Katie Higgins is joining Crossover as our new Chief Revenue Officer. Like so many on our team, she started out with no plan to become involved in healthcare, let alone healthcare transformation. Her dream was to help change the world in the non-profit sector, yet her path took her into healthcare and then to us because we’re just as intent on changing the world as she ever was. We’re going to be a great home for her passions around teams and building things, and she’s going to be central to igniting the Crossover rocket engines on our future journeys. Enjoy her two part interview below.
What’s your story before Crossover?
I grew up in Atlanta and earned my undergraduate degree at Davidson College, a small liberal arts school north of Charlotte, North Carolina. My passion in college was international political relations and most of my internships and college experiences were in the not-for-profit world. I spent six months studying abroad in Geneva working for the United Nations, and I spent a few summers in Honduras building clinics and schools, worked for a not-for-profit criminal defense firm in Atlanta, and an international Education Fund in Boston. I even applied to the Peace Corps before college, but they didn’t take you unless you had a college degree, which at the time I still needed to complete.
My college roommate used to tease me by calling me “Katie the Freedom Fighter,” because that was always the type of organization I got involved with. That was really my passion, up into my early adult years. When I graduated from Davidson, my goal was to get into that line of work, but I ended up with a ton of college debt, and suddenly had to get a real job that had a paycheck associated with it.
The Advisory Board Company came and recruited at Davidson only one time—the year I graduated. I applied, got to know them, and it felt like an extension of my college experience—a lot of liberal arts majors, churning out short-term research papers, focused on healthcare, primarily for hospitals and health systems. It felt like a good gig, and it would put me in DC, where I wanted to be, with some really fun, smart kids my age. I could make a little bit of money and pay back the college loans, and then in a couple of years, get back to my non-profit personal mission. Or at least that was the plan…
What kept me engaged at the Advisory Board was that I realized how much amazing work our hospitals and health systems do, as not-for-profit organizations themselves. I found a real mission and calling working for health systems. The Advisory Board started as a best practice, syndicated research company. What was so compelling about that model is that the research business became its own internal R&D function for the company as well. Through our research, we could see the universal challenges hospitals and health systems were facing, as well as opportunities where we could leverage our strengths and capabilities to further our impact in the industry. For example, we launched management training for clinicians who were promoted to managers, because they were outstanding clinicians, but had never had any kind of formal leadership training. And when we looked at how fragmented and disparate hospitals’ data sources were, we launched a business intelligence technology business. Likewise, we would get requests from hospitals who thought our best practice research was awesome, but they couldn’t implement it, so we created and grew what became a very successful consulting practice.
I joined the healthcare practice in ‘99 and grew up through that company over the next 20+ years. During that time, there was an opportunity to be a part of teams that were starting new businesses every two or three years. The Advisory Board did an amazing job of recruiting and retaining really great talent. Throughout my career there, I had the chance to work with some of the smartest, most dedicated, funny, service-oriented people I have known. The combination of the company mission and incredible people proved to be so fun and engaging that I never had time nor interest to see or do anything else.
In 2017, the Advisory Board was acquired by UnitedHealth Group. There was a lot of skepticism going into that acquisition—they were a Fortune Seven company, with 320,000 employees, an insurance giant, and there were big concerns that this would be the beginning of the end of the cultural identity we had spent 20 years building. What I didn’t know about UnitedHealth Group was that it was really two companies, UnitedHealthcare (the insurance arm) and Optum (the health services arm), which is the entity that absorbed The Advisory Board.
I realized, after the transition had taken place, that at a company the size of Optum, you have incredible size and the resources to bring really big solutions to the table. At The Advisory Board, we could only take the solution part of the way, but at Optum, we could offer deep, operational, and managed service solutions at scale with thorough technology, consulting, analytics, benchmarking, staffing and extensive operational expertise.
