you're aware of them, you absolutely can call, and they are typically your customer service. And there is a hospital that is in the mid-Midwest, we'll say, and I'm familiar with their operations. If any concern is voiced to them, the way they operate is it goes directly to the physician. So they take a very active approach in anything, any kind of comment, feedback that is provided.

Hannah Thomas: To some extent, it can actually be a little bit intimidating if you are a patient, and you're providing feedback, because there can be, then, concern that then your care can be compromised, because you don't want to provide negative feedback to your physician, because you don't then want, subsequent, your relationship with your physician to become negative, or awkward, in any kind of a way. But that is the way that they deal with it, and it's a very well-known institution, and that's their approach.

Hannah Thomas: In other cases, you provide that feedback and then there will be an investigation, and you don't necessarily hear back on the investigation. But it is elevated, or escalated, to the clinic manager. The clinic manager then deals with it, but the patient doesn't necessarily have any feedback from that. So there isn't the closed feedback.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. I think it's an interesting, and I'm going to massively oversimplify this, I want to say that at the outset, because obviously, the US healthcare system is incredibly complex, understatement of the century, with so many multiple factors affecting people. But I do think, regardless of whether we ever do get Medicare for All or whatever it is, regardless, we have just so many more players in the system. Patients are getting new expectations of what their healthcare experience is and should be. And I think that, when you think about organizations shifting to things like value-based care, medical homes, you really rely on patients liking their experience of you and coming back, because that becomes at the very core... And I think what you said is so true because every time I talk to people in healthcare, they care so much, so I don't mean to make this a non-human conversation, but it is also an ROI conversation. And who's paying for what? And what does that look like?

Polly Yakovich: So it always is interesting to me as a marketer, because the golden rule of marketing is that you have to stay extremely close to your audience. And I think it's so interesting in healthcare, when you talk about the patient experience, how much, regardless if something's going well or bad, or the interaction was obviously not enough for an investigation, but unpleasant, or hard to deal with, if you're not hearing from patients, I wonder how systems are going to be able to provide good patient experiences and have that patient engagement that leads to a longer lifecycle, and relationship with that particular patient.

Hannah Thomas: Well, surveys are sent out, as well. So, I mean, after you have a visit you have a survey, and some organizations, they send a survey out after every single visit. In some cases, it's less frequent than that. So it's also reliant on the patient completing those surveys, and how honest that they are in the survey. And then, there are third party, there are vendors that work with those hospitals, so that you can void the perception of the data being managed by the institution itself, but then, they are managing it, and they're presenting it back to whatever hospital sent out the survey. Or that they outsource it entirely.

Hannah Thomas: So it really is dependent on... I get surveys and I don't complete them all the time. There's also, then, you only complete the survey when you've had a bad experience.

Polly Yakovich: Of course. Yeah.

Hannah Thomas: Right? So I've had multiple opportunities to complete a survey on my primary care doctor. She is absolutely fantastic. I appreciate her and I haven't completed one survey to say how much I appreciate the care that she provides. There's only been a couple of times that I have provided feedback and it has been a less-than-optimal, or less-than-positive, experience. So I am a part of the population that, unfortunately, then ends up skewing those numbers, because I'm doing the very thing that people in patient experience and hospitals' quality care departments, that they don't want. And in fact that they should not. The body of data, the evidence that they need, should be more robust than what they're getting from somebody like myself.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Yeah.

Hannah Thomas: So I'm contributing to the lack of evidence by only providing episodic information.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Well, let this be your public shaming so that you can fill out those surveys, and one person at a time, we will fix this problem. Just kidding. What would you say... I would say healthcare as an industry has been obviously borne the brunt of the last couple years in every facet. What are you seeing are some of the challenges for healthcare marketers who, although we have clients in healthcare, we work in healthcare marketing, but I'm very glad I'm not sitting in a health system as a marketer right now because that would be a very daunting job, and my hat is off to you. But what are some of the challenges, do you see, in healthcare marketing right now, and what should we be looking to as far as innovation and better experiences?

Hannah Thomas: So I think that there is the concept of internal marketing and external marketing, and I would say start at home first. So it's the philosophy, what I mean by internal marketing, that's what I mean by start at home. So it's less about, in my recommendation and my thought, it's less about the external marketing. It's the understanding your internal business and who you have within your four walls, within your corners. And that's what's really essential to maintaining a business and who your stakeholders are.

Hannah Thomas: As, if you can market, and I'm using the term market loosely in the way I think about it, but if one can market, if one can speak to your internal audience, then speaking externally becomes much more natural.

Polly Yakovich: Absolutely.

