Think Like a Businessperson, Care Like a Practitioner

Nurse-turned-executive Christi McCarren helps MultiCare move to a retail model

The seeds of Christi McCarren’s business development philosophy at MultiCare Health System, where she is senior VP of retail health and community-based care, were planted during her time as a cardiac nurse.

“What you need as a good nurse is to be human and understand that being fully present with a patient is what makes a difference,” she says. “It was a privilege to be at the bedside during that moment of their life, when they were at their most vulnerable, and I always remember that.”

Because of that real-world experience, McCarren views business development through the eyes of a nurse, with one thing always in mind: how to improve access for patients. That push is embodied in the hospital’s “first-touch” policy, which debuted in 2015.

The idea behind the initiative is that the first contact a patient has with a healthcare system—whether it be primary care, specialty care, or the emergency room—influences the second touch and all their care going forward. At MultiCare, those points of initial contact operate with a philosophy of care that continues through all the patients’ experiences in the system. And there is a diversity of approach, as different segments of the population have different needs, McCarren says.

“For someone like myself, it’s about the fact that I don’t have a lot of time,” she says. “For the millennial, it’s about easy access and pricing. As more of us move into high-
deductible health plans, price and access becomes more important. That’s the foundation of the retail strategy.”

“In the retail world, the patient is king or queen. Everything we do revolves around what they want and how they want it.”

McCarren says that healthcare systems still tend to see the world through a hospital lens, rather than a retail lens. Getting out of that habit is a challenge; the first-touch philosophy is a push to make that switch.

“We’ve made great strides, but tradition is stubborn, and sometimes we will fall back into that way of thinking,” McCarren says. “The first-touch experience helps patients get more aligned with how our system works, and that helps create loyalty.”

McCarren, who began her career with MultiCare in 1979, recognized early that though her nursing experience was enriching, she was more inclined toward the business side. After three years at the bedside, she took a series of management positions in critical care. Once she received her MBA, she moved to a system-wide management position.

“I found early on that I was better at the business side,” she says. “Having been a nurse with a passion for the growth and development of the cardiac world gave me an advantage. I spoke the language of the doctors and nurses. I became a translator, but I also could sit in on conversations with the businesspeople. That’s how I discovered what I wanted my career to look like.”

After ten years as administrator of the cardiac service line, she became VP of all care lines, which gave her exposure to women’s services, oncology, orthopedics, neurosciences, and surgery. Working in quality-management medical staffs and infection control to improve their processes expanded her view of how hospitals work.

Her career gathered steam as the hospital added to her portfolio, and she began to develop her retail approach. In her current position, she oversees operations for a quarter of the organization, all ambulatory in focus. And in everything she does, the mantra is access, access, access.

“In the retail world, the patient is king or queen,” she says. “Everything we do revolves around what they want and how they want it. The traditional thinking is if you build it they will come, but that doesn’t work in retail. Many people don’t understand healthcare. If a cough is keeping you up all night, you could go to urgent care, a retail clinic, or virtual urgent care. Often they don’t know what channel is best for them. We educate the public.”

Marketing the hospital under this philosophy means that campaigns are continuous and more money is poured into them. Where hospitals are high-margin low-volume, the ratio is flipped in retail. One billboard on the highway isn’t enough, she says. The system uses direct mailing, search engine optimization, Facebook, and Twitter to reach people.

Personally, McCarren says that a journey that began as a cardiac nurse has come to a point where she’s doing exactly what she wants and helping people in the best way she can.

“My experience at the bedside taught me that there are things that we need to do that are outside the normal technical savvy and schooling that we get,” she says. “The business side allows me to provide those services the patients need. This is such a great place to be at this point in my career. The CEO and executive VP are fabulous. There isn’t anything I can’t do if I can make a business case for it.”


“Christi McCarren is a dynamic partner whose commitment to taking healthcare delivery into the future supports the collaborative partnership between Zipnosis
and MultiCare—from launching virtual care to engaging in deeper levels of integration between our organizations. The Zipnosis team supports the virtual care services of leading health systems like MultiCare with tailored, integratable technology solutions, designed to meet their needs and those of their patients today and into the future.” –Jon Pearce, CEO, Zipnosis, Inc.