The evolution of the chief medical officer: A conversation with Dr. Vidya Raman-Tangella, chief medical officer at Teladoc Health
Healthcare & Life Sciences

The evolution of the chief medical officer: A conversation with Dr. Vidya Raman-Tangella, chief medical officer at Teladoc Health

Dr. Vidya Raman-Tangella discusses the evolving role of the chief medical officer, from a “luxury investment” to a person integral to helping to de-risk the organization and create enterprise value.
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In this next episode of The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast, Heidrick & Struggles’ Phyllis Schneble speaks to Dr. Vidya Raman-Tangella, the chief medical officer at Teladoc Health, a global leader in providing telemedicine and virtual care across a wide range of needs. Dr. Raman-Tangella discusses the evolving role of the chief medical officer, from a “luxury investment” to a person integral to helping to de-risk the organization and create enterprise value. She shares how she has seen the internal purpose, applications, and impact of the role change, as well as how the external nature of the chief medical officer is changing, noting its involvement in investor relations, M&A, and partnerships. She also discusses health equity, stakeholder management, the teams that fall underneath her role in a large-scale and growing health tech company, and her perspective on balancing speed, quality, and value. Finally, she shares the leadership capabilities that have helped her balance her role as a practicing physician with her role as a corporate chief medical officer.

Below is a full transcript of the episode, which has been edited for clarity.

Welcome to The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. Heidrick is the premier global provider of senior-level executive search and leadership consulting services. Diversity and inclusion, leading through tumultuous times, and building thriving teams and organizations are among the core issues we talk with leaders about every day, including in our podcasts. Thank you for joining the conversation.

Phyllis Schneble: Hi, I'm Phyllis Schneble, partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ New York office, and a member of the Healthcare & Life Sciences and Health Tech practices. With the abundance of health tech companies offering single-point solutions, all-encompassing platforms, or many “me-too” products, customers and investors are seeking differentiation and demonstrated outcomes.

Perhaps related, a trend we're seeing is the rising importance of the chief medical officer. Of the top 150 health tech firms on the CB Insights list, over a third have a CMO on their leadership team—and for more than two thirds, it's their first one. As you'll find with our guest today, the chief medical officer is playing an increasingly critical role in product design and delivery, and even now extending beyond into policy, strategy, innovation, strategic partnerships, and even M&A.

I'm excited to be joined today by Dr. Vidya Raman-Tangella, chief medical officer at Teladoc, the global leader in providing telemedicine and virtual care across a wide range of needs. Vidya is responsible for leading the clinical vision at Teladoc and working to improve the health outcomes of its members.

Prior to joining Teladoc Health, Dr. Raman-Tangella served as general manager of Healthcare and Life Sciences Solutions at AWS. Earlier, she held leadership roles at healthcare companies, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Johnson & Johnson, and UnitedHealthcare, and has spent many years leading the design of integrated health and wellness solutions for employers and healthcare plans.

Dr. Raman-Tangella earned a Master of Health Administration degree from Cornell University and a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, MBBS degree from Osmania University in Hyderabad. Welcome, Vidya. Thank you for joining us today.

Vidya Raman-Tangella: Thank you for having me.

Phyllis Schneble: Vidya, I'd say until, maybe, three to five years ago, we found investors were viewing chief medical officers as a luxury investment. More recently, we're seeing the addition of that expertise at the top as actually integral to helping to de-risk the organization and create enterprise value.

It seems that chief medical officers matter today, and the role of the CMO has been evolving. Since you've been involved in tech-enabled clinical care delivery, how have you seen the purpose, application, and impact of the role change? Are CMOs advisors, spokespersons, business drivers, or all of the above?

Vidya Raman-Tangella: Great question. So, I think your question focuses mostly on tech-enabled companies, but if I think of where I began— inside large health insurance companies, pharma, life sciences—there was always one CMO or more. Sometimes there were CMOs associated at the business level, as opposed to just at the enterprise level.

So, the role of the CMO has existed within healthcare, within the ecosystem outside of the clinical realm. But I think particularly within the digital tech and health tech space, that has evolved, even across the board. If you take the large companies in health tech, I would say that the role has gone from being solely clinical to becoming the bridge, the connector, between the clinical world and all other worlds.

