DrFirst President G. Cameron Deemer has over 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry.
In 2004, G. Cameron Deemer joined the company as the “Director of Product Management.” In 2005, he moved up to become the company’s general manager.
G. Cameron Deemer has been an invaluable part of DrFirst’s success. He has “played an instrumental role in formalizing and driving improved business processes, while developing new technology strategies.”
Likewise, G. Cameron Deemer helps DrFirst “leverage the benefits of e-prescribing and other DrFirst platform services for providers, hospitals, payes, and other healthcare stakeholders.”
In the healthcare industry, G. Cameron Deemer promotes “interoperability” in the industry “by sharing clinical data between systems.”
Prior to DrFirst, G. Cameron Deemer was “Assistant Vice President of Product Management for PCS Health Systems/AdvancePCS.” He also “led the e-prescribing and practice management product strategy for NDCHealth.”
According to G. Cameron Deemer, DrFirst stands out “because of our dedication to innovation.”
G. Cameron Deemer and DrFirst “love bringing solutions to med management problems.” For example, they developed technology for “electronic prescribing of controlled substances.”
Today, G. Cameron Deemer says the “technology is well known and increasingly common.” It also took “eight years of hard work to make it possible.”
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We definitely stand out because of our dedication to innovation. G. Cameron Deemer, DrFirst
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
G. Cameron Deemer: We definitely stand out because of our dedication to innovation. We know it’s not always lucrative to be the first at new technologies, but we love bringing solutions to med management problems.
A good example of this is our development of the technology for electronic prescribing of controlled substances.
The idea actually came during a breakfast meeting at which we were asked to participate in an initiative to completely secure the drug supply chain end to end.
Knowing the proposed public/private key infrastructure sounded good on paper but wasn’t practical for roll out to a million prescribers, our founder collaborated with others in the company to develop an alternative concept based around the “trusted network” used to transmit electronic prescriptions.
With an idea in hand, we pitched it first to the Drug Enforcement Administration, then piloted the technology in western Massachusetts under a special waiver.
After a couple of years, the DEA proposed rules based on the pilot, and we became the first company certified under the new rules.
Then we started the hard process of selling and implementing the tech.
Today the technology is well known and increasingly common, but it took about eight years of hard work to make it possible.
Jerome Knyszewski: Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
G. Cameron Deemer: I’ve been very fortunate to have received good advice, a lot of good advice, over the course of my career.
It’s difficult to even think of any bad advice, except maybe one thing. I remember vividly the day our little tech company was visited by a major private equity firm.
I was looking across the table at one of the principals, a mover and shaker in the industry who handled billion-dollar deals.
He was wearing a ratty old sweater and jeans.
Yet, he still had the command of the room.
I looked down at my suit and tie and decided right then that was the last time I would ever wear a tie for a client meeting.
The old adage that you should dress up as a sign of respect had become badly outdated, and I was late to the party.
It turns out that what matters is the quality of your message, not the quality of your suit.
Jerome Knyszewski: You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
G. Cameron Deemer: I think this question could have a lot of different answers, depending on the person.
For me, it was being naturally dissatisfied when things weren’t “right,” being good at synthesizing information, and being comfortable with the success of others.
Since I came to business late, I really had no idea whether I would perform well and actually didn’t even know what good performance looked like, yet somehow, I was regularly advanced, moving up every 6–9 months.
I realized later that what I was being singled out for was fixing “problems.” For example, in one role.
I was working with system vendors to certify that their applications could send transactions to a mainframe with all the data in the proper fields and formats.
This involved literally counting characters on a printout. I found that inefficient and dull.
So I created a set of templates by cutting windows in heavy paper and labeling the openings so I could lay them over printouts and quickly see if everything was correct. But this still required a manual process.
So then I borrowed a PC that wasn’t being used, found a developer who was willing to show me how to write a small program to emulate the mainframe’s handshake protocol, and I added functions to accept, interpret, and reply to test transmissions.
With that old box running under my desk, I no longer needed to check results while vendors were in the process of development; I could wait until their final test and then just check my program to see whether they passed.
With my job automated, I could volunteer to work on other projects and soon found that I had been promoted to manager.
The ability to take in a broad array of information and synthesize it into new ideas is critical for success in business.
One of our newest and most successful products was the result of first identifying what we wanted to do, then what the blockers were, then asking, “What if those were not blockers but, instead, were enablers?”
That process of tricking your mind into looking at a problem from the opposite end is fairly well known, but to execute it well requires a broad array of knowledge and the ability to tie it together in new and unexpected ways.
In “The Effective Executive,” Peter Drucker calls this looking up and out.
In my experience, it’s good to indulge your natural curiosity quite broadly. You never know how something you learn in one discipline will apply to a problem in another.
I wasn’t always good at making the most of others’ ability to contribute.
There was a time when I felt I needed to be the best contributor in order to earn my keep.
Today, instead of focusing on what I bring to the table, I try to focus on hiring people who are truly the best we can find at what they do.
My role has become more about how to free them up and align their efforts, not how to be better than them at what they do.
I found that the more comfortable I became with not being the expert, the more productive everyone else could be.
We have fantastically talented people at DrFirst; why wouldn’t I get out of their way and give them a leg up?
