#39 CVS Chief Medical Officer, Sree Chaguturu
Healthcare's trailblazing triple threat: business leader, practicing physician, distinguished academic
Hot off the Pod 📣 Sree Chaguturu, Chief Medical Officer @ CVS
Simi sits down with Dr. Sreekanth Chaguturu, Chief Medical Officer at CVS.
Shortly after this episode was recorded, Sree was promoted to this role. He previously served as Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for CVS Caremark — the patient benefits arm of CVS Health that ensures that patients have access to safe and affordable prescriptions. Before joining the company in 2019, Sree was the Chief Population Health Officer for Massachusetts General Brigham Hospital.
Sree completed his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he continues to practice internal medicine today. He also serves as a Lecturer at Harvard Medical School. After initially graduating from residency in 2007, Sree spent time as both a practicing physician and a healthcare consultant at McKinsey and Company, leading the firm’s Hospital Institute. To date, his articles have appeared in publications such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, and Health Affairs. He received his B.A. in biology from Brown and also his M.D. from Brown University’s Medical School.
Sree is a trailblazing triple threat — a leader who’s operated in the industry from 3 critical yet distinctive vantage points: that of business leader, practicing physician, and distinguished academic.
Excerpts from the episode below. Today’s edition was curated with the help of our Content Fellow, Sudeep Kalkunte.
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More often than not on Trailblazers, I'm talking to people that have broken the mold and pursued these non-traditional, out of the box careers. But you have fulfilled every South Asian parent’s dream by becoming a doctor and much more! How did your upbringing influence your decision to pursue medicine?
Well, I'm not a cardiologist — so I don't know if we can actually say that I fulfilled the dream. Kidding. But I really appreciate the sentiment. Many of us South Asians, have grown up with parents who talk about the opportunities that you can see in medicine, but ultimately, we have to make these decisions ourselves. I am so appreciative of what my parents have provided me in terms of the opportunity to learn and make my own choices, but with their guidance and wisdom supporting me through all of that.
What I love about medicine is it’s this amazing confluence of different disciplines. It’s a confluence of biology and science and really understanding the progression of clinical knowledge. It's then the application of that science to patients. And there's a humanism element to that: How do we take that science and make it real? There's this concept called, bench to bedside: taking things that have been invented in the laboratory, then making it real at the bedside and taking people through their most vulnerable moments. It’s about using that asymmetry of information — the information that I've gained as a clinician — to make the life of that individual patient better. But let's also zoom out and open the aperture.
Medicine also allows you to think about how 1 in 5 dollars in the American economy is spent. Almost 20% of the U.S. GDP is spent on healthcare, and healthcare is then inextricably tied to every other component of the economy — whether it's the supply chain of how we produce the products that are used in health care, or how it enables the economy to thrive or not to thrive by creating a healthy population. What I love about medicine is there's the obvious: the doctor with the stethoscope going to see a patient. But then there's the public health advocacy and the business and economic aspects of it that are incredibly exciting too. It's just an amazing confluence.
Recently, you were named Chief Medical Officer for all of CVS Health. Previously, you served as Chief Medical Officer for CVS Caremark — the patient benefits arm of the company. You took on this role in September 2019, just months before the pandemic hit. In what ways did the premise of your role change with the pandemic?
It was incredibly head spinning. I remember my boss, Dr. Troy Brennan, asking me to put together an assessment about the impact of the novel Coronavirus that had been identified in China. This was in December 2019 and January 2020. And it' was very hard to make that assessment — what would actually happen? And shortly thereafter, we all know how the economy shut down and the virus started to spread across the globe.
I am incredibly proud of the work that we've done as a company and our response to the novel Coronavirus. It's started out with: how do we ensure continuity of care during those early days? If we think about medications, there was this incredible pressure on the supply chain of medications coming into the country. So we had to think about how to ensure there was no disruption.
The next piece was testing. In those early days, it was quite difficult to extend, but we had the opportunity to use our nearly 10,000 locations — which are within five miles of 90% of America — to then be the first line of testing in many, many communities across country. We had to rapidly determine how to actually do community-based testing and retail-based testing. And now, we’ve done 10s of millions of tests throughout the country. I had the opportunity to lead Return Ready, a program to provide that testing to companies and universities across the country in order to help bring the economy back after that initial shutdown.
Of course, then vaccines started to unfold. So my team had the opportunity to work very closely with the U.S. government as well as with the pharmaceutical manufacturers to understand how we bring these vaccines to the country. Our team initially started with nursing homes and then extended it throughout the country.
I can't tell you how proud I am. I’ll look back at my career and just be humbled by the opportunity to work with this incredible team to do our part during the pandemic. The whole nation was working hard at this, but I'm incredibly proud of what we did at CVS Health.
You have this unique perspective as a physician, business leader, and academic. In what ways does your role as a physician inform your work as a business leader and vice versa?
It's a great question about the interplay between clinical medicine and organizational advancement. There's something called the history and physical. When you meet a patient, you sit down and try to understand: Why are they there in front of you? What help are they seeking? And how can you actually help them? And so you start to ask them a series of systematic questions and try to understand from head to toe. Ask first, then examine, then you make an assessment and plan. If you think about business problems, it's the same thing. So I actually think the skill set of a clinician extends really well into thinking about business problems.
The other piece of being a physician-executive is about being the voice of the patient, the voice of the clinician, and to represent both in the discussion around the imperatives of the organization. Sometimes those will be orthogonal to the business imperatives, but you have to stand up for those two constituencies — most importantly, the patient. And that can lead to some very difficult conversations, but you have to have them and let your moral compass guide you.