What I mean by “all other” could be, for example, the product. Every tech company has a product. The CMO role could be the bridge to operations. It could be the bridge to engaging consumers. I think the role is not just about focusing on core clinical functions, like quality and policy and several others of which you outlined, but also looking at how clinical translates and bridges into the other functions.

And I think the other trend that we must also talk about in that context is that we have gotten to a point where we're seeing more companies that are in healthcare that are tech-enabled, as opposed to tech companies doing healthcare as a part of other businesses. You see what I mean? So, so now when you are a predominantly healthcare company, you're focused on care, but you happen to be technology-enabled, you want to have clinicians, you want to have clinicians at their own because they can not only make sure that the strategy is right, but also help translate and apply the technology in ways that really matter to patients and populations.

Phyllis Schneble: So, you just gave quite a bit of an inside view. Let's look outside for a second, because one of the things that you and I were talking about was the external nature of the CMOs on behalf of the company now.

We talked a little bit about focusing externally on M&A and partnerships. I wanted to make sure, from a clinical perspective, those make sense. We also talked about keeping an eye on the horizon or ear to the ground on policy or government changes that are happening. Can you talk a little bit about the external nature of the CMO?

Vidya Raman-Tangella: Absolutely. So, I think when you talk of partnerships and M&A, there is always that clinical component: is that clinical alignment? Is there a clinical basis on which we would build a partnership, or we would look at an M&A? All of those are absolutely critical roles. Those are all things that I certainly do, and I know many other CMOs do.

When it comes to policy, when it comes to all external audiences like customers, investors, or analysts, here's what I would say: I think the first and foremost responsibility or attribute you can trust a CMO with is keeping the patient front and center. If there is one person in the organization who you know will be held accountable and who wants to do nothing but the right thing by a patient, it would be the CMO. Not to say that others don't, but you can hold the CMO accountable.

So, whether you're sitting with policymakers, whether you're sitting across from investors or even sitting across from a customer, what they want to know is that you have thought through things in a clinically sound manner, you have kept the patient front and center, you're focusing on outcomes, you're looking at quality, you're looking at safety—and then everything else can be discussed. This is, I think, the huge value proposition.

Again, this is not to say that nobody else in an organization can communicate this. But, when it comes from a CMO, it just has that additional gravitas, if you will. That's what I would say about those external-facing roles.

But also, again, even 20 years ago, CMOs used to be out there, externally speaking. But what they're talking about, the context within which they're operating, and the audiences that they interact with has definitely evolved.

Phyllis Schneble: We were also talking about the change in the investment community and the appetite for investment more recently—post-COVID, post-economy slowing down and all that—and I hear the word “outcomes” from you quite a bit.

I also know that we've certainly been talking a lot about how we're hearing from investors that a good idea is not good enough, product-market fit is not good enough, and now many more investors are really kicking the tires—customers too, certainly, but investors—and looking for demonstrated outcomes. Talk a little bit about how that's changed for you recently.

Vidya Raman-Tangella: Well, I think outcomes were always in focus. However, I do remember the time when I was on the other side of the fence inside these large organizations, talking to companies like the one that I am with today and saying, “First, show me that you can enroll people. Okay, then show me you can keep those consumers engaged.”

So, we were focused more, because tech was something new within healthcare. We didn't know what consumer receptivity would be to technology, as well as what the application would be within the overall big picture. We were willing back then to say, “you know what? Let's have you enroll people. Let's have you engage people.” But those days are gone.

I think the good news is when customers, investors, and others look for outcomes associated with any tech-based product, they have implicitly said that this is here to stay. So, in other words, if we didn't think that this could work, we're not going to be asking about outcomes.

The way I look at it is that we know that tech-enabled healthcare can deliver excellent outcomes. And so anybody—whether they're a buyer or other entities asking for outcomes—essentially is just an acknowledgment that that can happen. So yes, you're right. I do see a huge movement towards that.

And we take clinical outcomes—I take clinical outcomes—very, very seriously. In fact, if you ask me, that is the north star that anchors a lot of the work that we do, for instance, here at Teladoc Health. And for me personally, that's been a very important north star. If what I do at the end of the day can have even a sliver of an impact on patient or population health, I will leave this world a better place. Let's just put it that way.

