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Walgreens Exec Dissects Health Care Issues and COVID-19: Part 1

Written by Andrew Le, MD

PublishedApril 15, 2021

Welcome to the CEO Corner, where Buoy CEO and Co-founder Andrew Le, MD, sits down with industry leaders to chat about the provocative topics of today. Andrew recently spoke with Kevin Ban, MD, chief medical officer at Walgreens, who has more than two decades of clinical experience and a track record for optimizing clinical programs, healthcare information systems, and patient safety.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Andrew Le MD: I really appreciate you making time for us. To start, can you tell us a bit about your background and your current role at Walgreens?

Kevin Ban MD: Sure thing. Sometimes the narrative of a professional career can only be constructed in retrospect. At the time, I never thought my experience in Italy as an exchange student would be so impactful in both my professional and personal life. Personally, I married a woman from Florence, Italy. Professionally, while in Italy, I worked with her father who was the chairman of surgery at the University of Florence. That relationship with her father turned into an eight-year project between Harvard Medical School and Tuscany.

I learned a lot when I was over there. I was exposed to socialized medicine and the concept of driving outcomes and really trying to do that through limiting costs and having excellent quality of care. As that project came to an end, I got more involved as an attending at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and at Harvard Medical School and became more interested in value-based care and population health management. These interests led to the next stage in my career, first as chief medical officer within the BIDMC system, and later at athenahealth leading the population health management team.

Today, as chief medical officer at Walgreens, I’m able to focus on population health management through the connection patients have with their community pharmacy. People frequently go into the pharmacy to get information or to get basic health services. That has never been more apparent than during the pandemic.

Left: Kevin Ban, MD, with wife Caterina Cataliotti and their two children in Italy. Right: Kevin is seen operating with colleagues at the University of Florence.

Andrew: When it comes to the specifics of your roles over time, what has brought you the most joy?

Kevin: I enjoy taking on a big, gnarly project, putting the right people around it, and locking arms and getting it done. I think that's been a theme quite honestly throughout my career. In the early days in Italy, we were trying to train over 900 physicians across 40 hospitals. That was somewhat complex and only possible because we put together a group of really dedicated people to get that work done. The same was true as I came back and moved into administration at the BIDMC and participated in the BCBS alternative quality contracts and CMS’ pioneering of the accountable care organization (ACO) model.

And today, with COVID, we’ve certainly tackled a massive challenge to best meet the needs of our patients during a really difficult time. Whether it was keeping our stores open so that our patients and customers had access to the basics that they needed or keeping our team members safe and healthy so they're able to then work with our patients and customers, or even standing up testing and vaccinations, it’s been a team effort.

Before the spring, we had never done testing before and now we're doing testing in over 5,550 stores and just recently surpassed the 6 million test mark.

We've been building the vaccine program over the course of the last decade and had all of the elements that we needed in order to be successful. Take for example, over the course of the last five years, we conducted about 150,000 flu clinics, very similar to the types of COVID clinics that we were doing in long-term care facilities. That was 150,000 flu clinics in five years and with COVID, we were called on to do nearly 80,000 clinics over the course of a six- to eight-week period. But we were successful because a group of people who are deeply mission-driven cared a lot, locked arms and decided to make it happen.

"We had never done testing before and now we're doing testing in over 5,550 stores and just recently surpassed the 6 million test mark."

Kevin Ban, MD

Andrew: That makes a lot of sense, Kevin. I appreciate you reflecting and tying that thread for us. When we get together for the second part of this conversation, we can dig even deeper into how these learnings have influenced your leadership at Walgreens throughout the pandemic.

Kevin: Thanks, Andrew. Looking forward to it.

In Part 2 of the conversation, Andrew and Kevin dive deeper into Kevin’s experience setting up a COVID-19 response strategy for Walgreens over the past year, from testing to now vaccinating the American public.

About the participants:

Kevin Ban, MD is a board-certified emergency medicine physician with more than two decades of clinical experience and currently serves as the chief medical officer of Walgreens.

Andrew Le, MD, is the CEO and Co-founder of Buoy Health.