In this episode, we talk with Senior Vice President of Talis Healthcare, Andrew Volk, PharmD, MBA, FACHE, about maintaining a local-feel while growing an infusion business. Andrew shares operational strategies to help infusion centers never lose focus of patients and to support the teams delivering care.

WeInfuse podcast

Transcript: How to Keep Strategy & Operations Patient-Focused

Amanda Brummitt: We Infuse podcast, episode number 60. Welcome to the We Infuse podcast. My name is Amanda Bremit. In every episode, we give you a seat at the table as we talk to Infusion Center owners, operators, and experts so that you can get the insight you need to run a thriving practice. In this episode, we talk with Andrew Volk, Senior Vice President of TALUS Healthcare. Andrew shares how to grow while keeping a local feel, ensuring strategy and operations never lose focus of patients, and how to support the teams delivering care. Well, Andrew, thank you so much for being here with us today. I, know you have an amazing background, and some of our listeners are probably a little bit familiar with it, but for those that aren’t, will you just start at the beginning and tell us all about your background?

Andrew Volk: Yeah, absolutely. Oh, my pleasure. And thanks for having me today. I started off my career as a pharmacist. went to school in South Florida, Nova Southeastern University. Somebody’s listening from there. but I, moved to Chicago, and started on a health system side. I worked within pharmacy, hospital operations, and, started doing some oncology work as well. And that was a little bit how I got started in the infusion space was through, the oncology world. stayed with health systems, moved to Michigan where I’m originally from, worked with an integrated delivery network, eventually joined the, the regional infusion group, headquartered out of Michigan, did some great work there, expanded some good stuff, and then most recently joined, TALIS Healthcare with, Brian and Shea on the team. So, a fun and winding path, how you get to where you are today. So, yeah, what got you interested in the infusion industry?

Andrew Volk: I think primarily early on, especially when it was oncology, right? Like everybody knows somebody who’s been, touched by cancer to some degree. And, there’s a lot of emotions of course, with that disease. But I think when you’re. Like, in, in the hospital, and you’re working directly with the patients, the staff who are taking care of the patients, and and hear things that you never, like, In your wildest dreams could have thought up of when you’re sitting at a meeting with other leaders talking about what you should be doing with your business and how complex it is and the level of support that they need. I think it just, for me, made it a little bit more meaningful and personal than, and I’m not saying this isn’t important, perhaps, like getting a stress test or an EKG, right. And, as part of like your routine care, like that’s important too, but it’s just like a different level of. Personalized healthcare and I felt a little bit attached to that.

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah.

Andrew Volk: Even though I don’t know how to start an IV myself. At

Amanda Brummitt: least you can mix one. That’s what matters.

Andrew Volk: There you go. Thank you.

Amanda Brummitt: So with your vast experience, what would you say is your main area of expertise? And then what’s one thing that you’d want our listeners to learn from that?

Andrew Volk: Yeah, When I think about, main area of expertise, it’s probably translating, the, clinical and operational level of infusions as it relates to what patients experience, the nurses, the referring providers, and translating that into, the, financials of the organization and in anywhere you work in healthcare, it’s very challenging to speak, bulges, on the finance side and on the clinical and the operational side, and when they’re not coordinating altogether, that’s where you start to get some discordant decisions and frustration. So I think being able to have folks with a background to bring those two groups together so they can work, Synergistically to drive great decisions. And of course, then great outcomes is, a skill and a challenge and fun and frustrating all at the same time. So it’s been a fun, career path.

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah. Yeah. Somebody that’s able to bridge that, clinical side with the business side is huge. And I love that you started out as a clinician, because I’m assuming you first look at things through that lens and then as a business person, which can be really helpful for the team.

Andrew Volk: No, absolutely. And I think though, if you’re not careful, you got to go back to the sharp end of health care and still see some of those patients because the further removed you get, you might still think of yourself as a clinician, but you do unknowingly lose a little bit. So it is important to be mindful and make sure you’re getting back into the thick of things here and there. So you’re absolutely right

Amanda Brummitt: point. Yeah. So I’m just curious. Do you practice at all? Do you jump back in and do the clinical piece every now and then?

Andrew Volk: Oh, my gosh. so a little bit, but I, there’s a lot of things I’m going to qualify about that statement before I say that, especially if anybody I work with or I’ve worked with goes back in, but yeah, definitely looking at the individual order. What do we need? What do we not, what is this new test now that wasn’t out five years ago that we need before we see a drug, visiting in the infusion center, Watching the nurse doing asking a couple of questions, sitting and talking to some of the patients. So I still get there. I can talk a little things about maybe, muscle cramps, but I definitely don’t want to over inflate, 10 to 15 years later, what I still have left in the tank there, but it’s still your passion, right? It’s still your passion. So,

Amanda Brummitt: yeah, that, that makes the ton of sense. Well, let’s actually dive into TELUS healthcare and talk about your infusion center. I love your tagline providing the best healthcare centered around one patient at a time. It’s amazing. tell us what TELUS is and what’s unique about the way you guys deliver care.

