Ochsner's 'lofty goal' to redesign care

Hospitals and health systems have continued to evolve their approaches and strategies to tackle today's industry challenges. For New Orleans-based Ochsner Health, that has meant an increased focus on patient access, particularly in the ambulatory setting, as well as workforce stabilization, according to Mike Hulefeld, the organization's president and COO.

Mr. Hulefeld is responsible for daily operations, performance improvement and delivery of services across the health system's 46 owned, managed and affiliated hospitals and specialty hospitals and more than 370 health and urgent care centers, according to Ochsner's website

He told Becker's Ochsner is starting to scale up several initiatives in the ambulatory space, including changing how physicians work. The health system is rolling out AI-enabled patient messaging across all of its primary care practices, and earlier this month, Ochsner launched its ambient listening pilot in select clinics.

Mr. Hulefeld expands on these efforts in responses to two questions below.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What is the biggest way your system has changed in the last year? 

Mike Hulefeld: We had about an eight or 10-year run of significant external growth. Last year, we slowed that down and turned much more of our attention internally, to really more around optimizing our acquisitions, but also our existing operations, and much stronger focus on our patient access efforts and our clinics and ambulatory sites. As one component of it, really building the clinical depth in our centers of excellence, as we're the tertiary and quaternary referral site in this region. 

Additionally, another focus has been workforce stabilization, recruitment, retention, and using technology to make the work more sustainable. We've also been really focused on the culture within the organization around our employee engagement, inclusion, culture of psychological safety, and empowerment and making the health system a great place to work. 

Q: Looking ahead, do you see those things pivoting in 2024?

MH: The organizations that do a great job with patient access will be successful over the course of time. And so we're really focused on patient access and the ambulatory setting, in our group practice, in our clinics. That comes in a lot of different ways, but first and foremost is care model redesign and scaling new technologies. Our goal around patient access long term is to be able to care for every patient within two weeks of that patient inquiry or referral, and we're not there yet. That's going to require growth of use of alternative delivery models like e-consults and e- visits, telehealth. Again, redesigning the care so our physicians and caregivers can meet patient needs in a very different way than they're able to do today. That's a lofty goal. We've got to go department by department to redesign the care if we're going to achieve that goal. So that doesn't get done in a year. That's a long-term goal. But we're really focused on that care model redesign, especially in the ambulatory and clinic environment. That's a big body of work in 2024. 

The second one is the continued workforce engagement. The workforce shortage is not something that's going to go away in the short term. And so the continued cultural work, the recruitment, the retention, the job redesign, use of technology, engagement, inclusion empowerment. That cultural work has to continue into 2024. And I think that that probably won't stop after 2024 either.

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