Omar Latif, MD, is only 38, but his career has already taken several twists and turns that have landed him at Anthem as a vice president in a CMO role.
The son of Indian immigrants, an engineer father and a lab tech mother, he grew up as a science geek in Wheaton, a Chicago suburb. He went to Harvard as an undergrad but he wasn’t dead set on medicine. “It wasn’t the plan right away when I went into college. I liked science. I liked biology, specifically,” he says.
Medical school became the choice after he volunteered as refugee health coordinator for the International Red Cross in Tanzania and was stationed near the Rwandan border. The resume glows: Stanford for medical school, Johns Hopkins for a training program, UCLA for a fellowship.
He had an epiphany at UCLA. “It hit me that I wanted to make change on a broader level, not just seeing patients over and over again,” he says. “Training as a gastroenterologist, you really learned a trade to some extent, which is not a bad thing. But I decided that I wanted to approach health care from a more strategic perspective, not just one patient at a time.”
Latif went to work for McKinsey. He worked on projects ranging from the relaunching of a pharmaceutical client’s core therapeutic product to developing and overhauling a large integrated delivery network. From there, he went to Anthem.
As vice president of medical management for commercial business, he said his responsibility is to improve patient care: “I ensure that our members get the right care, make sure that they’re getting better and stay well.” How? Good case management is an example. “We have nurses who actually call those members and try to help get that member to their appointment and be sure they have all the right follow-ups.”
Latif reports to an MD senior vice president. In turn, five MDs report to Latif. “For example, I have a doctor who is responsible for case management. I have a doctor who is responsible for making sure that claims get paid correctly according to the medical diagnosis.”
He also works with lead physicians in the 14 states in which Anthem operates. ”There’s a good interplay between the local teams and the corporate team. Often, I look for best practices in our different markets, and I try to understand what can we do to actually roll out those best practices across the board.”
For instance, in Missouri, he said, Anthem had a successful pilot where the company arranged home care for very sick members before they needed emergency care.
“I look at the pros and cons of it. And then if it makes sense we try to go ahead and expand that program in the rest of our states,” he said.
Latif said he gained business acumen as a consultant. “When you get an MBA, you kind of learn how to apply broader skills to solve problems. And I did that as a consultant. So, essentially, I felt like rather than getting an MBA my experience in consulting gave me that same exposure,” he said.
“When you’re seeing a patient, you’re always trying to problem-solve on the level of that one single patient. When you’re in a CMO-type of role, the role that I’m in right now, you’re trying to problem solve across the populations, not just to one individual patient.”