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Managed Health Executive® editors Peter Wehrwein and Briana Contreras interviewed Kevin Ronneberg, M.D., for our “Meet the Board” podcast series. Ronneberg is vice president and associate medical director for health initiatives at HealthPartners, a nonprofit integrated healthcare delivery system headquartered in Bloomington, Minnesota. He has been on the MHE editorial advisory board since 2015.
Could you tell us about your career and what motivated you to go into healthcare?
I grew up in a small community in Minnesota and knew a number of physicians. That had an impact on me, and I had the opportunity to shadow some of them. I really saw that medicine was the way that I could be a teacher, like my dad was, and help people and contribute to people living a better and healthier life.
That led me into family medicine. And I practiced family medicine — everything from delivering babies to making rounds at nursing homes to working in the ER and ICU for several years. I moved into a sports medicine practice and then moved over into the administrative side of leadership. l spent three years at Target leading retail clinics and pharmacies. I have been at HealthPartners since 2015. I work with our commercial group insurance — large employers — and also inside the organization with our product development, marketing teams and medical management teams.
Do you think the shift to remote care and telehealth is permanent?
I think now that consumers have tried it, they will want this after the pandemic. I don’t think that this is going to go away. It’s really more of a question of, what’s the operating model? What’s the business model? What’s the scope? Where is it most effective? And then how do we balance those who want a relationship with the same provider but who also may benefit from both a model where it’s virtual and in person? So I think there are a number of challenges that lie ahead, but it will not go away.
HealthPartners closed seven clinics last summer. Was that a consequence of more virtual care?
When you switch to virtual care, one of the things that is readily apparent is that the resources you need, particularly bricks-and-mortar facilities, are very different. We have a number of clinicians in our own care system, as well as the care systems we contract with, who have been able to work from remote settings. And that certainly reduces the footprint you need to have available.
We’ve seen shifts over the last decade or so to a lot of care occurring in the outpatient setting. And we’re fortunate at HealthPartners that our square footage at hospitals is lower than at a lot of healthcare systems. I think we’re in pretty good shape there.
We’re going to continue to assess the needs that we have. So as we deliver more virtual care, what role do the bricks-and-mortar clinics play? We’re thinking that about 30% of care can be delivered virtually. And over the next probably 12 to 24 months, depending on how the pandemic plays out, we’re going to test some of the hypotheses on what it takes to deliver a new model of care.
Have protests regarding racial injustice opened your eyes to health disparities in a new way? And how has HealthPartners responded?
I’m glad you brought that up. George Floyd’s death happened here in Minnesota, just a few miles from where I’m sitting right now. It was an amplifier and drew attention to something that I think needs serious attention.
Personally, it’s really driven a lot of focus on friendships that I have. I played football in college. And I’ve made phone calls to some of my friends who have diverse backgrounds, and I’ve been remembering conversations or settings we were in when I had no idea what they were experiencing. And it’s really deepened some of those long-term relationships.
I’m really proud that over the last several years, HealthPartners has been raising conversations about race, both within our leadership group and within our employee population, and having an open dialogue about unconscious bias. One of the things that we’re doing is developing a cabinet at the senior executive level, with representation of diverse leaders across our organization, that is focused on equity, inclusion and antiracism.
The focus is on more than avoiding people who are racist and moving toward recognizing where racism occurs and taking action to reduce that racism. So we have some lofty goals over the next few years. I feel really proud to be part of an organization that has raised this issue of racism to the senior executive level and raised awareness across the organization.