That's what I'm after personally. But also, as an organization, when that anchors you—when you’re focused on clinical outcomes, when you're focused on making patients healthy or keeping them healthy, prevention, and so forth—you don't have to do anything additional to prove those outcomes to other entities that might be looking for outcomes.

When you're not focused, then it becomes much more challenging to explain away those outcomes to others. But I would say that we're heavily focused on outcomes: clinical, financial outcomes, adding up to value. And so yes, it becomes a much bigger value proposition.

Phyllis Schneble: This might very naturally lead into the next question, which is about how the CMO is functioning as an agent of checks and balances.

I'm wondering how this has worked for you, especially when it comes to leaders in product, or the commercial side, or even investors. How do you balance speed, quality, and value?

Vidya Raman-Tangella: My job and my team's responsibility is to ensure that everything we create in the form of solutions and services are clinically sound. What I mean by that is that there has to be one team (or at the very least, in a small company, one individual) who's worried about and wondering how to bring the latest and greatest in science into what they do.

From when I went to med school to now, science has changed a lot. So, there is an important responsibility to make sure that all of the advances in clinical science and data science are incorporated into the product. So, the CMO team becomes responsible for the clinical soundness, the clinical desirability, of a solution or a service.

I think of the three-pronged stool: desirability, feasibility, and viability. You want to do something that is clinically desirable. So, if you were a doctor, what would you do for this patient? That's the question that we keep asking over and over again. If I have a patient who looks like this, what am I going to focus on? What am I going do? It's no different; that's exactly what we do as we design our solutions. That piece has to be looked at and the rest of the organization has to be able to feel comfortable that that's been looked at and nobody else needs to worry about it.

Now you layer in the feasibility piece, which is where all the other teams come in: this is when I think of the product team, when I think of the operations team, or a team that we have at Teladoc Health, for instance, that’s held responsible for engaging consumers. These are all the people who take this clinical foundation and bring it to life—through a product, in the way we operationalize, and in the way we engage people.

And then, eventually, there's the viability piece, which again goes back to the outcomes: clinical outcomes, which then translate into cost savings and revenues, and so on and so forth. So, it's that three prongs. I don't know if I think of it as checks and balances as much as I think of it as a partnership, clarity, and relying on each other for what we can do really well.

So, I don't want to be doing what a product team would do really, really well, but I do want to partner with them. We have a phenomenal team, for instance, that can engage people—that has all the rails, as they would call it, to engage people. So we need, I need, to be able to trust them and work in partnership.

I think it's a partnership model more than anything else. And it takes time to get to that understanding, to build that credibility and say, “okay, this is how we're going to work as an ecosystem.”

Phyllis Schneble: Vidya, that leads right into my next question, which is about stakeholder management.

So, you talk about these different groups, but I'm curious, when you're at this level where you are as the chief medical officer, who are your most important stakeholders? Where do they sit along these critical pathways, and how do you manage relationships with them so that you can find alignment and maintain forward progress?

Vidya Raman-Tangella: So, I would say external and internal stakeholders. For external stakeholders: first and foremost, my responsibility—our responsibility—is towards the patients, right? And so that's who we take seriously. The number one thing that I ask myself, and my team, is what would we do? What's the right thing for this patient? The number one stakeholder is the patient.

And then internally, like I said before, it's the product team, especially in a tech enabled organization. For the technology product to become a vehicle through which we take clinical solutions and approaches to the patient, that close partnership is very critical. And so, there's the product.

Then we have the operations team, and that includes anybody from the doctors that are actually delivering the care, to the coaches, to the therapists, and others that actually provide the care—the whole operating mechanism. Then we have the marketing team, the team that basically works on engaging people.

Data science is another critical stakeholder. If you're wondering, “well, how do we work with them?”, then if we are able to articulate to a data science team that, “Hey, in a patient that looks like this, this is what we want to know, and at such and such frequency, in order to do X,” it becomes easy for them to then tell you how to create architecture for that particular approach from a data science model. So, that's how you work in partnership. It's impossible for me to know how to manipulate and handle data; it's almost impossible for them to know what would work and why. And so, translating becomes a very important function.

