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Ron Bell, Chief Legal and Administrative Officer at Collective Health

Ron Bell, Chief Legal and Administrative Officer at Collective Health

August 18, 2022

Tell us how you got into, and what you love the most about your legal career in healthcare? My father was a doctor; my mother, a psychologist. I grew up in a family where healthcare was dinnertime conversation. So when my last tech company got sold, a health technology startup seemed like a natural place to marry my legal experience with my interest in helping people.

You can’t get more “real” than people’s health needs—especially during a global pandemic. Yet the experience of getting care in our country is often byzantine, broken, and benumbing. Where else do we buy services without knowing what they cost, find our choices routinely questioned by third parties, feel completely at the mercy of systems and processes that, at their best, bring miracles and, at their worst, bring neither health nor care?

My young company is helping to change that by empowering people to live their healthiest lives and organizations to improve their bottom lines. I love using my legal experience to help make healthcare better.

What are some trends you see emerging in your specific area of the healthcare industry in the next five years?

Evolution of primary care—Telemedicine turned homes into doctor’s offices. Now, companies like Amazon, CVC, and Walmart want to turn public spaces into points of care. Will these matchups provide accessible, quality, cost-effective primary care in ways that disrupt traditional medical practice?

Preventive and personalized medicine—Traditional western medicine treats conditions after patients manifest them. But as DNA analyses and wearable sensors like Apple Watch become more common, healthcare may more toward more personalized preventive care. This will raise important privacy and conflict of interest considerations.

Artificial intelligence—Whether used to complement radiologists, find new drugs, or speed claims handling, the insights and capabilities of AI could transform healthcare. But AI also introduces risk of bias and abuse, which coders and counsel will need to consider.

How has your role as a lawyer in healthcare changed in recent years? When you think of healthcare, you may envision a surgical team crowding around an operating room table. Healthcare companies also require legal teams of experts to help them solve business challenges. No one person can conquer every issue; there’s too much to know. So I spend even more time than I once did in collaborating with others or in thinking about the skills we need to complement our growing team.

The healthcare and technology industries are heavily regulated and daily become more so. It’s more important than ever to help developers and strategists design systems and processes which reflect regulatory requirements. As the world changes quickly, however, lists of requirements quickly become stale. I also spend more time than I did in the past in considering where healthcare and legal doctrine are likely to go and how we can prepare.

What are the top three attributes that you look for when you hire?[1]

Perspective—It’s impossible to advise others well without understanding what matters most to the business. Sound advisors consider connections between law and business, the broader healthcare industry, technologies and their social implications, the communities and constituencies served, and how public policy is developing.

Integrity—Helping the business do the right things, in the right ways, at the right times is core to growing a sustainable business culture and to the role of legal counsel.

Flexibility and enthusiasm for change. Healthcare, technology, the law, and my startup are all changing rapidly—never more so than during the global pandemic or after Dobbs. If you love to learn, and love to find principled answers to problems you won’t find in hornbooks, you have the mindset needed to succeed.

If you could go back and give advice to your newly graduated self, what advice would you give? Graduation marks the beginning of legal study, not the end. Never stop. Thirty years into my legal career, I’m still accumulating the life experience and the professional experience needed to help others.

The implications of technologies like artificial intelligence far outlast specific legal or technical developments. To help future proof your career, watch for areas in which technology disrupts business models, changes how people interact, or raises new social or legal questions. Then, be the first at your firm or company to learn and to think about those areas.

Many things are possible; fewer things are advisable. Learn the difference.

Study people and how they make decisions as much as you study legal doctrine. Treat clients as people, not just as sources of legal work.

[1] A more complete list would also include 1) how the candidate’s skills, experiences, and temperament would complement the legal team’s (diversity), 2) how they like to work with others and the environment in which they do their best work, 3) whether they can solve problems creatively.