By Arlene Kiyomi Dennistoun
Northwest Asian Weekly
Dr. Christopher Kodama is a man on a relationship-building mission. He’s got a hearty, infectious laugh and looks a bit young to be the president of MultiCare Connected Care (MCC), a subsidiary of the MultiCare Health System, which has over 10,000 employees.
But there’s no mistaking the mature resolve in Kodama’s voice as he talked about health care. “I’m very passionate about partnering with others to create a healthier future in a way that honors cultural diversity,” Kodama reflected.
Kodama became MCC’s president after 13 years with MultiCare. Kodama said his success “boils down to relationships. I enjoy getting to know people. Ordinary people are doing remarkable things every day.” Kodama stays attuned to other people, what they’re thinking, what their opinions are, and that helps him develop a mutual understanding of trust and respect. Kodama believes relationship building helps careers progress and helps him partner with people more efficiently.
When asked about his influences, and specifically about Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, because Welch is an influence on Kodama’s online profile, Kodama laughed, not because he doesn’t respect Welch — he does. “LinkedIn algorithms,” Kodama said, amused. Kodama admires colleagues like Bill Robertson, MultiCare’s president and CEO. “Bill’s a visionary and skilled at creating safe spaces to build trust.” Also, Florence Chang, Executive Vice President at MultiCare, “is incredibly smart, a strategic thinker and is very effective at getting things done for the betterment of health.”
It’s easy to default to citing well-known people as influencers on a personal level, said Kodama. Instead, he promptly credits his father and grandmother, a first-generation immigrant who lived to 107, as his most profound influence. He learned the value of developing relationships of respect and trust from his grandmother and his father.
Kodama’s grandmother, Hosoe Kodama, created a wholesale greenhouse business with her husband and invested in real estate. Hosoe died in 2001 and “worked up till the day she died.” Kodama quickly rattled off how she lived through two world wars, was interned, and became a business woman with amazing and profound experiences, while exuding great humility. Her resilience and character were her legacies to Kodama. Well-known in the Asian community, Kodama described her as “quite formidable.”
Similarly, Kodama’s father, Ben, inherited his mother’s resilience and dedicated himself to diversity. Ben ran the family business after Hosoe died, and became a board member for the Highline School District. Kodama recalled how his father honored cultural diversity, so all children had a fair shot at success and watched Ben navigate through diverse populations. Ben is 80 now and taught Kodama the value of developing relationships of respect and trust. Kodama laughed at the notion that Northwest Asian Weekly readers would relate better to his father and grandmother’s influence more than Jack Welch.
Kodama’s family history and lineage keep him grounded in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. His uncle was former King County Superior Court Judge, Warren Chan. Chan co-founded the Wing Luke Museum and Seattle Chinese Garden. Chan died in 2015 at 92. Chan was a judge for about 24 years and was the first Asian American in the state to win a judicial election in 1968. Chan was also the first Chinese American attorney in Seattle.
Kodama recalled his plans and preparation with MultiCare executives to create an “Accountable Care Organization” (ACO) to align MultiCare with the Affordable Care Act.
Kodama was asked to “give it legs” and make it happen. And it did. The resulting ACO health care model created new types of partnerships with patients, employers who provide health insurance coverage for employees, insurers and physicians and providers outside of MultiCare. Kodama looks for quality outcomes so that people are healthier, and patient services and affordability are improved. For Kodama, that means a healthier community with folks able to do the things they want to do in their daily lives.
Kodama was genuinely surprised when asked about the “dilemma” he’s most happy to have “flipped into an opportunity” since heading MMC two years ago. “You know about dilemma flipping?” he laughed. Kodama explained a dilemma for him means a set of challenges without an immediate solution, and is not readily solvable — problems are solvable, dilemmas not so much. Flipping means changing the dynamics so he can start addressing the dilemma. His current “dilemma flipping” challenge is maneuvering through the highly regulated health care industry to develop partnerships to “gain greater latitude, so MMC may appropriately partner with others in new ways.”
Another dilemma Kodama faces is getting different electronic health records to “talk to one another.” The technology of health information exchanges (HIE) offers Kodama “an intriguing opportunity to create interconnectivity between different electronic medical records,” so that a patient’s story follows them, no matter where they seek care and no matter the type of electronic record. Electronic records that can “talk” to one another can reduce costs by eliminating duplicate tests and procedures.
Although Kodama has kept the skills and certifications needed to provide direct patient care, he no longer does. Giving that up was a hard decision, but Kodama had to give 100 percent to either direct patient care or presiding over MCC. He decided the work he does provides the care he wants to see people get. Kodama and all MultiCare leaders walk through hospitals or clinics and have casual interactions with people. Kodama enjoys directing people to the maternity ward. “It’s where folks go when they’re ready to share a new life with friends and family. It’s always good to hear people’s stories and feedback on how to make things better. Health care should not be about what we (doctors) think is best, but what is best for the patient and their needs.”
Advocating for people unable to speak for themselves keeps Kodama inspired and passionate about his work. He began his medical career in pediatrics, and “when you think about children, they’re disempowered — especially when it comes to safety and wellness.
Every individual has a different set of needs, personal and cultural expectations, and you want to customize and meet their needs on an individual level.” It’s tough to do using traditional models.
Kodama has a healthy appreciation for technology, but “technology will never replace the warm touch of human interaction. I’m often an early adopter of experimenting with technology for improving health care.”
Technology has enabled Kodama to capture information immediately — within 24 hours or less, and “we can use the information to act right away,” rather than waiting for months to even collect the data. He described a mobile application MultiCare partnered with called iTriage that allows you to enter your symptoms and gives users potential causes and providers’ coordinates. Kodama believes this is self-empowering. “You know how long the wait time is and can schedule the appointment before you even get there. It meets the needs and resonates with people.” Kodama pointed out that waiting in an emergency room with a head cold is neither desirable nor affordable.
If Kodama had one wish for the medical environment, he’d want people to “be open to working and partnering with each other in a way that quickly get us to a better overall health and well-being. We focus so much on sick care — we need to treat you and cure you. We are now focused on keeping you well and partnering for a healing and healthy future.”
In a perfect world, Kodama would figure out a way to keep everyone healthy, so we can get to our daughter’s graduation and make it to our 50th high school reunion. “That’s a whole other conversation. We have a lot of work ahead of us to create that healthier future.”
Dr. Christopher Kodama will be an honoree at the Northwest Asian Weekly’s Technology and Innovation Awards. The event is on Oct. 7 at China Harbor Restaurant from 6–9 p.m. Buy tickets at visionary.bpt.me.
Arlene can be reached at email@example.com.