So, those are some big internal stakeholders. There’s certainly also our legal teams, current affairs teams, because you may want to do some things, and in a virtual world, it's actually a lot harder, right? There are so many rules and regulations to abide by, so they become important stakeholders.

I talked about viability earlier, so the financial aspects of it: we're living in the world of value-based care, right? So, how do we take all these clinical models and clinical pathways and care models and really align them with value-based care? Another important stakeholder are those people who are coming up with all those mechanisms to risk stratify, understand populations, apply the care models, and then apply the performance guarantee.

So many, many stakeholders. Externally, like I said, patient first and foremost, but also all the customers—who very quickly turn into partners, because what works for one may not work for another. It's that tailoring, and so they are important stakeholders still in my mind.

Phyllis Schneble: I would imagine as a physician, people skills are a big part of it. And it sounds like from what you've just outlined, relationships matter to get things done. Sitting inside a corporate organization, are there any leadership capabilities that helped you as a practicing physician that have also helped you as a corporate chief medical officer? And are there any new capabilities that you had to develop to sit in this different seat?

Vidya Raman-Tangella: I'm learning on a daily basis, so let's get that out of the way. So, I would say what I've kept with me, and I think what helps tremendously is—I mean there are many, but the key ones would be empathy, the ability to communicate, and connecting the dots.

If you think of what a doctor does on a daily basis, patient by patient, they’re empathizing with them, asking all the right questions, clarifying, communicating, but then also trying to connect the dots. “What might be going on?” Analyzing, right? Those have now become part of my DNA.

So, I'd be hard-pressed to imagine a day when those don't come into being. But I would say, I don't know if I'd call them skills as much as I would think of them as a good understanding. So, I don't need to be a technologist. I don't need to be an expert in finance. I don't need to be so many things, but I do need to understand all of those.

I do need to understand the product. Whether it's in this organization or when I was at Amazon Web Service—what did they do? What were their products? That understanding is critical for me to translate those products to deliver clinical value. To know, to understand; maybe it's a skill.

It's how you understand all these other areas, even operations; how does that whole missionary work, right? I learn something new on a daily basis about every one of these functions. So, I would say those are the key areas around which you have to build your understanding so that you can be a much better team player. The value that you provide is way beyond just the core clinical. Now you're able to become that bridge to all of these other functions as well.

Phyllis Schneble: We talk about a lot of other functions and when you and I were talking, I was quite surprised and enlightened about the variety and scale of the teams that sit under you as chief medical officer.

I'm just curious: you've been in a couple of different types of organizations, and you're sitting in a significant health tech company now. Can you talk a little bit about the teams that fall underneath you in these kinds of large-scale and growing health tech companies, and how that evolution of your span of control has changed?

Vidya Raman-Tangella: I would say here, at Teladoc Health, I have first and foremost responsibilities for what we call enterprise clinical strategy. As you are aware, I'm sure, we're not just about urgent care. We do everything from prevention, and primary care, to urgent and acute care, to chronic condition management, and mental health. So, we can take care of patients and populations across the spectrum and along the journey. So, an enterprise clinical strategy is about that overarching value proposition.

And it doesn't have to be a one-size-fits-all all, where you're bringing everything to bear for everybody, but you really tailor what a patient needs based on, again, insights from the data. The enterprise clinical strategy essentially hinges on focusing on clinical outcomes and is driven by insight. So I have that, and that was something that I put together very quickly after I got here.

Underneath that, now, since we're in mental health, what's our overall mental health strategy? I have responsibility for that. I have responsibility for our strategy within cardiometabolic health, primary care. I could go on and on, but essentially I think of the clinical strategy behind everything that we do as a standalone offering, as well as at the enterprise level.

I also oversee the health equity function and our chief health equity officer. That's the role that I created after I started here; I hired her and she's awesome. Now, when we talk of health equity, I like to think of health equity as being an integral component of everything we do, so that we're driving towards those outcomes. So, health equity is not a separate function. It starts by understanding who we are serving, so that we can improve experience and access, so that we drive towards that outcome. We want to be able to deliver equitable care, and so that's what we are focused on with that.

I oversee the clinical quality and patient safety functions. We have an incredible chief clinical quality officer, and so I oversee those functions. These are job zero for us; without quality and safety, you know, you may as well pack up. So, we take that seriously. Those functions fall under me.

