Corporate Explorers to Watch: Deborah DiSanzo, President of Best Buy Health

Corporate Explorers To Watch

Change Logic co-founder, Andy Binns, sits down with Deborah DiSanzo to discuss how as a Corporate Explorer she helped a quintessential electronics retailer move into the healthcare space.

This article is the tenth in a series our series of Corporate Explorers to Watch. Click here to view them all.

Andy Binns: One of the questions that I’m asked most often is, ‘can you give me an example of a US publicly listed company that has scaled a new venture?’

Well, this time on Corporate Explorers to Watch, I’ve got that example.

This is Best Buy Health, and I’m going to talk to the President of Best Buy Health, Deborah DiSanzo. This is a great story of taking the assets of a retail chain and using them to develop a solution to the problem of how do you help people receive care at home, to get out of hospitals, and into a position where they could be cared for at home. This case study is rich with examples and insight for Corporate Explorers across many different industries.

In addition to this, we also have a Sloan Management Review article that Christine Griffin and I have written that you should take a look at as it details Deborah DiSanzo’s case, but also aligns with the model for scaling new ventures, building the customer’s capabilities and capacities needed to scale.

But first, enjoy my conversation with Deborah.

Deborah. Hi. Thank you so much for joining me today. I’m delighted to have an opportunity to speak with you.

Deborah DiSanzo: Andy, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Andy Binns: So, Deborah, you and I have met before and we’ve had the opportunity to write this MIT Sloan Management Review article, featuring some of the extraordinary things you’ve done at Best Buy Health.

But, before we get into that, just a little bit about you and your background, how you came to this role that you have today, which is President, Best Buy Health. Is that right?

Deborah DiSanzo: Yep, that’s right. That’s right. I have been in health technology for 30 years. Before health technology, I was doing technology and other things, and then when I did my first health technology project, I really saw how that project was helping everyone in an operating theater at the moment, the surgeon, the neurophysiologist, the anesthesiologist, and I thought sitting there that I’m going to do this for the rest of my career. So I’m happy that I did. I had 12 great years at Hewlett-Packard. 14 great years at, Phillips. I ended as CEO of Philips Healthcare. I was the general manager of IBM Watson. I teach at the Harvard School of Public Health. And in September of 2020, I took the role of President of Best Buy Health.

Andy Binns: That’s quite a diverse career in terms of different types of firms, but also very much a technology, strong technology background- IBM, Hewlett Packard, and then Phillips. But then Best Buy is a big box retailer, famous for giving us out-of-box specials on our TVs and washing machines. What are you doing there?

Deborah DiSanzo: I often get, ‘you mean that Best Buy?’. And when I, told my colleagues and people that I’d worked with for years, I was going to be the President at Best Buy. They were like, ‘what are you doing?’. But, here’s the thing. In the summer of 2020, we’re in the middle of the pandemic. Best Buy had started their Best Buy health strategy, already, but I had the opportunity to talk to Corie Barry for a couple of hours on a Saturday, and Corie is the CEO of Best Buy.

And if you are ever going to build a venture in a large company, particularly a healthcare venture that doesn’t have what the principal company is going to do, the CEO of that company better be supportive of health. After talking for two hours, I learned Corie is a wonderful person. She is an outstanding, smart, effective CEO, and she convinced me that not only does she believe that Best Buy had a place to play in health, but the board believed it, and the executive team believed it as well. And I thought, ‘I need to go help build this business.’

Andy Binns: What is the pitch for Best Buy Health? What is it that it does in the world? Because I mentioned it to somebody the other day and they said, ‘what is this selling healthcare devices?’. And it’s not quite that. It’s a little bit more.

Deborah DiSanzo: Our big goal is to ‘enable care at home for everyone’.

There are three very important words in there: the first is enable. Best Buy doesn’t deliver care. We don’t have a pharmacy. We’re never going to have a pharmacy. We don’t have a clinic. We’re not going to have a clinic. We are a consumer electronics retailer. And consumer electronics and digital health are very prevalent now as to the way consumers and patients take care of their health. So the enablement is helping with the technology.

Care at home. We are of the belief that in order to lower the cost of care, and expand access to care, we need to enable care at home. So we are very committed to enabling care at home.

The last word is everyone. Best Buy is a very progressive company. We care deeply about diversity, equity, and inclusion. And we care about health equity. We also believe that care at home helps expand access to care. And we have studies that show it also helps with health equity.

Andy Binns: There is so much in what you just said. One of them I just want to underline briefly is one of the reasons my colleague and co-author in the article, Christine Griffin, why she loved this story- it speaks to values. There’s something about why you are doing this business, which is in the firm’s values. It’s not just another market you’ve seen. It’s that too, but it’s also an expression of who Best Buy is as a firm. Who it is as a firm, which is important.

