Christine Wessel is Crossover’s in-house legal counsel, and her views on the role and value of legal practice are probably not what most people expect—or receive—from their lawyer. As we saw in Part 1, when you have to be both sword and shield, you also have to be a creative problem solver, quick to adapt, and ready for the invariable twists and turns of the business. Christine has shown this type of range and dexterity, which for Crossover, has been a great thing.
How do you describe what makes Crossover different, especially as a non-healthcare person?
I’ll borrow some of Scott’s words: It’s about creating “healthcare as it should be.” Most people my age have had some health challenges, and I’m no exception. As a consumer of health services, I can see that so much is wrong with the way healthcare is delivered in the United States. At Crossover, we’re making it an experience that is focused more on the member experience with care, rather than just serving the needs of the providers or the sponsor. Our goal is to improve health outcomes in a way that reduces costs and will still result in a profitable company that can pursue its mission. Being on the inside has given me visibility into the incredible orchestration that is required to make this appear seamless and smooth for the member.
I think it’s in no small part due to Scott’s persistence, and his attitude about it—his sense of “inevitability.” I really have an affinity for the kind of optimism that approaches things with an “Of course, we can do this!” mentality. I’ve never been afraid to jump in and try to do something, and even if you fail, you learn something from it. I feel like the culture at Crossover is the right culture for me because of that.
How does being in a corporate culture that doesn’t blindly accept the status quo affect your work?
It’s interesting that you bring up the notion of precedent and how we find support for a position in the law. I’ve always felt that precedent can inform, but that it shouldn’t be a fence around you. In law, you can and should be a creative problem solver. If you look at the way case law has developed in the United States and in other common law jurisdictions, you realize you can’t anticipate every single problem within the Civil Code, or even within your case. Case law develops because new problems emerge that need a solution, and as lawyers, our goal is to creatively solve those problems and push the boundaries. You do that by looking at a precedent and seeing if your situation is similar to that, or if it’s different enough that you have to develop a new and creative solution.
Of course, we’re bound by the law, but there are times when the law doesn’t address a specific issue, so my job is to figure out what makes the most sense. What, from a policy perspective, is the right thing to do? It’s important to me to consider how to achieve our goals, while conducting ourselves with integrity. There’s a guiding principle that starts at the top of this company—we do the right things for the right reasons, with integrity. That doesn’t mean we don’t push boundaries—sometimes you have to in order to achieve the right outcome. So on the one hand, I have that regulatory background that says, “stay within bounds.” And on the other hand, I have Scott’s voice in my head, giving me the autonomy to think creatively and try to figure out how to get to the right result.
You’d be surprised how many finance or legal people I’ve met in startups who do their company a disservice by being so inflexible, especially when that company is completely focused on reinventing some aspect of whatever sector they’re in. We have to focus on the goals and outcomes.
When I was in law school, I spent one semester working for an appellate court judge in the California Court of Appeal. I’d draft bench memoranda to inform his opinions. Once, I sat down with him to talk about a case. He asked my opinion after reading the briefs from the parties, and I started out by saying, “Well, the law says this….” He told me to forget about what the law says and asked me what the right outcome should be. What is justice in this case?
Later, when I was a young attorney, a partner who was mentoring me told me that, as a junior attorney, clients will pay you for what you can do. Then, as you mature in your practice, clients will pay you for what you know. As you mature further, clients will pay you for what you think, and it’s at that point that you can start to push boundaries and truly become a trusted adviser to clients. I’m hoping that’s how my internal “clients” at Crossover see me. My goal is to be that trusted adviser—to help people think through problems, come up with creative solutions that help achieve goals, stay out of trouble, and ensure we continue to do the right things.
When we get back to dinner parties, how will you describe Crossover?
I think it’s simple: we’re a comprehensive healthcare provider. We offer primary care across the country to people no matter where they are, including virtual care. We meet them where they are to provide healthcare. It’s so much more than telehealth.
My son once had an infection which started from a cut on his hand. You could see the infection starting to move up his arm. It was late at night, the urgent care centers were closed, and this wasn’t an emergency room situation, but he did need antibiotics as soon as possible. At the time, I had insurance that included Teladoc, so we had a video/virtual visit. The doctor was able to see the infection progressing and agreed we needed antibiotics. He called it into the pharmacy, we went to pick it up, and it was resolved really quickly. It was very convenient, but still, I would never use it for my primary healthcare because every time you call them, you’d get a different doctor. There’d be no relationship.
Crossover is different because your health records are accessible to our entire care team, so regardless of whether you see the same doctor or not, you’re seeing someone within the same care team. If I go to the pediatrician with my son, and his regular pediatrician isn’t there, I know the other pediatricians in the office also know us. We have a relationship with the doctor but also with the practice. We’re building the same thing, but now we can deliver it through every channel.
With the pandemic, we’ve been able to pull people along with us to this virtual care model, who never would have agreed to doing it before. They have suddenly realized the value in it and that’s what we’re seeing with the contracts. Prior to this, clients would say that they were going to use us for the onsite or nearsite centers and they’d get their virtual care from one of the many telemedicine providers. Through this pandemic, though, they’ve seen how our services are so much more effective and as a result, we’ve had clients who used to be adamant about their lack of interest in virtual care, signing up with Crossover for their national populations. The entire time I was at Vizio, we always had telephone conferences or in-person meetings, never virtual sessions. I think that this whole adoption of daily Zoom meetings has opened up a new comfort zone for people and companies with what you can accomplish online, and that realization is extending into the potential of virtual care via video or asynchronous messaging.
Have the lockdowns affected how you work?
Interestingly, even though I worked in the MSO, when I was in the office, most of my clients were actually not in the same office. So even before COVID, I was conducting Zoom calls every day to talk to people about the work we were doing. As far as connecting in person or not in person, it hasn’t really made that much of a difference. I’m obviously not seeing Mark, Scott, or Nate in person, but we’ve continued to stay in touch on Zoom or by texting.
I think I’ve been more efficient working from home because I have fewer people tapping on my shoulder or conversations happening in the open office environment that can be disruptive, even though interaction is often valuable. I find, however, that I seem to be working longer hours than I was before as the boundaries seem harder to manage.
Given your positive experience so far, what do you think is the “magic” behind Crossover?
It’s the infectiousness of it all. It’s funny to use that word in a healthcare context, but it starts with Scott and extends to the entire leadership team. The people at our company truly have a passion for what we are doing, and that is absolutely infectious. I think part of it is because Scott doesn’t just tell you what he wants to achieve, rather he brings you along just pulling you into it, and before you know it you are taking the hill with your own team in a similar way. I think it’s a Jedi mind trick that I fall for over and over.
Is there something interesting about you that others might not know that you are willing to share?
I’ve always loved traveling, but this pandemic has obviously put a damper on that, as has my workaholic nature (I almost never take time off). I used to love traveling overseas. My husband is from South Africa—one of the great adventures of my youth was riding across southern Africa with him on the back of his motorcycle. Someday I hope to do more of that with my son as well. He, like my husband, is really into motorcycles. Traveling over land is something that I really enjoy, and Africa has a buzz unlike anywhere else. It hit me the minute I stepped off the plane in South Africa the first time—you just can’t get it out of you.
Many thanks to Peter Heywood (one of our long-standing brand advisors and business consultants) who helped conduct these interviews. You can search for Peter’s other Crossover Leader Series Interviews here.
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