Karen Ferrell
Chief Executive Officer Genomic Life

Karen leads the strategic direction and ensures the operational effectiveness of Genomic Life as it accelerates the use of clinical-grade genomic testing as part of proactive health for everyone. She brings 30 years of leadership in the healthcare industry. She served as Senior Vice President of Provider Contracting and Medical Management for CIGNA Healthcare where she was responsible for $32 billion in medical costs for more than 12 million members. Karen also held leadership positions as Executive Director at Scripps Health, Vice President of Provider Contracting Prudential HealthCare, and President of Aetna Health Plans of Florida.

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On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Karen from Genomic Life about what steps to take to keep your workforce healthy and profitable post COVID.

Some Conversation Highlights:

So I think the issue is a bit more complex when it comes to post-COVID work environment. So, let’s start with the insurance industry. And that was my background. I worked for providers and then I worked for health plans before I came here. So, health plans are there to control costs, to drive down the price and to control utilization. And so, what happens is, the science is accelerating at an unprecedented rate.

It’s actually moving faster than Moore’s Law, and the price is coming way down. So what used to cost thousands of dollars, say, a decade ago or five years ago even, is really now a few hundred dollars. But, the industry’s extremely fragmented, so you can’t go to one lab and get them all. And so, you really need… And physicians need to know what genes should they order, when and for who, right?

That’s really the role that we play is that subject matter advisor, and we have a technology solution to create this seamless experience. So the industry itself is behind the science, quite honestly, and physicians have about seven minutes with a patient. So we’ve got to make this information. We’ve got to put it in their hands, make it actionable, easy for them to get. And when they have questions, we’ve got to have that peer to peer. So I think that talks a little bit about what we’re dealing with in the macro environment and kind of the financing of who pays for it.

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Tune in for the full conversation.

Listening time: 27 minutes

 

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Intro/Outro: 00:00 This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down, so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William Tincup: 00:34 Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Karen on from Genomic Life, and our topic today is Keep Your Workforce Healthy and Profitable Post-COVID. So, a couple of things to unpack there, can’t wait to get into it. Karen, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself and Genomic Life?

Karen Ferrell: 00:56 Absolutely. So, thank you very much, William. My name is Karen Ferrell. I am the CEO of Genomic Life. And, at Genomic Life, our mission is to accelerate genetic testing as part of overall healthcare, and in particular, proactive healthcare.

William Tincup: 01:17 Oh, that’s fantastic. Let’s dig into that just a little bit real quick. What are you saying? Because I love anything proactive, especially in healthcare. If we can get ahead of some of these things, I think it just would help us with so many things in life. So many things to unpack there, but just give us a couple of examples of what you all do to help folks be a little bit more proactive.

Karen Ferrell: 01:43 Well, I think, coming off of COVID, what we’ve had over the last two and a half years is we have seen screening, so this would be mammography and kind of colorectal exams, are down as much as 85%, and that’s been reported through various journals on oncology clinical cancer journals. In addition, at the same time, we’re seeing an increase in behavioral health issues, particularly anxiety and depression, and that’s up as much as 41%.

William Tincup: 02:23 And with anxiety and depression, are they seeking medical help as well?

Karen Ferrell: 02:28 Oh, absolutely. And most of those are treated with medication.

William Tincup: 02:34 Right.

Karen Ferrell: 02:35 So getting back into kind of what we do is really, we need to understand, each one of us are different. And, particularly with medications, it’s all around how we metabolize drugs. So, over 90% of us will have some type of reaction to a class of drugs. And this is particularly in behavioral health is one of them. So right now, when someone goes to the doctor, their primary care physician, or even a behavioral health specialist, frequently, the physician will just turn to what they’ve known, drugs that they’ve used before, and they’ll say, “Try this, and if it doesn’t work, come back.” And-

William Tincup: 03:28 Yes. I’ve been through this, actually, personally. I have a personal story here. Yeah. Go ahead.