Deborah DiSanzo: Andy, that is absolutely right.

You can think that electronics are everywhere in our life right now. And yet, Best Buy chose to make a separate business focused on care at home for everyone. And, that really speaks to how we think about the world.

Andy Binns: A few things then about this. So, the role that you play in healthcare, because healthcare in the US is a tremendously complicated beast. It’s complicated anywhere in the world, but I’m clearly British and there’s a part of my brain that is only just catching up with the idea that healthcare is a sort of a commercial thing, right? It’s, the nature of coming from a country with strong public health.

But, you are really trying to solve a problem actually that exists all around the world. And it’s about getting more people cared for at home.

Who pays for that? How does reimbursement work? How are you, what’s the commercial model for you in this kind of situation?

Deborah DiSanzo: Let me talk about the commercial model in just a moment, but let me talk about care at home first.

If when many people think about telehealth, they might think about a person, a patient, or a consumer, a computer screen, and a physician or a nurse on the other end. But when we look at that, we really see a logistics person and a logistics problem. If you are going to get care at home, if you’re either in a chronic disease program, or you’re in a hospital at home program where you went to the emergency room and the emergency doctor decided that you would do better to care home program, a whole set of logistics has to kick in. First of all, the right remote patient monitoring equipment has to show up when it has to show up. You don’t have a luxury of a television, right? It has to be there on the day that it has to be there. Logistics problem number one.

Logistics problem number two is we have found that when you get older or when you’re sick, your ability to interact with technology goes down.

You can imagine you went home in a hospital at home program, the last thing you want to do is try to figure out how to get your blood pressure cuff to work and how to hook it up to your telehealth visit, right? This is what Geek Squad does at Best Buy, right? So Geek Squad takes the equipment over the threshold into the home, trains the patient, trains the family, makes sure it connects to our care at home platform, and make sure that the care at home platform connects into the hospital’s electronic health record and to the hospital’s physicians.

So I just answered for you the first pathway and who pays. There is Medicaid, Medicare, pay for hospital at home, chronic disease management at home. At the moment, most of the commercial payers are paying as well.

The health systems that we work with have found great benefits in the hospital at home chronic disease management programs in reducing the length of stay with the same or better outcomes. And so, I think that this will remain being paid for by both the government and commercial insurance for a long time.

There are also private payers who pay for care at home for seniors. So there’s, if you are a Medicare A, B, or C or, D patient, there are programs in Medicare that keep you safe at home and a bunch of services from personal emergency response, to social determinants of health. Also in the same vein that in, order for people to be healthy and well, it’s a whole bunch more than healthcare.

It’s a lot of ‘do you have enough food?’, ‘Do you have heat?’. And so the commercial payers reimburse all of this.

Now we also have some private pay. We also have consumers who say, ‘ I need to take care of my health and safety 365 days a year. I’m going to do it with digital tools, whether that be a phone or a hearing aid or something else’. And so we also have private pay.

Andy Binns: What I love about the story is that this solves a problem for me, if I’m somebody who needs care at home. Because as you say, I want to be at home. Everybody wants to be at home when they’re sick. They don’t want to be in a hospital in the impersonal nature of it. But there’s a big barrier. And the barrier is do I know how the technology works? I have enough difficulty with my Fitbit goodness knows what it would be if I had to do different remote diagnostics or even maybe I’m not familiar with, Zoom or whatever. And this is where you’ve used the Geek Squad. Which is pretty interesting.

For those of you who are not in the US watching this, the Geek Squad helps with installing home entertainment equipment in people’s homes in the US. It’s been around for 20 years or so. It’s a very successful part of the Best Buy business.

But you are using them now to do this. Installing the healthcare equipment and training people who are just coming out of the hospital, or maybe their families, how to use the equipment. What did it take to move them from, ‘I’m going to sell you a mega screen TV’ to ‘I’m going to do your remote diagnostics and train you how to use it’? How did they take to that?

Deborah DiSanzo: Think of Geek Squad as consumer electronics and electronics experts. We started them out with a simpler problem at first, and that is seniors on Medicare or Medicaid who need a personal emergency response devices and need some help with understanding how to make the personal emergency response device work.

So we started that about a year and a half ago, and we train the Geek Squad agents who are going to deliver these devices for us the same way we train our 1000 Caring Center Agents who take 9 million calls a year from seniors. We gave them empathy training and training on what it’s like to need help when you are a senior in this case.

So we’ve done 21,000 visits with Geek Squad agents into seniors’ homes and brought them personal emergency response. Got it. And we wanted to really, then move to help with hospital at home and chronic disease management.

So it’s always important when you’re doing health technology to work with a provider. In this case, the pilot was done with Geisinger.

