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Meet The Disruptors: Nicholas Mercadante Of Pursue Care On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Nicholas Mercadante, JD CEO & Founder of PursueCare

“Learn to let things go and keep moving forward” — Being an entrepreneur is anxiety-inducing. You really do have to let things roll off your back so you don’t get bogged down. Whether it is negativity, a mistake, or a failed effort…it is all progress if you let it be.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicholas Mercadante, JD CEO & Founder of PursueCare.

Nicholas Mercadante is Founder and CEO of PursueCare, a virtual addiction treatment platform shifting the paradigm for how people access lasting recovery from substance use disorder. He is a healthcare veteran holding numerous leadership positions including President and COO of MedOptions, a national provider of behavioral healthcare to long-term care that developed a first-of-its-kind skilled nursing telemedicine program. Mr. Mercadante graduated from Tulane Law School and is a licensed attorney consulting with venture-backed digital health products and services companies.

I grew up stocking shelves and working at my father’s pharmacy, which eventually grew into a national chain and public company. I got to see first-hand what success through entrepreneurship and “sweat equity” really looks like. I also learned that working in healthcare gives you a mission you can feel good about every day.

I’ve always been driven to try to solve the most challenging problems. To me, it’s exciting and rewarding to figure out a complex puzzle. I guess that is what pushed me toward a law degree initially, and eventually toward behavioral health.

I also had a personal experience with pain management that opened my eyes to what is going on with substance use disorder. I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, a GI condition, when I was in college. It eventually became extremely severe and required a number of surgeries to remove a cancerous colon. In lead up to that, and for a time after, I was dependent on opioid pain medication to get through my day. I had an incredible team of providers that monitored my pain and utilization of powerful pain meds. I’m not sure it would’ve gone the same if I didn’t have the benefit of great care. It really gave me perspective about what others face. There are so many external factors facing people trying to get good behavioral health care. Barriers based on social determinants like where you live, and how much money you have. Nowhere is it more clear than in substance use treatment, where patients are frequently stigmatized and penalized for what is truly a medical and mental health condition.

All of this propelled me toward investing myself in trying to solve for treatment disparities. That was the basis for PursueCare.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Most people don’t have access to addiction treatment in their community, or it is frequently not something they can easily transition into from other points of care they might pass through.

PursueCare is a virtual clinic for addiction treatment. We focus on providing easy, low barrier access to evaluation and treatment for addiction through technology. We collaborate with settings that act as “front doors” for people experiencing substance use dependency or disorder.

We bridge a gap that people frequently experience: when they go to their primary care provider, community health, urgent care, or even a hospital, they infrequently receive a warm handoff into treatment that can help them thereafter to tackle their condition. We use a combination of technology integration and human care coordination support to help both the on-site medical providers, and the patient to engage with a treatment program they can take home with them and continue through our app.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There are so many embarrassing moments when you’re the founder of a startup. You’re constantly fluctuating between overconfidence and imposter syndrome. And you’re frequently moving really fast. Even though I am a lawyer, I went ahead and signed the wrong version of a really important contract and locked myself into a set of terms that I had previously revised but failed to send to our vendor. I had to go hat in hand and ask for a take back…as a lawyer!

You learn pretty quickly that you really need to slow down sometimes, get organized, and ask for help when you need it.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I have had so many exceptional mentors. My most impactful has been my father, who is an entrepreneur and innovator in healthcare. He’s taught me so much, but one of the most significant lessons that has impacted my own path revolves around how you build up your team. I learned from a young age that fostering the personal and professional success of your team will ultimately ensure your own success as a leader. It’s really what being a leader is all about: helping others to do their best by reinforcing their sense of purpose within a shared mission, vision, and set of core values. When you make your team the owners of the end goal, you don’t have to tow them along with you because they’re the ones pushing you and the organization.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I am very leery of the wave of venture and private equity-backed digital health point solutions that used the widespread deregulation experienced during the COVID-19 public health emergency to generate rapid profit, without adequately building infrastructure that actually helps patients with varying needs reach better health outcomes. I think technology can help to positively disrupt, or, more aptly, innovate, in areas of healthcare that need improvement, like addiction treatment. But the “move fast, break things” mentality and the commoditization of healthcare is dangerous. Healthcare is complex, deeply personal, and individualized. The rush to turn healthcare companies into unicorns rewards near-term profit motives over practicing high quality care that accounts for that. It doesn’t sit well with me.