And also, remember, we are global. So many of these, to the extent that there are international components, there's that angle as well to the role. I don't want to use the word standardization, where it comes to safety; every country has to do what they need to do. What we're trying to do is basically simplify and cross-pollinate and share. So, I do oversee these functions, even outside the US.

Clinical research is another, as you can imagine. We're sitting on a ton of data. It's one thing to use the data to understand how we're doing, and of course push us more and more towards outcomes. It's also another opportunity to look at data at the aggregate level and then understand what we can glean from that and share more across the healthcare ecosystem. So clinical research as a function is something that I oversee as well.

I talked about value-based care earlier, and the clinical strategy behind value-based care. How do you go about it? Because it's very different in a virtual environment. It's also important to remember that it's not going to be entirely virtual, right? It's going to be a hybrid model. So, what are those care models? What do those partnerships look like? Those become critical.

Last but not the least, I have responsibility for the quality committee of our board. I meet with our board members every quarter and share, learn, discuss. Those are some of the functions I oversee. It's a very matrixed organization. Like I said before, there are those close bridges with all of the other teams that may not be clinical, but who need to work together in order to deliver the value.

Phyllis Schneble: Do you mind if we come back to health equity? I'm curious to dig in just a little bit more on that, because it's a newer concept and it's not one that is necessarily standardized. It's like the word digital: people use the word, but it means different things to different people.

I'd just love to hear a bit of perspective on how you think about health equity there at Teladoc and what it means to you. I think it's new and we're all shaping it right now.

Vidya Raman-Tangella: So, health equity: if you look at the definition, it is the opportunity for anybody to achieve the best possible health outcomes, without any discrimination or without consideration of things like social determinants of health, culture, race, ethnicity, gender, and so on and so forth, right? So, if any two people have the same opportunity to achieve health outcomes, regardless of all of these metrics, then we can say we have some health equity.

What it really means is that we have to, in an ongoing manner, be mindful of and understand what are called “social determinants,” but we think of them as social drivers of health. I mean, believe it or not, those drive 55 to 60% of one's health.

For some of us, we take it for granted, right? We don't have to worry about food on the table. We don't have to worry about housing or education or a job. But for those for whom this is a big deal, it has a direct impact on their health. So, it does account for 55 to 60% of one's health. Then you have things like race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, and so on and so forth. Then, you have the ability to provide equitable care.

The first set is all the attributes that are at a patient and a consumer level. Then there is the system, the other side of the house, right? From a provider, from a care delivery standpoint, are we able to provide equitable care?

So, for instance, at Teladoc, we think about whether we have doctors, coaches, therapists, even employees, that resemble the people that we're serving. Do we have diversity amongst ourselves, so that we can really relate? Are we in a position to provide equitable care? That's not just who you hire, but it is also about understanding who you're serving.

If I know who I'm serving, through data, then I can be mindful of certain things and I can attempt to provide equitable care. But if I'm totally blind to these, then I am probably not going to be able to provide equitable care. Health equity basically has both these dimensions: it's all the data that tell us who a person is or a population is, and then there is the ability to provide equitable care. The two have to come together in order for us to drive health equity.

So, the way we think of marching towards that is by looking at actionable data. So, who am I serving? How am I doing? Where am I doing well? Where am I not doing well? What do I need to do differently? How is the experience? Are we offering the same experience to everybody? Is it different for different people? Is it better for some and not so good for some others? Let's correct that.

Let's look at access. Just because there is broadband, it doesn't mean it's affordable. So, are we talking affordable access? Are we talking equitable access? What do we mean by access? Proximity to a provider, proximity to anything at all. Proximity to healthy food. We look at access and eventually we look at outcomes. How are we doing across the population and are certain populations getting left behind?

There are also so many other nuances. Within the clinical world, there are algorithms that we use to assess risk of certain conditions. Many of them skew unfavorably towards certain populations. So, a big part of health equity is understanding where that might be happening. Not because somebody wanted to do it this way, but this is how we conceived of it back then. But now we know different. We're working at that level to say, okay, let's look at all of those algorithms. Let's see how we look at populations.

