Dr. Kemi Alli is Chief Executive Officer of the Henry J. Austin Health Center, a federally qualified health center in Trenton. Dr. Alli, a board-certified pediatrician, has practiced at the center for more than 18 years. She recently joined the Quality Institute’s Board of Directors.
The Henry J. Austin Health Center has worked to help people, especially lower income people, obtain access to medical specialists. Tell us how you are able to help your patients obtain that specialty access?
As anyone in health care knows, there are not enough specialty care services to meet the demand, especially for those who are uninsured or under-insured, which includes people covered by Medicaid. Recently we started using technology as a way to help meet that demand. So far patient satisfaction has been very high. Our patients cannot always travel to a specialist or wait six weeks for an appointment. By using Electronic Consults we can get the same outcomes with fewer hurdles for our patients.
So how does this program work?
A patient comes to see one of our primary care providers. We work with an e-consulting company that we can send a referral to. An e-consulting specialist or team of specialists reads the report on the patient and says, ‘This is what we would do.” Sometimes they recommend a procedure, or a medication. Or sometimes they say the patient needs to be seen in person. There have been times they say the patient needs immediate care. E-consulting helps us get a specialist to review a case very quickly, usually within the next day. We will be using it for psychiatry and rheumatology and it has been useful with access to infectious disease specialists for patients with Hepatitis C. Dermatology is another area where e-consults help and we can send photos with ease. Our patients have access to more than 120 specialists.
You also have what’s known as Open Access Scheduling. Can you tell us how that works for your patients?
The initiative is about much more than just how you schedule patients. It’s really about the way you deliver care. It’s about accountability and about creating the foundation necessary for a patient-centered medical home. We always ask, “How do we get our patients in when they need to be seen?” We’ve spent the last five years working to improve access. The biggest challenge is changing the culture of an organization — to say, “This is how we do business now.”
You are involved in many innovative pilots. Can you describe one that could be valuable to other health care organizations in New Jersey?
Our clinical pharmacy program has been useful in expanding access to care. The doctor can diagnose an illness, say, diabetes or asthma. Then the clinical pharmacist, who has a Ph.D., can manage the patient from there. The pharmacist can prescribe the best medications or adjust medications as needed and tell patients how to manage their chronic illness. They can talk about possible side effects of the medication. Patients can make an appointment with the pharmacist. We have a two-year controlled research study to determine if outcomes are improving and that is nearing completion.
What perspective will you bring to your new position on the Quality Institute’s Board of Directors?
In primary care, we have to start thinking like any other industry. I always am thinking, “How can I create a lean and efficient working system?” For example, when I go to Starbucks and I want my latte a certain way, nobody is going to come back and say, “We don’t have any milk today.” The organization knows its core business and its demand and supply. Health care needs to know what the patient wants and how to deliver that care through efficient systems, just like any successful business. That is a perspective I can bring to the board.
So this Take Five is unusual and will ask you a sixth question. You have Saturday off. It’s a beautiful day. Where will people find you?
I will be with my husband and my 10-year-old son. We will be doing something we all love, such as going to a museum. We love art and have been to every museum within a 50-mile radius. We also love the theater. Sometimes, even though we are close to New York, we get a hotel and stay for the weekend. It’s all about art, culture and family.