Karen Ferrell: 03:34 Yeah. And so, since we’re talking about behavioral health, I’ll stay focused on that. But, some of those drugs, depending upon how we metabolize them individually, can really have some pretty severe side effects.

William Tincup: 03:54 Right.

Karen Ferrell: 03:54 And so, what we do at Genomic Life is, we send to your house, so we have an app that you can just log into. We collect some family history. You order your kit. And what you will get is a saliva test. And you get one for the pharmacogenomics and you’ll get one for hereditary, which I’ll speak about shortly. But what you do is, literally, you put saliva into a very small tube, pop the top on and send it off. And then you will be notified on your app to schedule an appointment with a genetic counselor or a pharmacist or a physician, based on what the results are, to walk you through.

Karen Ferrell: 04:42 Now, the significance of this is, if you are, again, depending upon how you metabolize drugs, some of these can have fatal side effects.

William Tincup: 04:56 Right.

Karen Ferrell: 04:56 And so, occasionally, you’ll hear that someone had it and you wonder why, because it’s a drug that many people are on. And that’s what it is. We truly are individuals. And what Genomic Life does is, it’s true personalized medicine. And, if you add ethnic differences as well, I mean, there are some illnesses that are based on our heritage.

William Tincup: 05:27 Right, of course.

Karen Ferrell: 05:29 But, when you go to the doctor, frequently, we’re all treated the same. So, as we’re looking at health equity, this genetic testing is a true equalizer of that, and it really recognizes you at your DNA level and provides information back to you that your physicians can treat you, based on your genetic makeup.

William Tincup: 05:53 I love this. So, two questions. The saliva tests, are they similar or different to the DNA tests that one might have for 23andMe or Ancestry or things like that? The second question is, drugs together. I’ve always been concerned, but also wondered about how different prescriptions interact with each other. So maybe one prescription, like I take a Wellbutrin and Prozac, so I’ll just take 300 milligrams of Wellbutrin and 10 milligrams of Prozac. But it took me a while to figure that, or took my pharmacologist a while to figure that mixture out. So the second question is more of the combination of drugs and how they interact with each other. And the first question was just for the audience to understand how simple the test is.

Karen Ferrell: 06:48 Oh, absolutely. So the vial, I don’t even think it’s two inches long, but you pop the cap and you just literally spit saliva into this, to a line, shake it up, put it in the package. So very, very simple. To your point, which is an excellent point, about drug-drug gene interaction. And this genetic test not only looks at your genetic makeup compared to a drug, it also looks at drug-drug interaction. So you may have… We need to be looking at the drugs that you are on, the multiple drugs, and the dose that you are on.

William Tincup: 07:29 Right.

Karen Ferrell: 07:30 So that’s why, once the test comes back, and you’ll have a telephone conversation with a pharmacist or a physician or a genetic counselor based on those results to walk you through. And to your point, if you have a physician that needs help, we actually do peer to peer consults.

William Tincup: 07:54 Oh, that’s great. I’ve found a spreadsheet. You’re next level here. But, I found a spreadsheet from the NIH that basically, you can go in and it’s editable, a PDF editable, so you can go in and put in all your supplements, so whatever prescriptions, and literally, what other supplements, anything you take on a daily basis. And, I created that, and then I sent it to all my doctors. So not just my primary, but my eye doctor. Literally, every doctor has the same thing, so I’m like, “You know what? We’re just going to have this on file at everybody’s place. Now everybody knows what I’m taking.”

Karen Ferrell: 08:36 Yeah. So there really are three tests that are made available, two for everyone, and then the third would be for individuals that are planning to start a family in the next year, and that would be a carrier test. So I’m going to walk you through the three tests. We’ve talked a little bit about the pharmacogenomics. I think you have a real good feel about that.

Karen Ferrell: 09:02 The next one I’m going to speak about is the hereditary test. So frequently, I talk to folks and they say, “Well, I’m healthy. I exercise. I eat right. I drink a ton of water. I’m in pretty good shape, right?” And I say, “Well, it depends on your genes.” And so, we look at 147 genes. All of them are actionable, meaning, based on the results, there will be something that you can do proactively, based on your own results. I think what’s very important is that, again, I’ll speak about COVID. So, patients aren’t going in to see their physician. We talked mammographies and colorectal exams being down. So, what’s happening is you’ve got a population that may have cancer, that’s now presenting itself in a later stage.

