By nature, Tracy Elmer has always been an inquisitive person. “I’m always in discovery mode,” she said during an interview with Kate Gamble, Managing Editor at healthsystemCIO.com. In fact, when she’s looking to recruit team members, those who ask a lot of questions are most likely to catch her eye, for one simple reason: “When they’re leaning in, you know they’re probably willing to go the extra mile.”
To Elmer, communication is essential to an organization’s success. However, as remote and hybrid work models become the norm, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to facilitate meaningful conversations among teams and promote collaboration.
During the interview, she spoke about the importance of listening and empathizing; why flexibility is such a critical part of her team’s framework; and how TrueCare has been shaped by its “humble beginnings.” Elmer also talked about how the organization is improving access to care; what she learned during her time at Rady Children’s; and why she believes she has “the coolest job in the world.”
LISTEN HERE USING THE PLAYER BELOW OR SUBSCRIBE THROUGH YOUR FAVORITE PODCASTING SERVICE.
- One of the most effective ways to improve access is by “having healthcare providers available,” said Elmer, whose team has “invested quite a lot in the workforce.”
- As part of its digital strategy, TrueCare is putting a lot of focus on “not just marketing its availability, but also providing education and training.”
- Workflows often create barriers instead of alleviating them; Elmer’s team is “going through an intentional process of looking at how we’re set up.”
- The pandemic has further amplified the need to make care more convenient for patients; a critical part of TrueCare’s strategy is in leveraging its mobile fleet to “bring care to patients.”
- The most important attributes in team members? An inquisitive approach and a willingness to “move with intention toward problem solving.”
Q&A with TrueCare’s Tracy Elmer, Part 2 [To view Part 1, click here.]
Gamble: You mentioned access as a big focus. Can you talk about what the organization is doing in that area?
Elmer: Definitely. There’s a multitude of actions we’re taking around people, process, and technology. First and foremost, we’ve invested quite a lot in the workforce and making this a place where folks are excited to work and want to come here. And so, recruitment is a big emphasis area for us.
People: “Access starts with having more providers”
We’re looking for distinctive ways to stand out so that more providers want to come here. Because again, access starts with having healthcare providers available. For example, we’ve seen a lot of growth in the area of behavioral health — I think that’s evident across the industry. And so, we’ve had an intentional recruitment strategy in place for that domain so that we’re able to not just meet current demands, but be ready for more to come.
Technology: Getting answers quickly
On the technology front, we have really tried to leverage our new patient portal that was introduced last year. We’re putting a lot of focus and emphasis on not just marketing its availability, but also providing education and training, and investing in resources who can support our patients in its use. We’re really hoping it’s another way they can connect with us to ask questions when they have a need or have a concern. Rather than having to call or wait for an appointment, they can access their needs through the electronic patient portal and get answers more quickly.
We use a variety of other technologies — such as text-based messaging and outreach campaigns — to connect patients and provide digital resources to help support their needs, whether it’s an appointment or health information.
Process: “Making sure we don’t get in our own way.”
From a workflow and process perspective, we’re always looking at how we work and making sure we don’t get in our own way. Sometimes workflows are designed to create barriers; we’ve been going through an intentional process of looking at how we’re set up.
We’re looking at the care team model. The provider may be the primary care giver to the patient, but there’s a whole team behind them. It’s the concept of the patient-centered medical home and looking at how we’re managing teams and panels of patients to create greater capacity. For example, where can we have more telehealth visits by video and support greater access for in-person for other health needs and creating more openings on the schedule?
We’re consistently focused on those three areas and trying to continue to optimize, create greater efficiencies, leverage technology when it makes sense. And of course, supporting our patients all the way through and navigating the different ways to access health and care needs.
Gamble: You mentioned patient transportation. What type of work are you doing there? Do you have a partnership with Uber?
Elmer: We actually have contracts with both Uber and Lyft to provide transportation for our patients. That’s actually a great area of innovation. We used to have our own transport vehicles and we would struggle with maintenance, until we finally realized that using these new innovative ways of transporting patients was actually less expensive, and it created a greater means for sending links to patients and getting them scheduled. We have full-time folks dedicated to transport management and we use those services to assure our patients can connect to them and come in for their needs. We have Metro Transport MCS, which is great, and we have buses and trolleys. We have connections with all of those. But using digital innovation and using the rideshare-type services has really been a big benefit; we actually shifted to that in 2019.
“It’s all about the patient.”
Gamble: I’m sure it was nice to have had that in place before everything happened with Covid.
