ThedaCare has long been open to innovation, to new ways of doing things. Thinking creatively is part of our culture. We ask, “what if we opened up our imaginations to new possibilities? What if we considered ideas that improve health care for patients during a time when changes in our industry confuse and worry patients?”
Last month I shared how we’re launching a new brand. That’s a “what if” effort, responding to patient and consumer needs to understand who we are and how our care connects. Our new cancer center and care program are “what if” initiatives, addressing a needed transformation of cancer care in our region.
Another area where we are exploring “what if” is in our clinic-based care of patients with complex health conditions. We’re asking, what if a team of health care providers – like a lead doctor, a care coordinator, a behaviorist, a pharmacist, a nurse practitioner, a physician assistant, nurses and other clinicians – addressed the whole spectrum of care for these patients? What if they were empowered to use technology like FaceTime and Skype to talk with patients? What if this approach helped doctors manage all their patients more effectively? What if new doctors coming onboard understood patients with complex care needs and fit seamlessly into the model?
It’s a big challenge on many levels. These are patients with diabetes, hypertension, mental health concerns like depression, and complicating factors like smoking or obesity. They may also experience hardships like homelessness, lack of transportation or job loss. They may be your employees, family members, friends, or colleagues. Their health care needs are significant, but so are their lifestyle, emotional and socio-economic needs.
During our exploration of this care model, we’re discovering some promising results, in patient outcomes, physician preparation and benefits, and more. We have a ways to go, but we’re encouraged so far.
- Patients who work closely with a care coordinator and pharmacist seem to be more likely to make simple changes that produce positive results
- Patients develop trust in the team, and are likely to respond to coaching and support
- Patient utilization of health care services declines as patients take more ownership for personal behaviors
- Patients experience more “touches” from their health care team, potentially without expanding the number of physicians we hire
- A single physician supported by a team can more effectively manage many patients
- Physicians move closer to achieving a better work-life balance with a team at their side
Additionally, new doctors coming to us from the Fox Valley Family Medicine Residency program are already exposed to the principles of the model through their full-scope training at Mosaic Family Health, our partner clinic in downtown Appleton. Understanding what comprehensive care means for complex health needs is fundamental to the success of the model.
As is typical for us, we asked providers for their thoughts and perspectives before we launched the trial period with about 300 patients. At the table together, we developed the team-based model, and confirmed that achieving the same standards of care across our system – no matter where a patient is seen – is a top priority.
Even though we’re far from final results and long-term decisions, this kind of creative approach to care is good news for patients, employers, doctors and our community. It’s also a good example of how asking “what if” can be both risky and rewarding. I’m for taking the risk when the rewards are so important.
Dr. Dean Gruner is president and CEO of Appleton-based ThedaCare.