“I am very inspired,” Mohammed Ghazi, MD, said as he folded his laptop at the conclusion of a recent Ascension Physician Services meeting in Chicago. Dr. Ghazi is a urologist and the immediate past Chairman of the Board for St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam, New York. “The speakers today were very helpful from a personal point of view. That’s where we have to start, at the personal level, and then apply it to our colleagues and institutions.”

Take-aways such as this are music to the ears of the organizers of this year’s fall summit, “Better Together.” This nod to Ascension’s collective size, scale and experience was underscored in the opening address by Ascension Health President and Chief Executive Officer Robert J. Henkel, FACHE.

“We must find ways to grow to extend the influence of our ministry and serve more people in our communities; we must enhance our ability to share our experiences and standardized capabilities to position our markets to lead the development of clinically integrated systems of care that deliver on the ‘Quadruple Aim’ of improved health outcomes, enhanced patient experience and enhanced provider experience at a lower overall cost of care.”

While the business side of an ever-changing healthcare environment was given ample coverage in the two-day event, with discussions on declining inpatient volumes, increasing consumer demand for provider access, even the proliferation of “retail” primary care clinics, time and again, speakers came back to heart of the matter — the individual.

David Pryor, MD, Executive Vice President, Ascension, and President and CEO, Ascension Clinical Holdings, shared an intimate account of a formative lesson he received as a young man considering a career in medicine — witnessing his physician father’s compassion and equanimity towards a homeless man. “It was at the end of a long day. My father got a call that the man had shown up at the hospital. He told them, ‘I’ll be right there.’ The nurses said we haven’t had time to clean him up and my father just said, ‘It’s OK.’” Dr. Pryor shared the story as a way to remind members of the audience of their own personal journeys towards servant leadership.

More than 100 physicians and administrators participated in the two-day event, co-presented by Samson Jesudass, MD, Senior Vice President and Clinical Leader, and John Stewart, Senior Vice President and Operations Leader, of Ascension Physician Services. The meeting served as a progress report on significant achievements in 2014 and a look ahead to 2015 plans.

Among priority goals is expanding the adoption of open access scheduling, in which providers allow for more “same day” appointments. A panel of speakers detailed the positive benefits from this patient-friendly trend in what is increasingly a consumer-driven market. “With open access, our no show rates have gone down and our number of patients has gone up,” said panelist Mike Hanson, Chief Operating Officer, of Ministry Medical Group in Wisconsin. 

The numbers also continue to rise with the continuing implementation of a standardized practice management platform for Ascension providers, as reported on the first day of the meeting. As of early October, slightly more than a year since Ascension Physician Services was established, nine Health Ministries had gone live on athenahealth, the cloud-based practice management, electronic health record and patient communications provider with which Ascension has formed a long-term strategic alliance. In 2015, 16 additional ministries are expected to migrate to athenahealth, and by the end of Fiscal Year 2016, all employed physicians across Ascension will be on the same practice management platform.

“With more than 2,700 Ascension providers already on the athenahealth network, the pace and performance of this implementation is unprecedented and exciting,” Stewart said. “Transitioning to a best-in-class network, with the ability to leverage knowledge, streamline workflows and drive down costs, is an operational dream. We’re making it a reality.”

Dr. Jesudass provided context for the “before and after” scenario. “Think about it as the Tower of Babel,” he said. “With all the Health Ministries on different systems, speaking different languages, the possibility for clarity, accountability, or doctors sharing clinical best practices was impossible. Once the entire physician enterprise is on a shared platform, not only does it open the floodgates to valuable clinical insight and financial analytics, it elevates the performance of all our associates. This makes Ascension more attractive to new providers.”

Growth has already been impressive. In 2012, there were 2,742 Ascension employed physicians. As of October 2014, the overall number of providers is at 5,632 – nearly 3,000 more added to the Ascension family in just over two years.
Setting a place at the leadership table for this growing number of doctors was the topic of the closing presentations of the two-day summit. An in-depth discussion and video about dyad leadership was presented, the dyad being a model in which the administrative side and the clinical side of any given health organization share equal leadership roles. The dyad has joint accountability and mutual interdependence, but they have a shared vision of the organization’s highest potential. Ascension Physician Services will use the dyad model as the backbone of its leadership structure, urging both administrators and clinicians in the audience to embrace it.

Dr. Ghazi heard the call. As he was dashing out to catch his flight to New York he said, “I found myself thinking, this is what I am supposed to do.”
Watch these videos to learn more about the first year of Ascension Physician Services:

Ascension Physician Services – Better Together

Dyad Leadership – Physician Led, Professionally Managed

Open Access – Doorways to Better Care