Faces of HR

Faces of HR: Dr. Steve Goldberg on the Value of Telehealth Engagement, Health Benefits, & More

Meet Dr. Steve Goldberg, VP, Chief Health Officer, Medical Affairs & Diagnostic Services at Quest Diagnostics, an organization that empowers people to take action to improve health outcomes. Dr. Goldberg not only has HR-related credentials, but also chairs the Quest safely working together committee. 

Dr. Steve Goldberg

How did you get your start in the field?

I started with a non-traditional path. I’m a physician, and I practiced family medicine for many years. Then I had a health plan career, and after that, I was recruited to Quest to help take responsibility for the employee health program. That’s the background that I brought to the role for nearly seven years now.

What have you enjoyed most about your experience at Quest?

I’d say first is the people. The second is the culture, and the third is the work. The people I work with are all thoughtful, hardworking, creative, good team players. It’s really positive to work with colleagues like that every day. Frankly, I’ve had other great experiences, but this has been the best of my career. The culture is transparent, it’s honest, it’s high with integrity. For us, there’s a story behind every lab test. People take what we do seriously, but not themselves seriously. That’s also been positive. Finally, I started as a physician, but then my thinking got broader to think about populations and driving objectives with populations. So, I get to do that work every day. It’s really quite a treat.

I love that. I imagine working with team members you enjoy in a vibrant culture provided a bit of cushion when COVID-19 happened.

Yes. The pandemic was the best of times and the worst of times. It was the worst of times for many people in our country. Many took ill, lost family members, and hurt themselves health-wise. The financial impacts were also devastating for many families. The best is that we at Quest have had uninterrupted work on the topic, which really heightened our enduring focus to serve people during this emergency. So, it’s been very intense, but people in our company really rose to the charge, and it was great to be around them over the two plus years of that work.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

I’ve thought about this. I would say it’s Professor Reinhardt who recently passed away, formerly of Princeton University. He was a health economist, a very thoughtful academic, a great storyteller, and also had a great sense of humor.

He pulled people together to talk about challenging issues in U.S. healthcare. He wrote a paper with two others that had a profound effect on my thinking back around 2003. It’s called, It’s The Prices Stupid. When you look at everything in healthcare, trying to understand why it is in our industrialized country, compared to other industrialized countries, that we spend so much more money and not get a commensurate outcome? In the paper, the primary challenge that he brought attention to was the prices. Things just cost much more in the U.S. That illumination, in a very thoughtful way, really has been the anchoring awareness for me to trigger this move to population health and ongoing work.

What’s your best mistake, and what did you learn from it?

I’ve had plenty. I think my best mistake occurred prior to Quest when I was in a health plan role and looking to do better performance within our company on quality measurements. I really felt that our company and the people we served structurally disadvantaged us to being able to perform well on those measures, enough to say that having a lower income, more medically complex population made it harder for us to get commensurate scores on quality measures. My initial strategy was to try to engage oversight organizations to have them come to better appreciate the barriers that we hit. In short, that was wasted time. What I should have done is spent more time with our team figuring out despite these challenges, how we could achieve better performance. It was a great lesson in terms of understanding what you can and cannot control, and then, regardless of barriers, getting the job done.

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?

The favorite part for me is being able to work with a team and get a view of all the levers that are impacting the things you’re trying to drive. For us, it’s what are the factors, what are the levers we can drive to drive three objectives for our population? Improve their experience with healthcare, lift population health, and bend cost trends. That’s what we do every day and looking to elevate all three at the same time. The most satisfying thing is to get a good enough understanding of the external environment and things in our control that together, we can do to move the needle on those three elements. That’s very, very satisfying.

The least favorite part is having things that impact our objectives that are out of my control. So, cost trends. The prices in the U.S. versus other industrialized countries continue to be a challenge. And on top of that, we’ve got the worst inflation this year than we’ve had in recent memory. When I’m trying to drive lower expense for our employees, and then, the company, and I’m in this environment, it is challenging. So, that’s the most difficult.

How can company leaders make HR a value within their organization?

Well, my view is having been collaborating more directly with HR at this aspect of my career with Quest Diagnostics. I think that external environments have helped people really understand how important total rewards are to employees. In particular, how critical health benefits are to employees, for them being able to do their best at work every day, and also as a recruitment and retention element. I think more leadership, more broadly beyond HR, is critically aware of HR and the elements that they impact for an enterprise’s success. And we can talk more about recent work our company’s done on our 2022 study, Health at Work, that helped illuminate some of these insights.

You mentioned the 2022 Health at Work survey. Can you share a couple of key points?

We’re all in a competition for talent, to recruit and retain. Key findings of our study showed that health benefits are a critical element of recruitment and retention, and all agree that health insurance is too expensive. There’s been a delay in folks seeking screening and chronic care, and that’s going to be a long tail, meaning time to catch up. Employers really need to think about how they can go about identifying employees who have unengaged health risk and unengaged chronic disease. Wellness and screenings are critical and a key element for employers of choice. We’ve leveraged screening to our ability to differentially lift population health. I see continuing advancement of that capability with telehealth and at-home access to allow people to break down barriers, to make sure they participate in screening. And the final piece is screening is a great part, but what’s also critical from our study is getting people rooted back into care. I’m proud that Quest is right at the epicenter of telehealth engagement, screening, and rooting in the care.

Where do you see the industry heading in five years in regard to health benefits?

Well, we’re aware that many people have left their job and many people are thinking about losing their job. Health benefits is a critical element to retention and recruitment. I think for the work that I do and HR leaders in general, the future is bright as I look forward to the next five years about the impact that we have on our employees and our company’s success. So, I’m very excited that the pandemic and challenges have created opportunities for us to really shine as a field. What I look to do is figure out how I can contribute to our health benefits being the most attractive package that they can be for our employees. For me, that means lifting population health, spending cost trends, improving the health of our employees, and limiting those incremental cost trends so it has less burden on them year-over-year.

What are you most proud of?

Several things. I would say on the inside of our company, I’m proud of the fact that we’ve had year-over-year cost increases to our employees for health benefits that have been far below national averages. I’m grateful for that and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of our leadership team that has allowed us to redeploy a lot of that efficiency in our engagement with the ecosystem back to new and richer benefits for our employee. I’m grateful for that. And then, the external recognition has been nice too. We were recognized with the 2020 C. Everett Koop award, the one company that was recognized that year. There have been about 70 winners in the 25-year history of the award. You have to submit a detailed application. You have to show what you’re doing in strong measurement from population health and cost trends. So, it was great to be recognized. It was a good affirmation of the work that we have done, but there’s always more to do. But that was a nice, proud moment to celebrate for our team and the company.

Do you have any advice for professionals entering the field?

I do. I do. Sweat the details. In that there’s a lot to learn, and there are several different individuals and entities between you and your employee accessing healthcare. I think the more you know about the environment and how to drive great experience in population health, cost trends will allow you to be an even more effective advocate for your employees and the company. Ultimately, knowing empowers you to make a difference, and making a difference in helping others is very satisfying.