Andrew Volk: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. so TELUS healthcare is a ambulatory infusion center enterprise. It’s a little bit of a mixed model. So we do, freestanding ambulatory infusion centers. and, but we also do some office based infusions where we, work with a specialist physician, put up some chairs in their office and, take care of their patients. so we definitely play in both spaces, but I think, what makes us unique is that like a lot of startups, you started off very, small and you had to work very hard, Scrap and claw to get, anything you can to stay open. And so because of that, you really have that like small company feel like you call and you’re going to get, and I hope he’s listening to this. Andrew Babb, the pharmacist in charge, you know who you’re going to get, not the phone tree. And so I think that’s one of the things that makes us unique, is that you’re still going to get the same people on the line. when you call, get the direct line, we give out our cell phone numbers, right? I know part of all my business cards, we still have patients, call our centralized staff or even somebody like me. And so we try to maintain that as you grow. And of course that is a challenge. but not wanting to let go of that, it’s like a hallmark of why we all care so much, right? Healthcare, is personal. and so that’s why we have our focus. Hey, we want to offer the best healthcare centered around one patient at a time, as opposed to, we had this many referrals today. They’re like, no, we didn’t, we had this many human beings that we all need to take care of individually. And so I like to think that’s ingrained in our culture at all of our locations.

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah, that’s actually really impressive. Are there any tips there that you can share? And I’m assuming you guys have been very intentional about that as you’ve grown because it’s really hard to get away from, we’re too big now and now we need a phone tree. But how do you keep that personalized small feeling, even though your organization’s grown significantly?

Andrew Volk: it’s hard. and, but I think, where we’ve done it is there’s a tendency, especially if you’re looking at something through the financial lens to say, let’s, centralized as many services as we can, right. Cause then in theory you can be more cost efficient, right. And, there is a lot of truth to that. And so you want to go down that line. But on the other hand, it’s like you realize as you’re in 10 states, I don’t know everybody in 10 states. I don’t know all the payers in 10 states. And so you might have to give up a little bit of control and introduce a little bit of variability, by decentralizing some things and allowing folks. in their own backyard and the communities they serve to make decisions, communicate with patients, referring providers, and at first that can be tricky because you’re like, well, if there’s variability, right, then I lose a little bit of control what could happen, but I think you have to get comfortable and trust people in health care who want to do the right thing, that there’s going to be a lot more benefits of those decisions. Then there are, things that you’d want to shore up. And so we’ve definitely leaned into that and gotten comfortable. And I think that’s allowed us to, still maintain that local feel, even as you do enter Penn state.

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah. I imagine that’s an incredible balancing act. And I love that you’ve been intentional about giving up some control to keep that local feel. It’s fantastic. so I understand that you also work in several other areas like home infusion, specialty pharmacy, and even precision medicine. Can you tell us about those?

Andrew Volk: yeah, absolutely. I’m super excited about, these companies and this product because I really think it’s unique and can offer, so many things to patients as they continue their healthcare journey, right. And things change over, the years, in terms of their treatment, their insurance, all that great stuff, their social support. So, biotech remedies, is another one of our sister companies that is a specialty pharmacy home infusion platform. It’s been around for about 12 years. So, they’re, Licensed and accredited in all 50 states, Primarily have grown out of, probably many people in those organizations out of an immunology and an IVIG space. And as there’s been, new therapies to market, just have continued to grow and being successful. So I, they work really great TALIS and Biotech together because, especially as the medical benefit for, insurers is blending with the pharmacy benefit, being able to be a total solution. for your referring providers, regardless of where, perhaps they may have their care slightly dictated, I think is, a huge value prop and gives, comfort to both the providers and the patients. And then, additionally, Innovative Precision Health, or IPH. That’s another sister organization that is pretty synergistic, with the first two. And that’s a data analytics platform that leverages, machine learning and artificial intelligence to give physicians and payers insights both into individual patients. And patient populations is how their disease is progressing while they’re on therapies. And as you can imagine now, with so many innovators in the healthcare space, the days of you just going to your doctor and them doing a physical assessment, or maybe looking at a lab test and saying, this is how things are going are long gone. Now there’s, wearables, there’s apps, there’s secondary tertiary quaternary providers. There’s so many different sources of information that your primary care provider, your specialist. Doesn’t have all of that in one spot when they have the 10 minutes with you in the office. And so we take all of that information with OpenAPI, connect it into one location, push and pull it directly into the EMR to give the physician the insight they need to take care of their patients in the moment. And so that I think is a very exciting company that is, just started in the last couple of years and continues to get more and more interest both in the home infusion and in the ambulatory infusion spaces.

