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Dr. Arthur Gruen

The ‘Robin Hood of health care’

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This year’s Ernst & Young regional entrepreneur of the year for life sciences and health care is Dr. Arthur Gruen, an emergency medicine physician, inventor of a disposable laryngoscope, the medical director and chief of emergency services at Sharp Memorial Hospital, and founder and CEO of EA Health Corp.

He wants to fill the holes created by the shortage of physicians around the world and reallocate health care resources, so that people without access can get quality care.

The father of four and self-described “Robin Hood of health care” is 52.

How does he juggle all his roles?

“I do the really fun stuff and the bad stuff, I really don’t do anything in between. I have a lot of very fine people who work for me. The entrepreneur of the year award wasn’t about me, it was about an entire team of people,” said Gruen, who said that his voice makes him sound like a teenager. “My job is to execute on vision and surround myself with very sharp, capable people.”

The Daily Transcript caught up with him while he was in New York, attending his daughter’s college graduation. Gruen has two other college-age children and a fourth in high school.

He divides his time between Sharp and EA Health, spending 20 percent of his time at the hospital and the rest of it pursuing his goal of being a health care safety net solution.

While San Diegans are not aware of physician shortage issues, it exists in many parts of the world and Gruen’s game plan guarantees payments to doctors so they will care for patients, no matter who pays.

The second part of what EA does is staffing solutions with temporary replacement doctors, for which it partners with AMN Healthcare. Telemedicine represents a third focus for the company, by beaming in doctors for patients in remote areas.

Gruen’s business is poised to grow exponentially as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is rolled out and millions of people who did not have medical coverage until now emerge.

“If you give people more and more insurance, which is sub-optimal, then doctors won’t accept it and they will end up in ER. So overcrowding will worsen and create more need for my business,” Gruen said.

He is preparing for the onslaught by gearing up to ensure his system is capable of scaling up from the 13,000 physicians it has on board now, to handle huge volumes.

Gruen said that EA, which originally stood for Emergency and Acute Care Medical Corporation, now literally means “everywhere, anytime.”

EA has agreements with Sharp and Scripps hospitals, as well as other hospitals across the United States and in 15 other countries.

His company runs the programs by contracting with hospitals, which actually pay the doctors — and he claims a management fee for guaranteeing payment.

After giving it some thought, he describes his greatest achievement as his four children and his work at EA Health as his defining professional achievement.

“By bringing quality and readily accessible health care to people who would ordinarily not have access, I am making a difference in the world. We’re making the world a better place. I’m Robin Hood, with a difference — he stole from the rich, but I redistribute the resources,” Gruen said.

-Nagappan is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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