A lot of brilliant thought and competent action goes to waste if we don’t learn to help others excel.
I found that the more comfortable I became with not being the expert, the more productive everyone else could be.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
G. Cameron Deemer:
- Sleep at night. It truly is lonely at the top, and there are infinite things to worry about. Unfortunately, worry doesn’t solve problems, but sleep might.
You need energy and creativity to find solutions, so learn to let go at night and start again in the morning.
- Bring yourself to your role. It took me a while, but I eventually realized that effective leaders come in all shapes and sizes.
Being authentic counts for a lot. Trying to be someone you aren’t is a stressful way to live, and it’s easily spotted by the people who work for you.
Being comfortable with yourself builds trust with employees who want to know the real you if they’re going to trust you with years of their careers.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
G. Cameron Deemer:
- Leaders are particularly prone to expecting rapid success. An interesting thing about business mistakes is that businesses of all sizes seem to be equally susceptible to them.
The evidence is clear in the extensive boneyard of startups that ran out of money long before they were able to turn the corner and scale into profitability.
But large, mature companies are equally prone to this error. Running a company of thousands can provide enough separation from reality to make anything seem possible if you just want it to be.
To avoid falling prey to unrealistic expectations involves actually believing that the worst-case scenario is possible.
You COULD run out of money; you COULD have trouble selling your new product into the mass of current clients who, for whatever reason, don’t love it as much as you want them to.
Being honest with ourselves is one of the toughest things we can ever learn to do, but until we can believe in the bad as firmly as we believe in the good, we won’t prepare properly for waiting out the gap between idea and mass adoption.
- Sticking too long with a bad strategy. In 2004, our company was nearly dead.
Our only product, electronic prescribing, was inexplicably not in demand; doctors seemed fine with writing prescriptions on paper, and we were struggling to make payroll every two weeks.
In desperation, we finally hit on a solution. Sell it to someone who DID care about the adoption of e-prescribing: health plans.
We threw our efforts into making a case to the payer community, and it worked! They bought licenses by the hundreds, by the thousands, and gave them away to providers.
Our success was noted and quickly followed by our key competitors, and soon we were all selling to health plans.
Four years later, it was all over.
The federal government announced a series of incentives and penalties designed to ensure physician adoption of the technology.
Although we had deals in progress, we realized that no health plan would pay another cent toward e-prescribing if the US taxpayer was going to fund it. So we quit the market.
Immediately. We stopped selling to payers and hired a new sales team to target physicians.
It took a while to gain traction with physician sales, but we had done the right thing.
Our major competitors continued to try to sell into the health plan market, but not a single deal was completed in the years following the announcement of federal incentives.
Sticking too long with a bad strategy may not be a fatal error, but it certainly is a common mistake.
To avoid getting caught flat-footed when it’s time to pivot really comes down to three things: 1) spending time with your customers in the field so that you aren’t getting secondhand information about what is and isn’t working;
2) taking time to not only notice events which might impact your strategy but actually think hard about the implications;
3) finding the courage to make the decision to pivot because if you don’t take the risk, there’s really no mechanism by which your team can get it done.
You get the glory if you’re right; you live with the repercussions if you’re wrong.
But positive action is generally your best chance for a breakthrough, whether you got it exactly right or not.
- Relying on consultants to create innovation. I was taught very early in my career that the most common use of consultants is to provide political cover for CEOs who want to drive change without accepting full responsibility for the decision.
That’s probably not completely true, although it’s sometimes true.
I’ve seen consultants engaged for many purposes, but one of the worst uses of consultants I’ve seen is to create or drive innovation.
The problem is very simple and is common to experts who make their living as individual contributors in any market.
Consultants talk to consultants; they speak the same language; they repeat common wisdom; they are acceptable to their peers through a shared set of attitudes and thoughts; they live in an echo chamber.
There are also human factors, like the pride of invention and ownership of IP, which are not usually available to consultants.
The right way to use consultants is for education where your team is weak, for introductions where your team is blocked, and for manpower when you are shorthanded need special skills.
Instead of counting on consultants for innovation, teach your team to think, to collaborate, to experiment, and to fail in a productive way.
Real innovation comes from escaping the echo chamber, not living in it.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
G. Cameron Deemer: I feel the aloneness of the CEO role is widely underestimated, except perhaps by CEOs.
It’s an immense responsibility to hold the livelihoods of tens, hundreds, or thousands of people in your hand and to navigate the minefield of decisions, any one of which might be a life-or-death call for the company.
Add to this the fact that you’ll never please everyone, so you live under a constant cloud of disapproval.
I feel the aloneness of the CEO role is widely underestimated, except perhaps by CEOs. G. Cameron Deemer
Jerome Knyszewski: You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
G. Cameron Deemer: I am very frustrated that we have not managed, as a country, to have a useful discussion on the future of healthcare.
Although I’m very conservative by nature, I can see the human suffering inherent in being uninsured or underinsured that results from our insistence on applying amoral business principles to a problem measured in human tears.
Compassion will be as important as capitalism in solving America’s health crisis.
I would very much like to be part of an attempt to think pragmatically about the real problem of ensuring equitable and universal access to healthcare.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
G. Cameron Deemer: Follow me on LinkedIn.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!