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October 6, 2020 . Sandy Cummings

We are Ursa Health: meet Tyler Johnson

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What’s your role at Ursa Health, and what do you do?

My role here at Ursa is director of operations, and my core responsibility is making sure our customers are getting value out of their partnership with Ursa. This ultimately means that they are able to have a positive impact on their business and the populations they serve through the utilization of Ursa’s products and services.

In addition to supporting our customers and the great work they do, I also support our internal operations, making sure we’re operating as smoothly as possible by putting the right resources in the right place at the right time.

Can you share a little about your background?

I’ve spent a lot of time in different areas of the healthcare ecosystem: with EHR and other IT vendors, with payers and providers. So I’ve seen a lot within healthcare. I haven’t really specialized in one thing but instead typically gravitate toward roles in which I can be a sort of utility player, where I can know a little bit about a lot of things. This diverse background helps me relate to people and their problems a bit easier, because I most likely will have a general understanding of or a background in what they’re going through and context for the problem they are trying to solve. This understanding helps me play a consultative role and bridge gaps between different teams, like technology and business or technology and clinical, because I can appreciate and navigate varying perspectives.

I’ve always been a nerd for problem solving, and I think operations is essentially problem solving: You’re always trying to do things more efficiently and effectively. Even when I was a kid, I was more interested in subjects in which you are problem solving, like math, or in tinkering with things, like my bike. So my natural inclination and my work experience to date lines up well with operations, which is all about making things work more smoothly by ensuring that internal and external stakeholders have the right tools and people to be successful.

When I went to college, I thought I was going to be a math teacher, which is way different than healthcare IT! I took calculus right away as a freshman, and after about a year of that, I decided the type of math I was learning was pretty abstract, and I was having hard time understanding how I would actually use those calculus skills to solve real-world problems. So I switched my course of study to business management and international business. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do coming out of college, but I wanted a major that would be general enough that I could go in a lot of different directions, I always enjoyed business and even have aspirations of starting my own business some day. After I graduated, I landed a job in healthcare IT somewhat out of pure luck, and I ended up really enjoying it. That’s been the bulk of my career ever since.

What abilities does a good problem solver need to have?

If you are trying to solve a problem for a specific customer or a specific line of business, you have to be able to remove yourself a bit, take a step back, look at the end-to-end process or environment in which you’re operating, and then figure out how to implement a solution that’s going to serve all stakeholders in the best way—not just the specific, focused silo that asked for your help. That’s one important ability.

The other is being able to recognize that there are always going to be many ways to solve a problem. Maybe there are 10 different possible solutions to one problem, and a good problem solver can see those 10 possibilities and can pretty quickly weigh the pros and cons of each. I think it’s more typical for folks to determine that there’s one way that’s optimal, but that will always be from their unique perspective. Yet they tend to stick with that and say, “This approach is going to work, so we should do it this way.” A really effective problem solver is able to say, “Here are the 10 options. Now, let’s figure out what makes the most sense for the current situation based on all the data that we have at our fingertips.”

Why did you decide to work for Ursa Health?

For a number of reasons. First, I wanted to join a smaller team that was doing exciting work, where I felt I could have an actual impact on the outcomes of the business. I’ve worked at the large corporations, and there is so much hierarchy and bureaucracy that you have to work through that it’s tough to have a huge impact.

And then I really enjoy the space in which we operate. We are solving problems using data, making healthcare data useful, which is super exciting. I’ve come to realize that data is king in this industry, but it’s also very hard to use it in a meaningful way. Healthcare organizations of all types have data all over the place, but they struggle to wrangle that data in such a way that it can have a positive influence. Before I joined, I got really excited about the product and its ability to help organizations unlock data that otherwise would be sitting in a database somewhere and would not be utilized to its fullest potential.

And then the speed at which the product can help companies iterate and drive positive outcomes was also really motivating. I’ve worked at a lot of organizations where it takes so long to come up with an insight based on data that by the time you actually get the insight, it’s really too late to do anything with it. For example, if you wanted to track the performance of some clinical quality measure throughout the year so you could help to improve the way you’re serving your patient populations, and you don’t see any performance insights until September or the end of the third quarter, you already missed out on six to nine months of patients who could have come into your facilities and received the recommended treatment based on clinical best practices.

What do you find to be the best part about working with Ursa Health?

As clichéd as it sounds, I’d have to say that so far it’s the people. Everybody is very collaborative here, willing to jump in and solve problems together, and invested in getting you up to speed. In my first month here, I’ve worked on a lot of client projects, and I can see the camaraderie.

Ursa is a bunch of smart people working toward the common good and a common goal of making our clients successful. It’s not very often that you go into a place and it’s a team of all A players, where everyone’s willing to put their egos aside because there’s no other goal than to solve problems. It’s pretty unique.\

What is the one thing your colleagues would be surprised to know about you?

Well, first, a little background about my personality. I have a tough time sitting still—not in the sense that I can’t focus, but in the sense that if I go on a beach vacation, I can’t lay on the beach for more than 10 minutes before I need to do an activity, like do something with my hands, or go walk around and see something. I can’t just sit alone and relax with my own thoughts. So I’m usually looking for new hobbies or activities to get involved with in my personal life.

I’ve got two recent ones that might be surprising to people. First, I recently took up the nerdy hobby of droning. So I take my drone with me on vacation, fly it around, take footage, and capture some really cool stuff. I’m not a very creative person, I can’t draw or paint, but stitching together footage from my drone and setting it to music, creating these little montages, it’s really fun.

And then since moving to Chicago, I’ve picked up improv comedy. People who meet me off the street might think, one, this guy is not that funny, and two, he probably can’t think quickly enough on his feet to stand up on a stage in front of people and do improv. But I’ve done improv at three different theaters now and taken courses at the famous Second City—I’m part of a group called The Tequila Hammock. You’d be surprised, it’s really not that terrifying. If I have to do a presentation for work about something that actually matters, I get much more worked up. When you’re doing improv, you’re literally going on stage and spewing out anything, and it’s all perfectly fine. There is no wrong answer in comedy, and there’s something calming about that.

My wife and I just had a baby, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to continue this. Scheduling is such a nightmare for comedy. You have to find time to meet, to do practice sessions and rehearsals, and then the shows are late at night. Maybe when the baby’s two years old, I’ll get back into it.

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