Changing Patients’ Lives for the Better — Together

April 20, 2016 Wayne Oxenham

As I step into my new position as President–North America at Orion Health after serving in various leadership roles with the company since 2003, I can’t help but think about the path that led me here. It all started with an epiphany of sorts.

Having grown up on a kiwifruit farm in New Zealand, I had never really considered healthcare as a career choice. But while working on my degree, I took a holiday job within a hospital. I got along well with the hospital management team, and together we all moved to run and turn around the worst-performing hospital in New Zealand. Within five years, it was one of the top three hospitals in the country in every measure.

This was a transformative time in my life. As I saw the quality improvements that the hospital made based on data-driven information, I realized how those changes had the potential to make patients’ lives exponentially better — and even save lives. 

This experience ignited my passion for healthcare — and ultimately, healthcare IT. The knowledge that the work we do here at Orion Health makes people’s lives better is the reason I enjoy coming to work every day. Even better, I’m surrounded by colleagues who feel the same way.

Orion Health’s focus on precision medicine as the next step in population health management is more relevant than ever, especially in today’s value-based care environment that is growing exponentially in North America.

In my new role, I’m responsible for the operations of Orion Health’s largest region, the United States and Canada. My key areas of focus include customer engagement, business development and partnership strategy, and growing our leadership and delivery capabilities across the region.

While there is much I hope to accomplish in leading the North American region, there are two specific areas that are high on my priority list and that have the potential to benefit both our customers and our customers’ patients:

  • A focus on precision medicine that goes beyond genomics; and
  • Changing the paradigm when it comes to customer relationships.

Precision medicine isn’t just about genomics

Mention precision medicine, and most people automatically think genomics (and clinically oriented analysis). While these factors are important in understanding a patient’s best care plan, they are really only a small part of the equation when looking at precision medicine as a whole.

When it comes to treatment, success is often very much related to lifestyle and social circumstances such as patients’ motivations and life goals. Precision medicine is not just about which drugs can best treat which patients, but also specific ways that patients can get and stay healthy via individualized treatment plans that fit their lifestyles and social circumstances.

In order to deliver the most effective healthcare, including early interventions and effective preventive care, it’s critical to capture and analyze patient data such as social determinants of health. For example, factors that can have a major impact on patients’ outcomes include: family history, environment, social media use, whether they have transportation to doctors’ appointments, and whether they live alone.

Having access to this type of information can drive interventions that affect quality of care. For example, research has shown that patients who live alone have a much higher chance of hospital readmission (a major measure of quality in value-based care) than those who have family members at home. 

If patients who live alone are flagged prior to discharge, unnecessary readmissions can be prevented by taking steps such as follow-up calls and/or visits from social workers/case managers. 

A recent example in the news related to social factors that may be tied to health is the study that found the more that young people used social media, the more likely they were to be depressed. Collecting data such as social media use and flagging at-risk patients for interventions is another example of how these types of analytics can be harnessed to improve healthcare.

While caregivers and clinicians traditionally do go through some questions about social circumstances when taking a patient’s history, they may struggle with some of the nuances — and there are also time factors at play. In addition, much of the information that is valuable in driving a patient’s care plan exists outside of the medical system. 

When hospitals/health systems or other entities work with Orion Health, we are able to collect and manage this type of “social record” information on their behalf and incorporate the data into the clinical record.

This prompts an individualized care plan that will be most effective for the patient, and the clinician saves time by not having to go through as many questions. (And in many cases, the clinician may not even know which specific questions should be asked, so important criteria could be missed.) A new report from the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association found that nearly half of patient face-to-face contact with healthcare providers — checkups, emergency department visits, and even hospital admissions — were missing from their electronic medical records.

Ultimately, this data-driven care management approach results in greater engagement, which then leads to healthier patients. If clinicians leverage these data to ensure that the right social and environmental factors are in place to treat each patient and to set achievable goals, patients will begin to see progress and they will engage better.

A new type of customer relationship

At Orion Health, our customers’ successes are our successes. With that in mind, another one of my top priorities in my new role is to move the dial on customer engagement in the region.

Rather than a traditional vendor-customer relationship, we are moving to a level at which we become partners with our customers, we truly understand their mission/vision, and we work to achieve their business objectives together by offering customized solutions and support.

As with any major transition, this shift is requiring some cultural changes in order to redefine roles and engagement models. So far we’ve found that customers have been extremely receptive to these changes, because they understand how valuable this approach is and know they will benefit. 

Best of all, the ultimate benefactors will be patients — which brings us full circle to the reason we are all here. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead… and partnering with our customers to change patients’ lives for the better.

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