William Tincup: 10:12 That’s right.

Karen Ferrell: 10:13 Okay. So, in a normal population of about 10,000 employees, you’re going to have 50 cases, new cases of cancer each year. But because… This has been kind of hidden over the last two years. There really is this burgeoning healthcare significant issue that is there, that needs to be addressed. So, we look at things like colon cancer, pancreatic cancer. And if you can find colon cancer and pancreatic cancer early, then you go in and you have regular, in the case of pancreatic cancer, would have regular scans. And, we’ve identified, thank heavens, we found two just in the last year, where it was a small spot on the pancreas. And they could go in and do radiation, maybe one round of chemo, excise it, and then they no longer have pancreatic cancer.

William Tincup: 11:13 Right. And it’s one of those things. Pancreatic cancer is a death sentence if it’s stage three or stage four. There’s no coming back. But if it’s stage one, you catch it earlier, you can get rid of it.

Karen Ferrell: 11:29 You are correct. Yeah.

William Tincup: 11:31 Wow.

Karen Ferrell: 11:32 And likewise with colon cancer.

William Tincup: 11:35 Yeah.

Karen Ferrell: 11:36 Again, there are multiple genes, it’s not one, but if you have colon cancer, you should not be on the every 10 year schedule. And some people need it every year to manage-

William Tincup: 11:51 That’s right [inaudible 00:11:51] But if you do it every year, again, I just did a colonoscopy, I think, last year, at the end of last year. It’s the first time I’d done one. And you know what? He’s like, “Everything was great. See you in 10 years.” I’m like, “Okay. Cool.”

Karen Ferrell: 12:08 But you know what? You should still have a genetic screen to make sure that there’s no risk there. And then, one that I think has puzzled consumers like us, healthcare consumers, for years is, occasionally, young people will have a significant heart event, major heart event. You’ll hear of 20 and 30 year olds dropping down on the tennis court. And, what’s interesting is, it’s called familial hypercholesterolemia. And if that gene is identified, you have a significant risk of having a major heart event. But it can be controlled with medication. So that’s something you’d want to know right away and take proactive steps.

William Tincup: 13:02 What I love about… There’s a couple of things. The first thing is, you talked about a term, health equity, that I want you to unpack for us because I don’t really think we give that enough air time, so we’ll talk about that. But the other thing is, the genes that you’ve marked, you’ve marked them as actionable, meaning, okay, you can go into your genetics and your eyes are brown. Your mom’s eyes are brown. Your dad’s eye’s brown. That’s fantastic. But you’re looking at specific genes that you can do something about, which I love. You said it was 160?

Karen Ferrell: 13:38 147 right [inaudible 00:13:39]

William Tincup: 13:39 147.

Karen Ferrell: 13:41 There are more that are available. But for us, we want to be real sensitive that we’re not creating unnecessary medical costs.

William Tincup: 13:54 Right. 100%. 100%.

Karen Ferrell: 13:55 And so, one of the other ones that I think is worthy to talk about is all of the breast cancer genes. So BRCA1, BRCA2, and there’s more. And we do all of those. And what’s really important is, because the criteria that we have had for women, historically, is if you had a mother, sister or grandmother that had breast cancer, then you could get a test for the BRCA gene. But, in the event that it passed through the grandfather, in the form of prostate cancer, or even colon cancer, it can present in their grandchild, just to give you an example, as BRCA. That same gene passed on is now breast cancer or ovarian cancer.

William Tincup: 14:47 Oh, wow. That is fascinating. Because you would think that it would present as the same thing, but it doesn’t. Oh my goodness. This is great. So, let’s deal with health equity, because you brought up something that I think is just something we don’t talk enough about. Because we talk about equity… Well, pay equity, first of all, is a great topic. We give it a lot of air time. We need to actually do pay equity. That’s different, separate issue. But health equity, I haven’t heard that phrase as much as I’d like. Tell us a little bit about the world of health equity.