You can disrupt a complex industry by finding inefficiencies or inequities and addressing those. But you always have to make your customer, or in our case the patient, the focus and ask how it will impact them now and in the future. If you’re trying to create efficiencies just to generate more profit faster…you’re going to hurt someone.

Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Simple stuff always seems to have the most impact on me.

“Get a planner” — As an entrepreneur and a leader you’re inevitably going to wear too many hats. Nobody can keep it all straight. Get a planner and use it, religiously.

“Block focus time” — Related to the above. CEOs frequently lose track of their time because they’re pulled in many directions. Time blocking is a tacti I use to keep myself productive and to give myself time and space I need to focus on key projects.

“Get some sleep” — Easier said than done when you’re throwing yourself into the deep end in what you do. I really try to maximize my days and nights. But sometimes you just have to shut it down and get rest to be at your best. Try blocking sleep just like you block other time in your day. And staying on schedule with it if you can. It makes a big difference, even for those of us who don’t sleep enough.

“Reward the effort, not the result” — As a leader, I try to focus on the attempt, the great effort, and the passion of my team to do the work. And I try to foster continuous improvement. You can’t have it both ways though. You can’t get on someone’s case because they didn’t get the result you wanted to achieve, or they made a mistake. You’ll lose them even faster if you spend your days constantly trying to pin down who is at fault. So try to reward great effort and positive progress. That recognition of effort will compel your team to run through walls for you. That will ultimately, eventually, get the results you’re hoping for.

“Learn to let things go and keep moving forward” — Being an entrepreneur is anxiety-inducing. You really do have to let things roll off your back so you don’t get bogged down. Whether it is negativity, a mistake, or a failed effort…it is all progress if you let it be.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Right now my goal is to continue to innovate in how we deliver whole-person substance use disorder treatment in this country. We want to try to help as many people find better health as we can. We are developing really cutting-edge interventions for people who use drugs. To name a few:

  • Adding in-app pharmacy tools for patients so that they can chat live with our pharmacy and have medication delivered, avoiding stigmatizing trips to the local pharmacy for Suboxone;
  • Natural language processing assessments at partnering points of care to help recognize condition acuity and sentiment so that we can better triage and transition people to the right level of care;
  • Working with health plans to develop value-based continuums of care for addiction treatment that bring evidence-based in-network resources to their members that traditionally would not be covered by insurance.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I highly recommend reading “The Weight of Air: A Story of the Lies about Addiction and the Truth about Recovery,” by David Poses. David sadly passed away earlier this year, after writing this profoundly impactful memoir. It is a sometimes brutal read, but an absolutely critical one at this moment.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Wherever you are, be all there” — pretty self-explanatory. If you don’t make yourself present in what you do you’ll either fail to put your best foot forward, or you simply won’t appreciate what you’re doing. It goes for work, family, and not texting while driving. Pretty simple rule, but one that is surprisingly hard for people to commit to.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I really believe that what we are doing at PursueCare, and what other great organizations in our space are doing, is the movement I want to inspire. A movement toward broader access to lifechanging healthcare for people who use drugs and people with mental health issues. And a movement toward destigmatizing mental health so that it is treated as what it is: part of the human condition and something we can all talk about, ask for help on, and get care when we need it.

How can our readers follow you online?

I am on LinkedIn sharing my thoughts on digital health and addiction treatment advocacy.

Twitter (@nmercad) for unadulterated me — you’ll have to deal with the hockey and Italian soccer talk.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


Click to read original article from Authority Magazine on Medium.com