Hannah Thomas: Because then, the internal, your employees, which are your stakeholders, they will then carry that flag forward. And I think that that's something that could be done more effectively, more authentically, and with [inaudible 00:33:47]

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. We touched on it briefly, what does 2022 look like, and how are you helping clients navigate these waters, and still reach for innovation? What are you focusing on with your clients in the next year as you guide them?

Hannah Thomas: I would say people first. The rest will follow if one just thinks about an operating model, which naturally, operating models are not the entirety of a system. But an operating model is oftentimes reduced down to process, and it's not. And that's reductive in thinking. It's the culture as well. And businesses would not exist if it weren't for the people.

Polly Yakovich: That always reminds me of, I think that so many organizations, when we think about innovation, we think about the system, or the process, or the product, and we don't think about the change management aspect of it as much. Do you see that in the projects you're working with and the clients that you're working with as well?

Hannah Thomas: Well, they say, if you have a hammer then there's always going to be a nail. Or, I'm sure I've messed up that saying, but no, if we're fixated, if we say that we have a bucket of money so it will have been allocated, X $100 million capital dollars, then there's a finite period of time in which you can spend those dollars, because that's your budget season. So you have to spend it, and it's been allocated to a technology project. So that's your focus. Then, everything else becomes ancillary to what the project is, and we have synonymized innovation with technology.

Polly Yakovich: Yes, we have.

Hannah Thomas: So then, from there, we have hang-ons around innovation, whether it's technology, whether it's digital, we can begin to subcategorize what we mean by innovation, and that becomes our focus. And oftentimes, again, it's driven by the amount of dollars, whether it's capital or operating dollars, that we've allocated to that. But that becomes the driver of what we consider to be an effective execution of a particular initiative, instead of, how are we going to actually move this body of work forward based on the resources that we've allocated? And that resource is the people. And if that's dwindling for some reason, if we have split team, some of them are at home, some are in the office, if we have virtualized everyone, all of that has to be taken into consideration from the people perspective.

Polly Yakovich: Right.

Hannah Thomas: And that's what I mean by people first, is how is your team going to effectively work in order to execute on what your initiative is? However big or small.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. That is very wise, and I think a good place for me to tap out of this conversation, as I think you can tell that I can hardly keep up with Hannah, because she's so crazy smart. So thank you for following us as we wandered around some of the challenges for healthcare organizations. Any final thoughts about what you're thinking about, what you're looking toward, what you would encourage healthcare organizations to be thinking about?

Hannah Thomas: They have a terrific opportunity. Right now is a terrific... It's a very difficult time. So many of my colleagues are exhausted, so it's a challenging time, but it's also a time where they can pull together and demonstrate what healthcare is able to do. So it's a time to be encouraged, it's a time to stand strong.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. That's great. I want to ask you one question that I always ask everyone before I let them go, and I'm terrified to ask you this because I know you're going to use words that I don't even know what they mean, but what, besides a very high IQ, would you say is your superpower? What makes you uniquely able? The things that you're able to pull together? You are a very unique person. What do you think is your superpower? What enables you to bring people to the table and lead these kinds of conversations?

Hannah Thomas: I say within fear, "I don't know."

Polly Yakovich: Huh.

Hannah Thomas: And I enjoy questions, even though that they can cause some uncertainty, because I don't... I'm unafraid to go into conversations with one and explore whatever comes up. And I think that that hails back to so many years of being in exam rooms with patients who have just found out that they've been diagnosed with cancer, and I'm going through consent forms with them that can be 45 pages long, extremely dense in material. And they might have an education of third or fourth grade, or I'm dealing with people who have two PhDs.

Hannah Thomas: A person who has two PhDs is just as afraid, and they themselves don't have a background in oncology. They're very talented, they're intellectual, they worked hard to get their education, but they don't understand oncology. And they are in the same emotional place as the person who's a third or fourth grade education, and deserve to be treated with the same amount of respect as the next person. So your day can change when someone comes in and they say, "I need you to see this person right now," and you open that door, and you don't know what's behind door one, two, or three. But it's not about me. It's about that person, and what their immediate need is, right then and there.

Polly Yakovich: Wow. That's great. Thank you so much. Where can people follow you, hear what you're thinking about, read what you're writing, see what you're up to?

Hannah Thomas:, and then on LinkedIn. I think that's the best place to find me.

Polly Yakovich: Great. We'll link to both of those in the show notes. Thank you so much for coming on. It's so great to talk to you. You always make me really think, and now I have so many more questions than answers, but that's a good thing. I really like that about you.

Hannah Thomas: Thank you, Polly. It's been a pleasure.

Polly Yakovich: Thanks for listening.

Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of A Brave New Podcast. Go to for more resources and advice. If you enjoyed this episode, show us some love by subscribing, rating and reviewing A Brave New Podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts.


Polly Yakovich

Polly Yakovich



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