Amanda Brummitt: Oh, that’s fascinating is I think about the ecosystem that you’re working through to. I love that on the surface people that are your competitors or that you’re negotiating across the table with like payers. It sounds like they’re also probably your customers. On the other side. So, you must have a really great community of, people across the scope of infusion there that you work with.

Andrew Volk: yeah, I would agree with that. And I like to say, and I know as time goes on, it changes, but I like to say it’s still a little bit. The infusion industry is a little bit like a cottage industry. I know that’s changing, but it’s a little bit like the, breweries, right? I know that’s an odd example, but it’s like, they don’t necessarily view themselves as competitors. It’s like. We’re all in the industry. We know the same people, the patients at the end of this. Let’s all, do our best to help each other out where we can. And so I think that’s another way to, we like to look at things and, continue to grow and support the communities we serve. So

Amanda Brummitt: sure. And there’s enough need out there that, yeah, we don’t have time to compete with each other. We just all need to take care of people.

Andrew Volk: Exactly. Exactly.

Amanda Brummitt: Well, going back to your infusion center experience a little bit. What would you say has been your biggest challenge in the infusion side?

Andrew Volk: Yeah, good question. Wow. And I almost want to like, be careful answering this because obviously there’s all partners involved who are all great, wonderful people who have their own priorities that are very legitimate and understandable. And I’d probably do the same thing if I was in their shoes. but, my goodness, I would say. Thank you. I think a little bit of lack of transparency, with some of the payers, policies and how they support their patients. we like to believe and translate a complicated healthcare system into something that’s simple for the patient. And it should be simple that I need a therapy. I have insurance to help me pay for this. Schedule my appointment and I will pay whatever amount that I’m, supposed to. And so we like to believe it’s that simple, but, as payers grow and there’s, employer groups who are, creating their own cost effective rules, which again are great things, for their employees, for managing their costs, it becomes increasingly more challenging to find out, what exactly do these patients need in terms of clinicals to get approval or step therapy, or if something’s carved out. And so. That’s where you can end up with a perhaps on accident and not great financial experience when you get potentially the wrong information, from an insurer. But again, they’re also using systems that are very complicated to manage many, customers. And they’re trying to do the right thing on behalf of their members that we, they care just as much as we do about our patients, right? They’re the same people. so it’s just, another. Happenstance, a challenge of, the United States health care system that, probably has become increasingly complex for us over the last five years. but, you bring in the right people and the right talent to do your best through that, and work hard for the patient.

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. It’s gotten so complex. is there any advice you’d give how to overcome that? You said bringing in the right people, in any magic that you guys do to help make that less friction for the patient.

Andrew Volk: Yes, I think you definitely have to support your people, on your team. and every, I think every employee goes through ups and downs in their career, right? probably even you looking back, you’re like, there are times where you’re, super motivated and hyperproductive and then there are other times where you have other things going on in your life. And so I think we believe, taking care of the employee during the entirety of their career journey and supporting them. And then that way they want to stick with you and they view you as, A part of their life and not a job and then with that, when you’re working with the payers They develop those relationships. They maintain those relationships So you can get a little bit of the easy button And all right Well, let me just message or phone my friend and we’ll get to the bottom of this because they know we’re reasonable We’re trying to do the right thing. and make that work So I think that’s probably one of the largest, Value props you could have with being an effective provider, for insurers. but that’s A heck of a lot easier said than done.

Amanda Brummitt: Yes, I agree. And in my experience, I have been able to develop some of those relationships and they are priceless when you can just hop on a phone call and they can say, yeah, it’s not happening this year. I’d rather know than not, but you’re right. It takes a lot to get there. So I love that. You support your employees through that process. Are there things that you, as you look at, your infusion experience, are there things that you think being a pharmacist specifically has changed the way you would have handled it or, or you’ve approached it differently?

Andrew Volk: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think going back, when we look at making decisions that impact some of our infusion centers, our processes, and ultimately our patients, I think having that appreciation for, How much more detailed and complex it actually is when, you’re standing next to the patient, when you’re trying to take care of unique circumstances, it’s, they’re not all the same in routine. And I think there’s, a proclivity towards. oversimplification of, register the patient, take their weight, get them in, start the IV, start the medication. And then when they’re done, thank them for their time and seeing them out. but if you’re on the sharp end of healthcare, that’s. Perhaps not even the majority of cases. It’s a lot more complex. So I definitely lean into my pharmacist experience to know that there’s a lot more things that we’re not thinking about that we’re not clarifying that we should be mindful of before we unintentionally make a mistake and make sure we’re pulling in, the right folks who understand that, to help us. And I, I think that, I, that’s why I still go back and try to, see those spaces to make sure I don’t lose that. And every time I do, I learn. Not just one thing, but many, things and think, oh my goodness, I can’t believe I oversimplified yet again.

