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Innovation in Primary Care Starts with the Secret Sauce

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The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) was founded in 1947 to promote and advance the interests of family physicians and their patients. Today, the AAFP represents more than 124,900 physicians and physicians-in-training across the nation. Their mission is “to strengthen family physicians and the communities they serve”, and they do this through representation, leadership, and advocacy.

The AAFP has a long history of supporting family physicians on multiple fronts, and like Elation, they recognize that the Secret Sauce in family medicine is the doctor-patient relationship. Everything that serves to support or enhance this relationship correlates with better patient experience, improved health outcomes, and prevention of unnecessary or avoidable healthcare spending. Conversely, everything that serves to erode this relationship negatively impacts these same metrics. What we don’t talk about enough is that 90% of the U.S.’s $4Trillion in healthcare spending is influenced by primary care.  

The digital age has ushered in both risks and benefits impacting the Secret Sauce in family medicine and other primary care specialties. Electronic health records (EHRs) and other forms of health technology have been radical disruptors of the care delivery experience, for both clinicians caring for patients and patients receiving care. Anyone who has ever been a patient, or taken care of a patient, knows what I mean. If the doctor-patient relationship is the Secret Sauce, and the Secret Sauce influences $4T in healthcare spending, then we had better be paying a lot of attention to the things that impact the Secret Sauce.

To that end, the AAFP recently launched an Innovation Lab to collaborate with leading industry innovators to study the technologies and delivery mechanisms that impact primary care. What impacts documentation time impacts the Secret Sauce. What impacts cognitive burden impacts the Secret Sauce. What impacts physician stress impacts the Secret Sauce. What impacts financial viability impacts the Secret Sauce.  The hope is that by identifying affordable solutions that truly add value to the Family Medicine Experience, and recommending those solutions to their membership, the AAFP will substantially empower family physicians – and by extension, other primary care disciplines – to achieve greater clinical and financial success, and create more, better Secret Sauce.

Since its inception, the Innovation Lab has studied some interesting technology solutions, but the utility of those studies went beyond the solutions they piloted. They discovered the importance of creating a “technology ecosystem,” meaning that integration or interoperability with the existing electronic health record (EHR) system is essential to create a seamless user experience. Unfortunately, most EHR vendors make this kind of integration difficult, with lengthy processes and frustrating amounts of bureaucratic red tape.

To further showcase the future of family medicine, I joined Dr. Steven Waldren with AAFP at the organization’s annual FMX interactive virtual event for a fireside chat:

It’s this kind of hassle-factor that the Elation Health platform was expressly designed to avoid, and the Innovation Lab quickly took notice.  An integration that required months of meetings and paperwork with other EHR vendors took only days with Elation.  That’s because Elation’s infrastructure is built with these integrations in mind. Recognizing that technology in healthcare has exploded and there can never be a single digital solution for everything, Elation has created an open architecture to ensure that the incorporation of multiple software solutions into a single workflow creates an optimized user experience through seamless interoperability. 

Another interesting finding by the Lab was that Elation users told them how much they love our product. In an industry where EHRs are largely considered a bitter pill – a necessary evil, if you will – Elation users were surprisingly delighted with their EHR.  This so caught the attention of Innovation Lab researchers that they began to look more deeply into Elation Health as a company. What they found was a story, a mission, and a vision for primary care that was very much aligned with that of the AAFP.  Elation was created by co-founders and siblings Kyna and Conan Fong inside their father’s solo family medicine practice. Eleven years later, Elation is used by over 15,000 clinicians to care for more than 7 million patients across every state in the nation. Elation is committed to the success of independent primary care physicians, and has a vision to see that affordable, high quality primary care is accessible to every single American.

With these factors in mind, the AAFP invited Elation to participate in their Innovation Lab. Together, we’ll be studying the impact of Elation on the Family Medicine Experience in a variety of payment models, as well as the integration of Elation with other software solutions. We are incredibly grateful for this opportunity to join forces with the AAFP, and look forward to helping identify the solutions that will unburden and liberate our primary care heroes, giving them back the time to care for their patients and create more of that Secret Sauce!

Sara J. Pastoor, MD, MHA is Elation's Director of Primary Care Advancement and leader in primary care advocacy. Dr. Pastoor is a board certified and clinically active family medicine physician. Her experience as a primary care innovator spans a career in military medicine, academic medicine, private practice, and employer-sponsored delivery models. She received her MD from Rosalind Franklin University of Health Sciences and MHA from Trinity University.