Geisinger was a great pilot because it had an advanced chronic disease management program, and is one of the most innovative hospital systems in the US. And it’s an advantage to Geisinger because they’re both the insurer and the provider. So if they can keep someone healthy and well in their home, this not only is good for the patient, but it’s good for Geisinger and, running a health system as well.

We announced to the Geek Squad team that we were going to have nine dedicated agents to health, to hospital at home, chronic disease management. And we had great excitement of ‘this is what I want to do’. So we selected the nine and we did the same thing. We not only trained them on the technology, the remote patient monitoring devices that Geisinger would be using, and how you connect that to our current health care at home platform, into the electronic health record. But also we gave them the same empathy and sensitivity training that we give all our agents and care center people who work with seniors and people in hospital at home, chronic disease management programs. And the pilot was very successful.

In fact, what we found was that getting the devices to the home, we had a much better experience, we got them there quicker and when they needed to be there, than other ways that you would send devices to the home. But this was very important in that we improved the adherence to the program. So not only did we get the devices on time, not only did we train the people, the patients, and their families how to use it, but adherence improved. And of course, if you’re in a chronic disease management program and you increase adherence, you’re going to increase health.

That was a very long way to say it was very successful, specially trained agents that are dedicated to health. And now we are launching we’re no longer in pilot now. We’re in regular operating mode.

Andy Binns: Its fascinating. I want to talk about the Geek Squad some more, but just observe from a healthcare standpoint, a sort of innovation standpoint: remote diagnostic devices have been around for a decade or more. You were involved, I remember very early on in the hospital setting with this. And we’ve worked with some semiconductor companies that have had these technologies of different kinds. Some of them are in FDA approval now, but, they’ve been around for a decade or more. But the problem has always been how do you get them used? How do you get them in the hands of patients in a way that they can apply them and get the data out in a way that physicians can then make decisions to adapt their care.

And there’s this, like the last mile problem essentially. And it’s fascinating that it’s a human intervention that closes that last mile. It’s not a technology story. It’s you bringing this capability of Geek Squad’s into the home to be able to do something that all of the others who have been involved would struggle to do because they don’t have the same asset essentially.

And, that in a way brings me to this, and why I’ve answered my own question here, Deborah: why Best Buy in this?

I’ll lift it up a little bit because one of the questions we get asked I go around the world talking about our book, Corporate Explorer, talking about our work on organizations that grow new businesses.

And one of the challenges we usually get from the CFO is well, ‘why should we be doing something new? We’ve got a perfectly good business. Why go do something new?’. And, certainly, ‘why do something that isn’t another kind of retail outlet’, right? This is a service provider connected to a very complex industry.

Why take on that risk? Why is this Best Buy’s thing to do? What’s in it for Best Buy and why should you be the ones who have the right to do it?

Deborah DiSanzo: You’re absolutely right. I agree with a hundred percent of what you, said, and I’m going to tell this story to answer that question: I started Best Buy in September 2020, the middle of the pandemic, and two weeks later my husband had a stroke.

Now, he drove himself home. I live in a place called Andover, Massachusetts. He was in Maine, which is two and a half hours north of here. He drove himself home and as soon as he got home, he had signs of strokes, so I, threw him in the car and drove as fast as I could to one of our health centers here in Massachusetts, and of course, it was Covid, so I couldn’t go in with him, so I was very worried.

Finally, later in the evening, he called me and said ‘I had a stroke’. It was in the middle of Covid. I couldn’t go see him, but I have connections, so I, got myself into the hospital and I happened to be there on Saturday morning when his very smart and young neurologist came in to talk to us about what happened.

Now, remember, I have been doing digital health for 30 years. My husband also has a technical background. This is what the neurologist said to us after explaining my husband’s condition and that Kurt was going to go home.

He said, ‘Okay, I see you have an Apple phone. This is what I want you to do. I want you to go buy a blood pressure cuff. Go home, take your blood pressure every morning, and connect it to Apple Health. And after you connect it to Apple Health, see if you can get it into my health electronic health record, and then in two weeks we’ll have a Zoom meeting and I’ll talk to you about your blood pressure and your condition’.

Now, I’ve done this my whole life. I was just staring into the emptiness and my husband was completely nervous. But I went home. I bought a blood pressure cuff on It was delivered to my house. It was not so easy to use and it would not connect to Apple Health.

So I bought a second one, which was easier to use, and I got to connect to Apple Health after much work. I gave up on connecting it to the electronic health record. And, then I had to set up the Zoom meeting for my husband because he had a stroke.

This is what Best Buy does very well.

So we enabled care at home for everyone across wellness, at home, aging at home care at home, and we built it on top of Best Buy’s core competencies, which I just ran you through them.

We curate the best digital health tools that are available, and we work with the providers in our care at home programs to select the devices that they want their patients to go home with.

