Health System Board discusses measures to improve patient and employee healthcare access

Board members highlighted strategies to treat more patients while remaining a competitive healthcare provider

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Members of the Health Board discuss progress and improvements to be made for healthcare at the University.

Mahima Reddy | Cavalier Daily

The University’s Health System Board met Wednesday to evaluate the system’s progress on corporate healthcare goals and discuss new strategies to improve both employee and patient wellbeing. 

Emphasizing the University as the heart of future initiatives that attract the attention of diverse faculty, students and patients, HSB members shared reports of the latest developments in their individual medical center operations. 

Richard Shannon, executive vice president of health affairs, talked about BeWell — an employee-centered wellness movement launched by the Health System two years ago. He said improving both employee and patient care would yield widespread benefits in his opening address.  

“If people aren’t healthy, they can’t work,” Shannon said. “If they can’t work, then our system will not be successful.”

Now engaging 10,000 University employees, BeWell was intended to be introduced to the University of Virginia’s College at Wise employees to fulfill the Health System’s goal of becoming the healthiest place to work. However, an initial investigation at Wise led to the discovery that students as well as employees were experiencing difficulty accessing care and resources — especially for behavioral health and cardiology. Instead of offering BeWell to only Wise employees, the health system’s new objective is to convert the existing student health clinic at Wise into a full service primary care clinic that provides medical services to students, employees and their spouses. 

The strategies discussed to combat unequal access to care at Wise and the Commonwealth at large included University-based telemedicine, which can enable family physicians at Wise to send electrocardiograms to be read and interpreted by cardiologists in a short amount of time. Telemedicine is just one effort that aims to center care and concentrate treatment at the University. 

During Wednesday’s meeting, Jose Oberholzer, surgery professor and Charles O. Strickler Transplant Center Director, and Alexander Krupnick, an associate surgery professor and Surgical Director of Lung Transplantation, also discussed their current research on organ transplantation and plan to launch a comprehensive transplant program at the University. 

Moreover, Oberholzer explained his research involving the use of ex vivo perfusions — treatment of organs prior to surgery to improve transplantability — and how they enhance the viability of organs for transplantations. Unlike current preservation methods, his research allows organs that were once ineligible for transplantation to be preserved and transplanted to someone in need. 

Krupnick talked about his research involving the use of immunosuppressants to improve long-term outcomes for lung graft patients. These strides in research may compel more patients to choose the University over competing medical centers. 

Currently, the Health System faces competition from Richmond and Northern Virginia for transplant patients and widespread competition for cancer patients. A. Bobby Chhabra, a faculty consulting member of the committee and chair of Orthopaedic Surgery, noted that in the first three months during the transition to an updated version of Epic, the electronic medical record system used by the Medical Center, clinic visits dropped across the board and institutes like orthopaedic surgery saw several hundred fewer cases than expected. 

While these declines in patient numbers were temporary, substantial future losses may affect how competitive the University appears as a provider of healthcare. 

“We have got to be where the population is,” Shannon said. “The strategy we are embarking on moves our speciality services out into population-dense areas where we can see a substantial number of patients while growing our market share.”

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