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Maine Made Us Innovative: How Population Health is Shaping Our Future

Gilkey3.jpgWhen we talk about innovation in healthcare it’s easy to focus on technology like electronic health records that keep track of information and guide treatment, or specialized equipment that makes surgery faster and safer.

With its slower pace, innovations in how we approach and deliver healthcare to communities can sometimes be overlooked. At Northern Light Health, we’re lucky to be part of an organization leading the way not only responding to anticipated changes in healthcare reimbursement, but developing delivery models fine-tuned to work for our patients and rural communities. We’re also lucky to have an expert like Ed Gilkey, MD, MBA, vice president and senior physician executive at Beacon Health, leading our organization to get there.

A New York native and a Mainer by marriage, Dr. Gilkey has decades of experience in healthcare. A trained family medicine physician, he has run a primary care clinic, led a medical residency program, served as chief medical officer at two health systems, earned his MBA to better understand healthcare operations, and spent time in the insurance industry to learn more about how reimbursement structures work. He is passionate about healthcare, making it accessible, and ensuring that patients receive the well-rounded care they need.

“As a system, Northern Light Health was already working well from a population health point of view when I arrived by bringing together primary care providers and helping them focus on the areas needed to improve patient care.”

Providers and other stakeholders from across the system meet monthly to share best practices. “We have people saying, “This works here, maybe you could try it there.” We provide and enormous amount of analyzed data and we figure out what that data means, and how to use it. If x percent of your patients who need a screening have received this screening, that means y percent have not and we can now tell who they are and help figure out how to reach them.” A system that was working well is now working even better because the team is invested in the ideas from the ground up. Now, we’ve taken that to the next level.

A new population health advisory council, a subset of our medical group advisory council, has just formed to tackle the next big challenge—the change from fee-for-service to value-based reimbursement across the continuum of care. Beginning in January, this group of primary care providers and specialists will work together to define the next strategies to recommend that will move our system forward. “Care management has been working really well in the primary care arena, the next step is to roll that out to the rest of the system,” says Dr. Gilkey.

This may sound like a simple thing, but it’s taken a lot of work. It’s taken time to develop the relationships and trust among Northern Light Health’s nine hospitals, traditionally operating independently from one another, to move these decisions forward. The closer we get to consistent standards of care, and consistent best practices across the organization, the easier this becomes and, yes, technology plays a part, too.

Dr. Gilkey says we shouldn’t under estimate the role that our new, systemwide electronic health record will play in this process. The ability to see the complete patient record, and the discussions happening with their other providers, can go a long way to decreasing costs and improving access by keeping the patient at the appropriate level of care for the appropriate amount of time, and not referring them to specialists before baseline treatment has been completed.

“I see the opportunity in healthcare delivery system changes that may be looked back upon in about 50 years as being as instrumental as the discovery of penicillin was to the delivery of clinical care. We’re immersed in the opportunity to change the way we deliver care deliver healthcare. These changes could change the course of the history of medicine, and that’s as exciting as can be–that’s what makes me get up in the morning and love to come to work.”