Meeting Patients Where They Are

Robert J. Corona DO, MBA, is CEO of Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, NY

In our health system, we are making an ongoing commitment to meet people “where they are.” This is not just a physical location. It is also where they are in their age, health trajectory and personal lives — as well as what they expect from the care they are receiving.

It is also the basis for our strategic direction. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky made this statement famous: he skated “to where the puck was going.”

For us in healthcare, that will mean anticipating the direction and getting in place to meet our patients where they are now and where they will be.

In particular, we want to treat people sooner — to meet them before they have the acute needs that require a hospital stay. We want to keep people out of the hospital and treated in a less acute care setting so only the most seriously ill are in a hospital bed. Toward that end, we are working on new programs that allow patients to schedule their own follow ups and to have an easier path to a telehealth appointment within our electronic medical record system. The more we can help busy people schedule the type of medical appointment that suits them best, the more likely they are to keep the visit and learn if there is any health issue that needs to be addressed at its earliest point.

This year, we also launched a “hospital at home” initiative that allows a discharge to home while still being cared for as a hospital patient. This is different from a telehealth visit, as the patient has more equipment and monitoring, but the ideas are similar. Changes like these allow care to be delivered — when medically possible — in the manner closest to what a patient wants for his or her care.

At Upstate University Hospital, we have also decided not to talk about the “hospital of the future.” This wording makes the next entity sound remote — as if it is in some far off state, detached from what we are doing today — when, in fact, it is emerging all around us.

These are the components of hospital-based healthcare we are delivering today:

  • Inpatient: patients in the traditional hospital setting
  • Ambulatory: patients seen in a doctor’s office or outpatient center
  • Virtual: telehealth visit using a phone, tablet or computer
  • Hospital-at-home care: where the patient is ill enough to need hospital treatment but stable enough to have it delivered in the home setting.

New directions for where this care takes place are tied to our overall strategic pillars of quality, experience, innovation and sustainability. These pillars have survived the stressors of an intense time in healthcare and will support us in a post-pandemic world as well.

In March, I attended a conference with other academic hospital CEOs. We all face the same issues with staffing and capacity, so solutions are necessary to create a new workforce model that delivers safety and quality. We will support this with more automation for routine jobs (such as using robots instead of staff for deliveries and improving computer-based AI) and enabling staff to use that time gained back to allow them to work to the top of their license. We also realize that these professionals answered the call at a time like no other. I hope every person at our hospital — within its walls or beyond them — realize how extraordinary they are.

I recently read “The Hero Code” by Admiral William H. McRaven.  Our extraordinary people have followed that code with a duty to each other, courage in the face of danger, significant sacrifice, perseverance and compassion in a defining moment in history.

Robert J. Corona DO, MBA, is CEO of Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, NY and is the John B. Henry Professor and Senior Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs in the College of Medicine.  Previous roles at Upstate include Chief Innovation Officer and Associate Dean for Industry and Academic Relations, and the endowed chair for the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. He also served for many years as chief medical officer and vice president of Medical and Scientific Affairs at Welch Allyn Inc.