Op-Ed: Access and Affordability in Tennessee
by Fahad Tahir
As we plan for the future of healthcare in Middle Tennessee, we recognize that the record-breaking growth in our community isn't slowing down. The Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization projects that by 2035, our region will be more heavily populated than Denver is today. With an anticipated 33% population growth in our community in the next twenty years, it is our duty to respond with an efficient, thoughtful and carefully researched strategy to redesign our region's healthcare footprint on the principles of affordability and quality.
As a health ministry of Ascension, we are part of a system of care serving 24 states and the District of Columbia which recognizes that patient needs come first. As we prepared to ensure that patients have access to care close to home, Saint Thomas Health implemented a Patient and Family Advisory Council to hear directly from our patients and conduct a thorough assessment of community needs. We pursued comprehensive feedback to understand the unique needs of individuals we serve and ensure that we stand by our promise to provide an optimal experience, every step of the way. After identifying significant access gaps, we responded with a plan to open ten new Care Centers across Middle Tennessee, sites designed to proactively manage the total health of individuals and families in neighborhoods across the region.
We asked our communities how we can best serve them and we were guided to a Care Center format that personifies the healthcare vision shared by those we serve. Our integrated Care Center is designed with a foundation of primary care, with access to specialists, on-site lab testing and imaging/diagnostic services, physical therapy and walk-in adjacent ExpressCare, all under one roof, close to home. Through this approach, each patient can stay connected to their personalized care team, who work together to manage their total health. More than ever before, patients expect their physicians and healthcare providers to be always available. Listening to our patients, we are motivated by our desire to set a new standard for patient access and affordability with a focus on both quality of care and providing patients with a distinct, personalized experience. As part of Ascension, we are driven by the strategic direction to provide person-centered care for all - especially those most in need. We plan to deliver on this promise through the creation of innovative and comprehensive Care Centers which will uphold our reputation of clinical excellence. We need to be different. We need to be uniquely and refreshingly different. One way to respond to our patients' needs is to expand our hours of availability and convey our commitment to convenience. We shifted away from the typical business hours and designed our Care Centers to offer 7am-7pm availability and weekend hours for onsite care convenient and accessible to working professionals, busy parents... anyone.
We wanted to sustain a connection to patients before and after patient visits. We live in a world where we can increasingly schedule a service online - why shouldn't healthcare be held to the same standard? Our history of innovation reminds us of what is possible. The healthcare journey now begins before patients even step in the door - and sometimes they don't have to go anywhere at all. While each site can't be open 24/7, we challenged ourselves to provide access solutions and took advantage of digital healthcare opportunities like virtual care and online scheduling. We are the first in our region to provide online appointment scheduling as a standard for primary care physicians and providers, the first to launch virtual urgent care for same day care, we modernized our patient registration via online pre-registration and tablet registration, and we offer online purchasing of cost-effective healthcare to patients outside of third party insurance companies. These outcomes fuel our excitement and further a revolution in the way healthcare is experienced.
The exponential growth in Middle Tennessee offered us the unique opportunity to redefine the service standard for access, affordability and a personalized care experience. At Saint Thomas Health, part of Ascension, we serve by continuing to be innovative, inspired by the trust of our patients and the example of each other.
Fahad Tahir is Chief Executive Officer of Saint Thomas Medical Partners at Saint Thomas Health (a member of Ascension Health) and a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives. Fahad is also a Fellow of Washington DC's Health Care Advisory Board. Fahad earned his MBA from Loyola University Chicago and his BBA in Finance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.