Google’s New Health Leader Shows the Importance of Kindness and Transparency in Health Care Communications

Transparency is important in all areas of communication, but particularly in health care, where lives are literally on the line. And while most of the recent conversations around the need for increased transparency in the industry have focused on consumers, it is often overlooked that a transparent internal culture is necessary to provide safe and effective care to patients, says Gary S. Kaplan, MD, chairman and CEO of Virginia Mason Health System in Seattle.

In a Nov. 9 article in the Harvard Business Review, Kaplan explains that “when team members are open and honest with each other, without fear, it leads to mutual trust, collaboration and sharing of best practices across disciplines. Patients are the ultimate beneficiaries.”

But where does a culture of internal transparency begin? Kaplan believes it must come from leadership. There must be a willingness to change the paradigm of communications both within your organization and the health care industry as a whole, which traditionally has been slow to evolve.

Google’s decision to hire Dr. David Feinberg, CEO of Geisinger Health in Pennsylvania and former CEO of the UCLA hospital system, as lead for its health care initiatives exemplifies a move toward a culture of transparency. Feinberg will leave his position for his new role in January, according to a statement from Geisinger Health.


Google has been relatively quiet, not communicating publicly save for a tweet from Google AI senior fellow Jeff Dean about Feinberg’s appointment.

Feinberg, on the other hand, has shown himself to be a “world-class” communicator in his previous roles, according to a profile in Forbes. Hopefully he will bring transparency to Google.

During his tenure with UCLA Health, Feinberg helped the hospital system go from the 38th percentile for patient satisfaction to the top 1% of academic hospitals in the U.S. He did so in a relatively short period of time by using a combination of face-to-face communications with patients and creating a culture of open communication throughout the organization, just as Kaplan advises.

Patients Come First

After a listening tour where he spoke with patients face-to-face daily to learn about their quality of care, Feinberg instilled a mission of kindness at UCLA Health, moving away from a focus solely on financials and statistics. Feinberg emphasized that patient happiness should outweigh profits. “He put ‘the face of the patient’ in every discussion and every meeting,” Forbes says. “Feinberg began every [monthly leaders meeting] with patient stories in the form of letters, feedback, or visits by actual patients.” This created a business structure in which patient care was a main priority from the top down.

As Kaplan writes in the Harvard article, “It is the responsibility of the leadership team to develop an atmosphere in which there is balanced accountability and continuous improvement and this is everyone’s shared duty. Leaders must lead by example.”


Feinberg took it a step further and created a communications structure called CICARE. It was disseminated across the entire organization, Forbes says. CICARE stands for connect, introduce, communicate, ask permission, respond and end with excellence. Though it was conceptualized as a communications structure for dealing with patients, it is also used for internal communications, to make sure problems are solved quickly and effectively.

Other leading health organizations, including Stanford Health Care, have adopted CICARE.

The AI initiatives at Google have the capability to provide excellent health care to patients around the country, but it seems likely that Feinberg will prioritize internal communications among health care organizations as well. The quality of communications within an organization will directly impact the quality of communications outside of it.

“In the United States, we have more information than ever about how to provide appropriate, high-quality care and keep patients safe,” Kaplan writes. “Transparency with internal and external stakeholders is essential for quality, safety, accountability and informed decision making.”

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