Elmer: Yes, and mobile care. One of the things we saw with the pandemic response is that it’s all about the patient. It always has been, but now even more so, it’s meeting them where they are as opposed to requiring them to come to us. Look at how we are now with shopping and retail — you don’t have to even go in a store anymore; you can wait in your car, and someone will deliver your stuff to you. We just have to make it at their convenience. That’s a lot of our focus right now — how do we do that? Mobile health is a big part of that. We’re expanding our mobile fleet so that we can get even more places to bring care to patients as opposed to requiring them to always come to us. That’s a big part of our strategy as well.
Career lessons – “You can’t do it alone.”
Gamble: Very interesting. Now, you’ve been with the organization for about three years, correct?
Elmer: Yes. About three and a half years.
Gamble: Okay. And before that you were with Rady Children’s doing a lot of work on the Epic project side. How do you feel like that experience prepared you for what you’re doing now?
Elmer: That’s a great question. When I reflect on my time at Rady Children’s, I was there more than 11 years. So much great learning through a transformative initiative — implementing Epic across not just the hospital, but two different medical groups, both specialty and primary care. I learned all about the criticality of transformational leadership with relationship management and partnerships.
You can’t do it alone. You have to have key partners in every area to help drive that change forward. And from a team perspective, you have to take care of your team. My mentor there always said, ‘mission first, people always,’ and I think it reinforced the criticality of taking care of people. Without that, nothing is as effective as it can be. Those 11 years taught me so much. I grew so much through learning. I made mistakes, of course, but as my current boss says, ‘You fail forward and you fail forward fast.’
Looking back, I think that going through that and responding to the needs of the organization and the industry as it has evolved really helped prepare me to come to this position now and help lead at the organizational level. I was able to take so many of those core lessons with me. And the principles are always there; your core values and principles of how you lead and what drives you, but when you gain experience, that really helps.
I think innovation is all about problem solving or creating opportunities, both of which are designed to drive greater value. And so, in that way, those were wonderful years of learning. It’s a wonderful organization with a beautiful mission. That resonated for me in coming here; the mission is very powerful and inspires me to do all I can to help.
“Always in discovery mode.”
Gamble: So it was both the organization and the role of chief innovation officer role that appealed to you?
Elmer: Absolutely. When I tell folks about my role, I tell them I have the coolest job in the world. I am always in discovery mode; I’m inquisitive, and I love to help others. And now, I’m in a position where I’m not only leveraging my expertise and learnings from my prior role in the strategic oversight of informatics, analytics, IT, and project management, but I’m doing that at a macro level — an organizational level. I love that I’m given full empowerment and delegating authority to drive transformation and be part of all of my partners and colleagues’ advancement of their own goals, all ultimately supporting our strategy and the mission and vision of TrueCare.
There’s never a dull day. There’s always a new opportunity. It’s a wonderful compilation of all of my interests combined with my passion, and that really helps drive and motivate me in this role. Like I said, it’s the coolest job in the world.
Gamble: I love what you said about always being in discovery mode. To me, constantly wondering and asking questions are great characteristics, because it means you’re always learning.
Elmer: Absolutely. It’s funny, I think a lot about how we were as kids and how that translates to who we are as adults. I was always a ‘why’ person. I’m sure it annoyed the heck out of my parents, but it’s funny — who are you in the beginning is who you become. I have a teenager, and I’ve made an intention from when he was young to always answer his questions and never say, ‘because I said so.’ It’s always been part of my own DNA.
“Inquisitive nature is important.”
Gamble: When you’re looking at people who you think have leadership potential, what are some of the qualities you like to see?
Elmer: I think the inquisitive approach is important, because it’s a demonstration of critical thinking or critical analysis. When people are interested and asking questions and leaning in, you know they’re willing to go the mile. Sometimes it’s not an easy mile, and they’re showing some of that grit factor, which is important in this industry. It’s tough, and you have to be ready to pivot at a moment’s notice.
The inquisitive nature is important. I’m looking for folks who are adaptable and flexible to the circumstance and have the right mindset around it. That’s something I always look for; how they move with intention toward problem solving. Is it with urgency or is it with an ‘I’ll get there soon’ approach? When you see that sense of urgency come through, that to me is a really important attribute, especially in my domain. We’re a group of problem solvers. We have to care enough to show that urgency. It demonstrates the important factor. I think seeing that shine through is a really important quality or characteristic.
Gamble: Definitely. Well, I think that’s about it. This has been really great. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you; it’s clear you have a passion for what you do. And it’s been great to learn about the organization as well.
Elmer: Thank you so much for taking the time. I’ve enjoyed talking to you as well. I appreciate your wonderful questions and being able to showcase TrueCare — who we are, what we do, and what we’re in it for, which is our patients. Thank you so much.