Karen Ferrell: 15:24 Yes. As I mentioned earlier, historically, we’d been treated the same, because we didn’t have this information. It wasn’t part of our electronic medical record to be utilized. And, up until recently, even physicians weren’t trained to utilize it in primary care or specialty care. It’s pretty much limited to oncology and some of the tertiary care specialists. But, we are recognizing that some diseases, I mean, African American, there are certain diseases that are just in their lineage. Likewise Asian, the Jewish community, we’re familiar with some of those. But, this should be made available to everyone, so that, I would say, some of the ethnic differences, we need to put front and center. And we need to make that information available to everyone.

William Tincup: 16:41 So, when you’re talking… First of all, on the B2B side, when you talk to a business about basically, “Hey, are you looking at this?” And, if you want to drive down health costs, wellness is obviously the way that we’ve talked about it for the last 25 years, which is steps and programmatically doing different things. But you’re coming at them with a different kind of a such a solution, in that… Wellness is great. Fantastic. Keep doing it. However, let’s get to the DNA of each person, and then figure out, in a highly personalized way, what they need, and then go from there. Because going from there, it could be completely different depending on the person.

Karen Ferrell: 17:31 You’re absolutely correct. And some of the examples that we addressed, I mean, BRACA, the familial hypercholesterolemia, the pancreatic genes, the colon cancer genes, you can eat right. You can exercise. You can do your steps, and we recommend you do all of that.

William Tincup: 17:53 Right.

Karen Ferrell: 17:53 We do. But if you have hereditary risk, eating and exercising is not going to prevent that disease. And what we need to make available to everyone is give them their DNA code. And we present it in a very understandable report for the individual, an actionable report for the physicians, so that you can get either preventative care or treatment that is specific for you.

Karen Ferrell: 18:28 One other thing is, on chemotherapy in particular, we need to make sure that the tumor is profiled, and then the drug is matched, not only to the tumor, but to your DNA.

William Tincup: 18:49 So why… Logically, I’m trying to, why would anyone say no to this? What’s the, what in sales we’d call, the objection response, right? So, do some people just not want to know?

Karen Ferrell: 19:06 So I think the issue is a bit more complex. So, let’s start with the insurance industry. And that was my background. I worked for providers and then I worked for health plans before I came here. So, health plans are there to control costs, to drive down the price and to control utilization. And so, what happens is, the science is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. It’s actually moving faster than Moore’s Law, and the price is coming way down. So what used to cost thousands of dollars, say, a decade ago or five years ago even, is really now a few hundred dollars. But, the industry’s extremely fragmented, so you can’t go to one lab and get them all. And so, you really need… And physicians need to know what genes should they order, when and for who, right?

Karen Ferrell: 20:22 And so that’s really the role that we play is that subject matter advisor, and we have a technology solution to create this seamless experience. So the industry itself is behind the science, quite honestly, and physicians have about seven minutes with a patient. So we’ve got to make this information. We’ve got to put it in their hands, make it actionable, easy for them to get. And when they have questions, we’ve got to have that peer to peer. So I think that talks a little bit about what we’re dealing with in the macro environment and kind of the financing of who pays for it.

Karen Ferrell: 21:13 From the employer perspective, I have to tell you that there is a real heightened interest and awareness right now. And particularly, I think, since COVID, employers are seeing right now, cancer’s presenting themselves at a later stage. And even before COVID, cancer had one of the highest trends, cancer, and then the highest is really pharmacy.

William Tincup: 21:45 Right. Right.

Karen Ferrell: 21:46 And so those two things, they’re really interested in. And so, by doing this for their entire population, and truly engaging the population, and that’s what we’re seeing interest right now, is they said, “We’ve tried these other programs. They’ve had some benefit, but limited,” right? And so they think that they can identify disease early, before it presents, as you said, in later stages.