One of the highlights of my career was being involved in creating a transformational partnership with a small community hospital in Colorado called Boulder Community Health. Most community hospitals struggle to remain independent, as they lack the scale to cover a wide range of complex administrative functions, and the capital to keep up with the need for continuous innovation. As a result, it is not uncommon for community hospitals to be acquired by larger regional or national health systems, which runs the risk of decreasing competition and a reduced focus on the needs of the community. In this case, we were able to offer an alternative solution—we created a smart sourcing relationship with BCH, taking on all of their revenue cycle operations, analytics functions, and some of the services within their clinical continuum, specifically care management functions that require a lot of technology and data to manage well. The partnership was a way to give them a financial lift and a partner in innovation for the next 10 years, allowing them to remain independent as a community hospital and continue serving the distinct needs of the Boulder community. This solution set was the culmination of everything we had dreamed of being able to put together for a client at the Advisory Board but given our limitations, weren’t able to. With Optum’s capabilities we were finally able to make that dream a reality. This project was really a capstone and brought completeness and closure to my entire previous experience.
How did you come to Crossover?
When I was first connected with the Crossover team, I gently tried to tell them no—at least a few times! They were pleasantly persistent, but it was just not the right time for me to transition. I had just closed the partnership deal in Colorado back in June, and part of my accountability was to deliver on our side of it; I was personally invested in that project.
But, I do love to hear what people are doing and of course I love networking. So, I kept taking the phone calls. The more I talked to Nate and Scott, the more I started getting really excited about what they were trying to accomplish. Our conversations started to check so many boxes for me—for my personal mission in healthcare and getting closer to actual patient care; working within a tight-knit, high-caliber team; having audacious, worthy goals. So with that in mind, I went and spent a day with them, and I probably should have anticipated what would happen. I left that day thinking, “Darn it, I really liked these guys.” I could feel the reverberation of energy and knew that it would be so fun to be a part of that. Even though the timing wasn’t perfect, I knew there just aren’t that many companies or opportunities like this, at this unique point in time—somewhere inside myself, I felt I could really contribute my experience. So I decided to make the leap!
What appealed to you about primary care?
There was a health system CEO that I worked with a few years ago who made a provocative statement that every time their system had an inpatient admission, there had been a failure in the healthcare system. That really resonated with me. It’s unusual for someone at his level to acknowledge that publicly, even if they feel it privately, but it aligns with a growing acknowledgement that so much of healthcare should—and needs to be—managed outside of the hospital setting. Another comment that has stuck with me from our CEO at Optum was the insight that while 5% of healthcare spending is primary care, primary care impacts the next 95% of spending. If we are really going to solve the cost/quality equation in health care, it has to start with primary care.
Turning to primary care was not as dramatic a shift as it might seem, because this is something we’ve been studying for a while in the health system space. For me personally, I wanted to get closer to the actual delivery of care, to get into the mix at the patient level and understand what truly connected healthcare feels like. I am that annoying patient that praises my care team when they demonstrate connected care… and give health care economics lectures to the on call nurse when she tries to send me to the ER for something that they should be able to handle in their clinic. What Crossover is doing is something that is very personal and a source of great passion for me—trying to answer the question, “How do we create a system of care that everyone would want for themselves?”
Crossover is attempting something quite bold and ambitious. I am particularly inspired by Crossover’s emphasis on mental health as well as the strides made this past year to move to virtual care. Having an interdisciplinary approach to primary health in a way that meets patients where they are makes a lot of sense. Furthermore, I love that Crossover is on the leading edge of thinking about the benefits and lessons learned from Medicare Advantage plans and how to extend that model to the commercial market. We know that under Medicare Advantage, health costs are lower, outcomes are higher and patients report high levels of satisfaction with their experience — bringing that model to the commercial market, with the capabilities that Crossover offers is super exciting. I love an audacious goal, I love the creativity, and I love how meaningful this work is. The opportunity we have to disrupt how we think about primary care is tremendous and it is needed by so many right now. I can’t imagine a more exciting and high impact place to be in health care right now.
Part 2 of our interview with Katie will discuss her role as the new revenue leader, her conviction on the power of mentoring, and how she tries to create work-positive and productive work environments