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The Road to One Billion Lives Runs Through Omaha

Jan 18, 2024 12:31PM ● By Julius Fredrick
The Road to One Billion  Lives Runs Through Omaha For Cquence Health, The future of healthcare is now b2b february march 2024 feature

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

In the ever-changing, fast-paced world of healthcare, it takes someone with a steady hand on the industry’s pulse—and the reflexes to pivot on a dime—to navigate a business landscape known for rapid shifts in technology, specializations, and legislation. And only a select few, like Omaha’s CQuence Health, manage to thrive. 

At their new headquarters in West Omaha’s First National Business Park, CQuence Health puts employee experience and customer service first when designing the space’s distinctly modern, yet inviting, atmosphere. The new office is not only reflective of the company’s success, but also its core values. 

Just beyond the reception area, eyes are drawn to an enormous LCD screen that ticks upward by one digit every few seconds. At the time this article went to press, it read: “TOTAL NUMBER OF LIVES TOUCHED: 180,197,914.”

“Our overarching goal is to impact 1 billion patient lives by 2030,” CQuence Founder and Chairman Mike Cassling said.

With multiple holdings, numerous portfolio companies—from digital pathology services to AI-enhanced pharmacy operations—and its eponymous flagship company, Cassling, CQuence Health is well on its way toward achieving its goal. 

Mike has worked in healthcare for nearly 40 years. He initially found his footing selling capital imaging equipment and consumables at Cassling, the company his father, Bob, founded in 1984. Mike took the helm as company president in 1996. 

“Back then, it was Cassling Diagnostic lmaging,” Mike said. “We were unique in the capital equipment side, because most distributors out there tended to do low-end ‘rad rooms’ [X-ray rooms] and pretty basic processors. Because my dad came from a major manufacturer, we started right away with cath labs [catheterization laboratories] and mammography and different things like that. 

“I sold the consumable side back to Picker [a medical imaging equipment company] in ‘97—film, chemistry, anything you needed to produce and view X-rays. We saw the writing on the wall was going to digital, which was true.”

As Cassling began to shift toward a “high-touch, high customer service business” under Mike’s leadership, it was these same instincts and a forward-looking market approach that inspired him to form a holding company, CQuence Health, in 2011. 

“If you study anything in business, it’s that you don’t want all your eggs in one basket. That was a risk point,” Mike said. “So, we stepped back and said, ‘What are we good at? Okay, we know the healthcare market.’ And we knew it broadly, from a 10-bed critical access hospital to a 1,000-bed teaching hospital, which are very different animals. Plus, we knew how to market to them and how to sell to them. And then we had all the support services—marketing, finance, accounting, HR—we have all these services. So we said, ‘Let’s start to look to expand our portfolio and impact.’” 

Mike’s successor is Dr. Kyle Salem, CEO and President of both Cassling and CQuence Health. Salem, who joined the team in 2005, highlighted the unique and perilous market pressures that shaped CQuence Health at the time.

“In 2008, there was legislation that caused global sales of medical imaging equipment to drop by about 30%,” Salem said. “It was a change in the reimbursement rates for physicians outside of hospitals.” 

After earning his doctorate in biomedical engineering from Case Western Reserve University in 2002, Salem worked as a research scientist for Cassling’s major partner, Siemens Medical Solutions. 

“[In 2005] Mike and I had come to an agreement that I’d come work here. I told him that I was a PhD, so I don’t sell, and he said, ‘Okay,’ but I think he kind of laughed inside at the same time,” Salem recalled with a grin. “So, my first job was to teach people about MRI. But fundamentally, in the process of teaching, I was ultimately selling, right? I just didn’t realize it at the time, and I didn’t want to refer to it that way. I hadn’t admitted to myself, but that transition happened pretty quick in my head. It’s one of these things that I look back on now, and I know that it never would’ve worked for me to stay in academia.”

With Salem on board, and Cassling’s experienced team at his back, Mike would oversee CQuence Health as it expanded its holdings and portfolio year after year, signing contracts with a wide range of innovative medical companies like DocPanel and Intercept Telehealth. 

“DocPanel is subspecialty-focused. Inside radiology, there are radiologists who do additional training to focus on either a specific area of the body or a type of imaging,” Salem explained. “So, DocPanel is a subspecialty-focused radiology service that does remote readings for either radiology providers or second opinions for patients.” 

Meanwhile, Intercept Telehealth aims to improve patient care at a time when hospitals are dealing with severe staffing shortages in highly specialized spaces, such as neurology, ICU care, and more. Intercept helps address these staffing challenges thanks to 24/7, real-time virtual patient monitoring in hard-to-hire, “intensivist” care spaces. Salem describes their service as a “cockpit” helmed by a remote medical professional who helps direct on-site staff. 

CQuence has also dipped its toes into artificial intelligence with its investment in InterLink AI, whose scripClip prescription automation system helps make pharmacies more efficient and dramatically reduces wait times. 

Salem believes AI will have far-reaching implications, both internally and externally. 

“Obviously, AI is taking off. We’ll certainly have a spot for it both in how we operate our company as well as what we’re selling,” he said. “You’ve got this whole confluence of factors that make medicine, and in particular radiology, a very ripe space for artificial intelligence. 

“Imaging teams are dealing with higher volume, a labor shortage, and almost too much digitized data. They are rife with problems around operations. How do they become more efficient? How do they get more done? That’s important for us as a partner and vendor—to help them find the right AI solutions.” 

Sustainability is also a hot-button topic in the medical industry, one to which Mike and Salem have paid careful attention. One of CQuence’s cutting-edge portfolio companies is WasteMedX, whose ozone-based medical waste treatment technology helps hospitals save money on waste disposal with a process that’s also cleaner, greener, and safer than decades-old processes.  

“Our overall focus is that we’re looking at businesses that have technology plus services,” Mike said. “We partnered with WasteMedX, because their solution is innovative and truly sustainable and also because they’ve built a model that allows healthcare organizations to purchase the solution as a service, instead of just a capital investment, which makes it more accessible and impactful.”

This flexibility, coupled with CQuence’s ability to handle portfolio companies’ organizational and marketing needs, has been vital to the company’s success. But Salem credits the human factor as CQuence’s greatest strength. 

“Whether it’s from an organization that we’ve invested in, or whether it’s hiring in our own organization, one of the real lessons [we’ve learned] is that focusing on people first is always super critical,” he said. “There are a lot of really good people out there who are driven by a passion and purpose of impacting others. And those are the people we want to find and create alignment with our culture.” 

As a recipient of the Salvation Army’s Order of Distinguished Auxiliary Service—the highest honor given to non-Salvationists—Mike facilitates and encourages staff to participate in charitable causes. Last March, CQuence employees assembled a collective 1,500 “kids’ kits, hygiene kits, and ‘Be Hopeful’ boxes” to deliver to eight area charities. 

“From the beginning, when my dad started the business, it’s been all about taking care of the customers and taking care of the employees,” Mike said. 

For more information visit cassling.com and cquencehealth.com.

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2024 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, 
click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

 

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