So, it's a very hands-on, broad, deep effort. Yes, there is a chief health equity officer, but guess what? She works across the organization (as you can imagine) with data science, product, engagement team, operations team, the clinical strategy folks, and the outcomes teams to say, okay, this is how we need to influence everything.

So, hope that helps. It's a big deal, let's put it that way.

Phyllis Schneble: It's a very big deal. A very big deal.

So Vidya, I'm going to change course a little bit. You were telling me that you recently spoke at Harvard Medical School to a broad set of med students, and you talked about the role of the chief medical officer and how it's evolving. You talked about how it could be a potential career path right from graduation, even as most of the ones that are senior level roles now came in after practicing. I would love for you to share what advice you shared with them.

Vidya Raman-Tangella: It was a fun group, a fascinating group. It's interesting: I was in their shoes at one point, but I didn't realize that I was in their shoes. It's always very interesting when you meet these aspiring doctors—not just doctors, but doctors who want to have an impact through so many different things.

Anyway, this was a group that was considering not just medicine, but perhaps an MD and an MBA, or entrepreneurship, so it was a very eclectic group. I shared my own journey with them. So, before I'm even eligible to give them advice, I thought it was important for me to share with them what my journey looked like. I call it, “Forks in the Road.”

Basically, my message to them was that I didn't plan a single thing. It wasn't like I said, “Okay, I'm going to take a left turn here and a right turn.” But, when it came, I was open enough. I was courageous enough to say, “Okay, I think I'm going to go try it.” Most worked, some didn't. I failed; that's okay. I think that sharing my journey unraveled other things in that group that I was talking to, but my main message to them was to broaden their perspectives.

In fact, I was talking to one of the students as a follow-up yesterday. She set up a one-on-one call. And I said, “You know, you're sitting in Harvard, for heaven's sake! You have access to so much. Broaden your perspectives: go understand the world of bioinformatics, understand health tech. You're sitting right next to MIT.”

So, broaden the perspectives. Even as you are training to be a doctor, you are looking at all these perspectives. And then, when it's time, you can make a decision whether you want to take care of sick patients by doing a certain thing. Do you want to go into the world of prevention? Do you want to go into technology? Their options are many.

I think just helping them understand that they are a very, very different breed of doctors than what we were. They have so much at their fingertips that they can leverage to really broaden their perspectives, but also think about how they may add value differently.

I even had one slide where I said, “You can become the CEO of a company at some point.” It was interesting: many of them asked me about the skills (just like you asked me what are the skills) and how I developed them. I said, “Listen, it's not so much the technical skills. It's all the other skills that will really come in handy.”

I do think that going forward, for the doctor of the future, the more they can prepare themselves to take in data-driven insights—whether it comes from the patient, whether it comes from a health plan—the better they will be as doctors. Because today, if you think about it, doctors have the data that they have access to, but they don't have access to so much else that can actually help them do much better in terms of managing the patients. That was something that we talked quite a bit about.

But it was fascinating. Really, really fascinating.

Phyllis Schneble: Well, it's interesting also to talk to them earlier in their career about different forks in the road and career pathing.

That's another question I had for you: we work with executives who are established in their careers, and we tend to see chief medical officers (like some other more functional experts, like CFOs and others) who tend to be like the best athletes. They are very focused on what they do well, and they do it at one organization, then another organization, then another organization—kind of like trading teams, if you will.

This is versus being on a career path into general management, CEO, etc. What's your experience and what have you seen in your peer group as potential career pathing for CMOs, especially in the world of health tech?

Vidya Raman-Tangella: That's an interesting question. I sit on a cross-healthcare group, a CMO forum where we have CMOs that are inside health plans, that are inside employer organizations, hospital health systems, pharma, life sciences, retail, tech—a whole host.

I don't think the roles are the same in each of these organizations. I'm pretty sure, because I do come across quite a few job descriptions; it's not the same. So, if you're sitting in a hospital health system, what is expected of you may be very different from what is expected of you when you're sitting in an organization which is purely tech based, right?

And if I think of my own role, whether it was called a CMO or not, the value proposition is different. So, regardless of the title, what's important is to make sure that I'm able to add value to the organization. If I cannot add value, if I cannot shape something differently by being who I am, then it's probably not the right role. So, I think it's totally okay for somebody who's been a CMO within a health tech company to go to a hospital and health system, because that's definitely a different role and you get a different experience—provided you want to do that, provided you can add value.