We have Geek Squad who, if needed, will take the devices to the home, over the threshold, train, and connect them.

If we don’t need to go into the home, we do it via phone first, and then we’ll go in if we need to. We do the connections to the home hub and the connections to the electronic health record, and then what you have is a patient who can recover from their stroke in the comfort of their home surrounded by Jack the Cat, who my husband loved and, easily be able to connect with their care team and the provider. So that’s why Best Buy is in this business because we can make a difference and we can really impact healthcare by enabling care.

Andy Binns: Brilliant. I think this is a tremendous story of how you take some of the things that the firm has already and you just apply it in a new domain or with a new strategic logic essentially.

And we’re often asked how do you scale a venture? And it always comes down to how do you get access to customers?

You have got a great brand and great access to customers, but you’ve also then connected to hospital systems to get that access as well. You’ve got the capability that you have of Geek Squad, which you’ve then adapted with the training and so on. And you’ve got the capacity through your store network and through those relationships to be able to make this happen.

And those three things, you’ve built this business, but you’ve also made some acquisitions in this story as well. It’s not all things you’ve built or things that you already have. There are also acquisitions that have been pretty critical to the growth of Best Buy Health as well.

Is that correct?

Deborah DiSanzo: Best Buy Health is made up of four acquisitions, plus Best Buy.

The first acquisition was a company called Great Call which made phones for seniors, and we still do, and we now have expanded the services that we offer behind those phones.

The second was a company called CST out of Novi, Michigan, which provided social determinants of health services for seniors.

The third was an artificial intelligence firm, BioSensics, in the Boston area, which does our algorithms for our personal emergency response and algorithms for chronic disease management.

And then the last company we bought was Current Health, which is a company out of Boston and Scotland. And Current Health really provides the care at home platform which takes those remote patient monitoring devices, connects them to the home hub, which I’ve talked about, and then runs a clinical command center to check the vitals coming off of the patient all the time.

Andy Binns: It’s those things that round out the strategy. They’re not the strategy, right? It’s not a matter of let’s go buy it and then hope they know what they’re doing, which, candidly, is another approach that people have to M&A, which we could spend more than half an hour talking about, I suspect, as we’ve both seen it happen. This is rounding out your strategy in these ways.

Deborah DiSanzo: We did the new strategy in September of 2020, and in particularly the care at home space, we said, ‘we can either build this or buy this’. And so we went down both paths because sometimes you think you can buy something, sometimes it’s not there. We looked at 300 companies in the remote patient monitoring space. We wanted a company with a great leadership team, a really current platform, Current Health- that’s funny.

A really current platform. But we were building at the same time. Yeah. And then when we acquired Current Health, we stopped the internal development.

So you are exactly right. We built the strategy on top of Best Buy’s core competencies.

In this bit, we needed a platform for care at home and we found Current Health.

Andy Binns: Last few minutes of our conversation here, Deborah, and, our audience are people who are either Corporate Explorers, already, people who advise Corporate Explorers. But I often like to think of this as speaking to the aspiring corporate explorer because what I find, and I’ve found particularly since I wrote the book, is that every company has them.

They are out there. Christine, my colleague, was telling me at, a client, she found one yesterday who was in tears because he was reading the book and realizing, ‘oh, I’m a Corporate Explorer’. And it’s a sort of self-identity because it can be a very lonely role within a company. And I know that you’ve done it in other firms where it’s been harder than it seems to have been at Best Buy.

What would your advice be to somebody who’s the aspiring Corporate Explorer?

What are the things that you would advise them to, do?

Deborah DiSanzo: First, be bold and courageous.

It’s not a thing for the timid. You are doing something that the firm does not do in general. And so you have to be bold and courageous.

Second is make sure you know what your strategy is. Know your strategy and execute it.

Third is to communicate your progress. If the corporation spent the time to want to create a new venture, they believe in it. Make sure you bring them along.

And the last thing is, when doing your strategy, make sure that you built your strategy on the capabilities and assets that the corporation who’s funding you has.

The reason that this strategy for Best Buy Health makes sense in Best Buy is we use our phenomenal omnichannel, we use Geek Squad, we use our logistics capabilities- we use our capabilities to obtain digital health products. That all fits into Enabled Care at Home. That’s why this makes sense for Best Buy. Do the same thing in your company.

So, be bold and courageous. Create a strategy based on the capabilities and assets of your core company, and make sure you follow that strategy and communicate the progress.

Andy Binns: That is fantastic advice, Deborah. I love it.

It’s been a pleasure speaking with you and I’m sure that our listeners and viewers will appreciate your insights and the story at Best Buy Health from which we can all draw some inspiration as well as going along and taking advantage of your services.

Deborah DiSanzo: Andy, thank you very much. It really was my pleasure.


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