Amanda Brummitt: That makes a ton of sense. Well, with what you’ve experienced in this business so far, what would you say is your biggest light bulb moment?

Andrew Volk: going back to, what kind of why we all went into health care or not all of us, but probably the significant majority, is You know, at the start of our careers is, because we, care about, people and we want to improve things and make it better. And I think that, what motivates people, is, in your companies, all your locations of your business is different and variable, and I think being able to connect anything you do with your, strategy or your operations, to something that’s patient focused, Ends up always being so much more successful, than if you don’t. And, I know that sounds, probably, like common sense and maybe it even is, but I think sometimes when you’re just so busy and you, everyone gets millions of emails and you have tons of meetings and something sounds like a good idea and you just get excited, it’s your job to see something through and that it’s done well and safely and effectively and, and, I think when I’ve connected it to the patient successfully and just see that everybody align and get so excited, like that’s a light bulb moment. And, and then that almost reminds you of like, that’s why I started doing this, in the first place. And it’s much more fulfilling in the end as well.

Amanda Brummitt: That is great advice. I see that all the time. We get really excited about a concept and we’re thinking about the operations and the finance and the throughput and how we’re gonna make the process work. And it almost seems like when you get to the end of those meetings, you’ve got to circle back to the beginning and say, okay, how’s this gonna work for patients? so I love that you come back to that. That’s a great, focus. speaking of being excited about things, What are you most excited about right now in the industry?

Andrew Volk: I would say, the industry’s grown a lot, over the years, the number of therapies has increased, trying to manage that has, become more challenging than I think historically it has been, but that also can be exciting too, right? it’s, new wrinkles, new things that you need to figure out and, work together. And so I think, biologics have grown, biosimilars have grown, dipping into specialties that historically didn’t play in the ambulatory infusion space that’s happened, site of care shifts that’s happened. And I think, I’m excited for, all the, research and development that’s gone into cell and gene therapies, that already has. And I think that’s definitely an opportunity for infusion providers to be more involved. And that’s going to add in lots of layers of complication that we haven’t experienced yet before. And that’s going to be exciting. And we’re going to have to work together. We’re going to have to share best practices. We’re going to have to work much more closely with employer groups or insurers, the patients, the referring providers, our clinicians to make sure it’s done safe and effectively. And so I think that’s going to be a huge. Tailwind and open up a lot of access for patients, and it’s going to be exciting for a lot of infusion providers nationally. So I feel like that’s something kind of new, that I’m excited, to have happen, for all of us. So hopefully coming soon, right?

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah, me too. I cannot wait to see where we are in 20 years with all of that. we’re all going to feel better and maybe even look better from it.

Andrew Volk: Exactly, I hope so.

Amanda Brummitt: Well, Andrew, you have shared so much good information. If you had just one last piece of advice for our listeners, what would it be?

Andrew Volk: Oh boy. I always feel a little funny giving advice, generally speaking to a lot of people, but I think, at least one thing that I, remind myself of is, make sure that you’re finding time to have fun, with your work and your folks and your colleagues. We all have a lot of pressure, right? Many infusion providers nationally are growing very quickly, which is an awesome thing. Very busy. I get to see, our colleagues, at conferences, and I think sometimes. Slowing down, making sure you have time for a little bit of fun. The stress, you can be at your best to tackle all those complicated things that we need to get in front of, can be challenging. And I think we all need a little reminder on that. So

Amanda Brummitt: keep having fun guys.

Andrew Volk: Yeah,

Amanda Brummitt: I love it. Well, Andrew, thank you for your time. Thank you for all that you’re doing for the infusion industry. And we appreciate you being on the show. Yeah,

Andrew Volk: absolutely. Thank you, Amanda. Appreciate the time today.

Amanda Brummitt: Well, that was great information from Andrew Volk of Talus Healthcare about delivering superior patient focused care, one patient at a time, while still growing and achieving operational goals. If you aren’t familiar with the WeInfuse software platform and RxToolkit’s web based resources, I encourage you to schedule a test drive. These tools can save you time and money in your practice while making infusion safer for patients and caregivers. My name is Amanda Brummett, and we’ll catch you in the next episode.

Guest Speaker:

Andrew Volk, PharmD, MBA, FACHE is the current Senior Vice President of Talis Healthcare. Andrew enjoys driving value for patients and organizations in a complex healthcare ecosystem. He has experience doing this through mergers & acquisitions, payor contracting, supply chain optimization, accountable care networks, and streamlining both clinical and business operations.