William Tincup: 22:21 But by that time, especially pancreatic is a great example, by that time that they found it, I wouldn’t say it’s too late, it’s just… Well-

Karen Ferrell: 22:36 In some cases it is.

William Tincup: 22:36 It is.

Karen Ferrell: 22:36 In some cases it is. And, historically, what’s interesting too is, employers or health plans would say, “What’s the return on investment?” And it’s usually seen as a dollar spent, versus a dollar saved in medical cost.

William Tincup: 22:56 Right.

Karen Ferrell: 22:57 And, that is important. It truly is important. And what’s interesting is, if you just look at pharmacogenomics, for example, I mean, this is very well published, that there are significant downstream benefits. So, not having adverse reactions. People don’t go to the emergency room. People don’t have one in two day states from having adverse reactions.

William Tincup: 23:27 Right. It’s avoidable.

Karen Ferrell: 23:29 You’re absolutely correct. But there’s also, I think, other things that we need to think about. We need to measure all of those. There’s no doubt about that. But what’s the value of a life? What’s the value of extending life one year, five years, 10 years, 20 years? And sometimes, I think we get caught up in the $1 spent, we need $1 saved. And like I said, very, very important, but the others to me, I think if COVID has taught us anything, it’s our family, our friends, our community are invaluable.

William Tincup: 24:13 Well, the interesting part of the pandemic for, I think, almost everyone around the world is they’ve reevaluated life, their own. I mean, you saw divorce rates go up, which is really fascinating on some levels. But just, they’ve reevaluated happiness and life and all these things. And I think employers, what I’ve seen is, they’re reevaluating the relationship they want to have with their talent.

Karen Ferrell: 24:42 That’s correct.

William Tincup: 24:42 Talent being around the world. And they want to be able to engage and retain. And I think something, a benefit, this is a true benefit, a health benefit that gives people awareness in a proactive way. Again, not reactive. This is a proactive way of saying, “Hey, these are things that can actually extend, not just your life, but the quality of your life. You don’t have to go through life not knowing. We can actually know some of these things.” And again, that might be scary for some folks to know, rather than to not know. But, I think most people would rather know and then deal with it and have some type of plan. Last question real quick is, I’m assuming you’re selling into or you’re talking to the benefits folks, the total compensation, total rewards, benefits people, or maybe even potentially finance as well, is that who you talk to?

Karen Ferrell: 25:45 It is. It is. And I think that the… Particularly, those in charge of total rewards.

William Tincup: 25:54 Yeah.

Karen Ferrell: 25:55 As you mentioned, they’re very concerned about their population. They want them healthy. They want them productive. And, they want to provide, because we are a remote workforce now, and it’s not going back anytime soon, it may go back three days a week or partial, but with individuals now being in their home, employers want to give them preventative testing in their home. The hereditary testing can be done in the privacy of your own home, no blood being drawn, and you’ll have very meaningful results.

William Tincup: 26:36 Well, I love it. Dumb question alert. Do you have a consumer model? If I wanted to sign up, because now you’ve got to be excited, Karen?

Karen Ferrell: 26:45 And we’ll have to take care of you there, but-

William Tincup: 26:48 Because now I want to do it.

Karen Ferrell: 26:53 Yeah, absolutely. So, what we do is, we have a waiting list on our website. And, before the first of the year, we will be rolling out a consumer model.

William Tincup: 27:02 Well, I’m going to go sign up for that right now. That is fantastic. Thank you so much. I know you’re crazy busy, but thank you so much, because this is such a great topic. I think it’s timely. I think people need to hear about this, need to hear about anything proactive, but I think you’re just doing great work. So thank you so much, Karen.

Karen Ferrell: 27:19 Really appreciate it. It’s been a delight meeting you.

William Tincup: 27:22 Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.

intro/outro: 27:27 You’ve been listening to the Recruiting Live Podcast by RecruitingDaily. Check out the latest industry podcast, webinars, articles , and news at recruit…

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Authors
William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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