Pharma and life science is again, very different; there's that. But I also think CMOs can evolve into larger strategy roles. You can become the CSO for a company that is providing clinical care. You could become the head of innovation that may be primarily clinically-driven. You could become the CEO of a company. Why not?

Especially if we're saying that health tech is here to stay, and healthcare of the future is going to include and involve a healthy dose of technology, any tech company that is run by a clinician who's a CEO can just be, I think, incredibly successful. I think even today we have examples where doctors are at the helm and running companies that are tech-enabled and that are in the care space.

There are people—I know it's not me, but some of my colleagues—who love operations, and you could do that too. You can head up operations. So, I think that there are just numerous possibilities.

Phyllis Schneble: I don't know about you, but I think when I do see a physician at the helm or as the CEO, they're often sitting there from a founder perspective, versus having worked their way up, if you will. They had the first brilliant idea and then surrounded themselves with the people to operationalize and commercialize it.

Vidya Raman-Tangella: That is very much true today, but I'm hoping that changes. There is an intentional and deliberate effort made to bring a clinician on as a CEO.

Now, obviously remember, as a CEO comes a whole host of responsibilities, so one must be willing to do that. There are people who love that. There are people who say, “No, you know what? I know what I can be really good at. I can add value that way. Never mind the CEO title.” So, I think it's important to know who you are, what makes you tick, and what's your personal mission.

Phyllis Schneble: As we bring our podcast to a close, I have one final question. Again, it's along the lines of what we've been talking about, but the future. Where do you see the future of health tech heading and do you see the role of chief medical officer further evolving and changing? And if so, how?

Vidya Raman-Tangella: Oh, gosh, I wish I could tell you how! I know it will evolve because it has evolved. So, I'm optimistic that it will evolve, and it'll evolve in the right direction and in bigger ways.

I don't know the answer to how, but I think the role will continue to be important, if not more important. I think it will have to do with health tech, and especially technology that also has something to do with leveraging data.

So, there’s technology for the sake of technology. But I'm also a very big believer in the power of data: technology that either generates data or can enable the data to become a powerful component of prevention, management, and so on and so forth. That I think will become much bigger in the future.

So, it’s definitely here to stay—what I'm saying is that tech-enabled care, I think, is here to stay. I can't imagine a single aspect of our life today that is not influenced by technology. Look at anything at all, and we've seamlessly brought it in. We aren't thinking of it as, “Oh, this is tech-enabled and this is not tech-enabled.” It's just who we are.

I think we need to get there with healthcare. We're not yet there; we still talk in terms of how there's a tech-enabled and then there's non-tech-enabled traditional healthcare. I think it'll be one. I think healthcare will be one that includes that entire ecosystem, and a big part of that ecosystem will be the tech-enabled.

So, the role of the chief medical officer, I think, will depend on where in the ecosystem they are. But fundamentally, I would think of them as either strong clinicians who can translate clinical science and clinical medicine to a technology team or related teams, or they can actually be the ones that can drive the technology itself to become of greater clinical value.

So, you could start with the technology and say, “Okay, what do I do with this that can meet a need within the clinical space?” Or, you can say, “Hey, clinically, these are the unmet needs and gaps we have. How can technology solve for it?” I think both of those will become fundamental, depending on the nature of the company, the size of the company.

That role could be sitting inside product, or it could be the CMO, or even the CEO. I do think it will evolve, for sure.

Phyllis Schneble: So you and I will stay very busy for the next several years, yes?

Vidya Raman-Tangella: I hope so.

Phyllis Schneble: Well, Vidya, I can't thank you enough for making time for us today. It's been an absolute delight.

You've shed a new light on the evolving role of chief medical officer, and it has been educational, insightful, and, as always, fun. Thank you so much for spending time with us.

Vidya Raman-Tangella: Thank you, Phyllis. You're always fun to talk to, so thank you.

Phyllis Schneble: My pleasure.

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About the interviewer

Phyllis Schneble ( is a partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ New York office and a member of the Healthcare & Life Sciences and Consumer practices; she also co-leads the Health Tech sector.

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