One of my favorite concepts from bestselling business author Jim Collins is to “confront the brutal facts.” Collins explains how great leaders are not afraid to face the facts and deal with them head on.
With that in mind, I note a few brutal facts about cardiovascular disease in the state of Mississippi. It is not a surprise that it is the leading cause of death in the state, accounting for over a third of all deaths. Mississippi lies in the center of the “Stroke Belt,” which is an 11 state region of the United States where studies show that the risk of stroke is 34 percent higher for the general population than other areas of the country. For visual people (which I am), there are some disturbing graphs on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website that really illustrate this problem. For most of us, these aren’t just statistics. We can personally relate to the impact of cardiovascular disease through our family, friends, or even ourselves.
I share this disturbing information as a backdrop to my leadership interview this week with Dr. Robert Skinner. Skinner is a native of Olive Branch and graduated from Mississippi College and Kansas City University of Medicine. After earning his doctorate of osteopathic medicine, Skinner completed his residency in Tupelo before opening his practice in 2003 in Southaven. As he began practicing medicine, he was disturbed by the alarming prevalence of heart attacks and strokes in the state. He shared, “As I reflected on this problem, I felt like we were losing the battle against cardiovascular disease.”
Driven by a passion to change the CDC map of Mississippi, he began to explore what else could be done to prevent these problems. He modeled his approach to preventive care off of the leading cardiovascular thinkers in the country. The challenge was a lot of the preventive care was cost prohibitive for the average patient. Undeterred, Skinner went out and negotiated fee structures with service providers to allow him to bring the leading edge diagnostic resources to his patients. Skinner soon realized that it would be best to provide these enhanced cardiovascular prevention services through a separate entity, so in 2012, he opened the Heart Attack & Stroke Prevention Center in Southaven.
While his practice was already booming because of his relationship and trust he had built with his patients, he quickly realized that his new center presented a bigger opportunity.
Skinner determined that he could replicate his leading edge prevention program and positively impact more people. As a busy practitioner and family man, Skinner knew he needed help so he called upon his brother, Ray. Ray had a successful banking career in Atlanta, but he too saw the vision of how the Prevention Centers could make a difference in a bigger way. Ray agreed to transition his career and join his brother to become CEO of the Prevention Center and lead its expansion. Together, the brothers are expanding this concept and partnering with other physicians to bring this innovative program to the marketplace.
Building a medical practice from scratch is no easy task, nor his launching a new healthcare business venture. Therefore, I probed to learn more about how Skinner had achieved his success. Skinner noted, “I have always been focused on the patient experience. For example, I don’t want patients to have to wait long when they come see me.” Thinking about patient wait times is a great example of Skinner’s attention to detail that has served him well. He likes to understand all aspects of his business so he can be an effective manager.
While his “hands on” approach requires more investment of time, it has paid off as he has built the foundation for growing a very successful venture.
I appreciate Dr. Skinner’s passion for tackling this major issue in our state, and I look forward to watching as his innovative preventive approach helps patients around the state improve their lives.
Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.