Novant Health at center of hot medical market: Prince William Co.

Ben Fischer
Washington Business Journal

Novant Health has just one hospital in Greater Washington, but it’s at the center of one of the region’s most hotly contested health care markets: Prince William County.

Earlier this year, Novant, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., changed the names and logos for all of its facilities, including Prince William Health System. The new branding is just one front in a major campaign to upgrade and modernize the nonprofit hospital chain. Next year, Novant will open Haymarket Hospital, and executives are undertaking expansions in services as well.

Last week, I spoke with Melissa Robson, chief operating officer for Novant’s Northern Virginia region and president of Novant Health Prince William Medical Center. She thinks success will come from a bread-and-butter approach to customer experience that makes the hospital the county’s preferred place for health care by besting others on convenience, accessibility, efficiency and compassion.

What factor that you can’t control is most important to your success or failure? The factors I can’t control are what is on the horizon with the Affordable Care Act. I can only begin to know what might be there today, but how everything turns out in the future, it’s an unknown. And so what I think we need to do is put the patient at the center of everything we do, and figuring out how we best meet the needs of the patient from that perspective… .

I think as we look at our footprint here, I think Novant Health is really wanting to make sure we’re looking for what the community needs are and how we can deliver those in an affordable, convenient manner.

So there are a lot of things we don’t know, but I think our organization is very forward thinking, and our organization is very committed to delivering on the care and being ahead of the curve of what’s potentially to come and not waiting for somebody to tell us.

Is there a specific aspect of the health care reform law that rises to the top as the list as being most significant? I would say every part of it is uncertain. We really don’t know. There’s lots of different things they say they’re going to do, whether it’s Medicare, Medicaid, the commercial insurers, everyone having an exchange — how many covered lives are we going to care for?

So again, I go back and say, there’s a lot of unknown, but based on what we do know, how are we preparing our workforce? When I say workforce, I mean clinicians, of course, who take care of the patients, but also physicians — and looking at midlevel [practitioners] and looking at different ways to provide care and efficiency and population health management. How do we look at managing a population of patients in a much different way than what we’re doing today?

Prince William County is growing. Does that mean this is a “rising tide lifts all boats” situation? Tell me about the competitive dynamics here, and how Novant ends up in the place it wants to be vis-a-vis Inova, Senatra, Kaiser Permanente and others? Well, I guess, I may look at it differently than many CEOs. This could be a bad thing or a good thing. My background is as a clinician, as a registered nurse. I think what’s really at the heart of what we do is around the patient experience, the quality, the care and the outcomes. In the communitites we’re in in Northern Virginia, they’re growing communities, which requires us as an organization to grow, and we’re always going to have competition, and competition is good.

I know that Sentara, Inova, Fauqier [Health] are working on many of the same initiatives I am, and the landscape shows us that they’re focused on many of the same service lines we are, and they’re trying to reach consumers in the same way. But I think the unique special sauce for us is how we’re bringing care that’s convenient, that’s accessible and how we truly provide them with a remarkable experience. It’s through the relationship we’ve established with consumers, and it’s really around the best outcomes in quality and safety that helps us really compete in the market.

I think we have served the community well, and it’s really around how we’re advancing and enhancing what we do well. Our competition? Our competition does drive us to make certain decisions so that we can compete and meet the need of the consumers. Because a consumer can say, “I can drive over here 20 miles to get this service, but I’d prefer to come here; what are you going to do to try to compete with that?” There is that competitive nature that exists, merely trying to bring the services closer together in the communities.

Many hospitals over the years have been successful because they’ve done things the general public may see as esoteric — maybe through good contracting or through shrewd negotiations with physicians. But what you’re describing is a much more traditional retail environment, when you just have to be a more pleasant place to receive services, or that it’s more efficient, less hassle and more quality. I think it’s high quality. I describe it in such a way that a consumer comes to you, or the patient comes to you expecting to receive care. They expect to be cared for, so that’s what we do. We take care of your fracture. We take care of your appendectomy. We take care of you.

But… it’s also… the holistic approach to caring for them … and to create that relationship where it’s a home for them in the future, by having the right physician partnerships and alignment, whether they’re Novant Health Medical Group physicians or independent physicians. We want to be good stewards of the patient to get them a medical home they can go to to and stay well and be well, and if they need certain services we’re here for them.

Much of what we to do today is really in the outpatient arena, and the biggest area you can see this happening in is pediatrics. Pediatrics, for a period of time, used to be a lot of inpatient admissions. Over time, pediatric is mostly outpatient. They’re only admitted if they’re really really sick, and they need intensive monitoring for a short period of time.

So it’s real about having an outward look into the community to say, how do we best meet your needs outside the walls? The hospital will always be here if you need it, but what are we doing differently to provide convenient open access care when and where you need it?

Aside from logos, what is the most tangible way a consumer is going to notice a difference in the new Prince William Health System? I think it goes back to access, convenient, care when and where you need it. We are transparent with our ER waiting times, so you can go and look and see how long it’ll be until I’m seen by a provider. That may not be unique to the other facilities around us, but it’s something for us that’s different in our ability to be transparent and inform you for your ease of access and efficiency.

There are a couple of other things we’ll be implementing as part of our commitment to open access and efficiency, and our overall quality of care. …It’s more than the external pieces you see. It’s the experience you have when you come here. Not just being a patient in the hospital, but being a patient at any juncture where it says Novant Health. That’s what I think is different.


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