A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

St. Elizabeth Healthcare’s participation in the Mayo Clinic Care Network achieves benefits beyond NKy

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

The five-year collaboration of St. Elizabeth Healthcare and the Mayo Clinic Care Network has reaped benefits not just for those organizations, but for patients throughout the country and around the world.

St. Elizabeth joined the Mayo Clinic Care Network in an effort to pool resources and collectively provide improved health care. Since that time, the network has grown to include 46 organizations working together to achieve that goal.

Garren Colvin, St. Elizabeth Healthcare president and CEO, said the collaboration is focused on providing the best possible health care to patients throughout Northern Kentucky and beyond.

“This isn’t about building brand or being part of something that is going to make us sound better from a PR perspective,” Colvin said. “It is truly about how we can improve the patient care, so every time we touch a patient it’s the best experience possible.”

The Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic has long been recognized as a leader in health care treatment and expertise for a wide range of illnesses, conditions and diseases. It functions as a nonprofit organization committed to clinical practice, education and research, providing expert, whole-person care.

Dr. Larson

Dr. Mark Larson, medical director Midwest region, Mayo Clinic Care Network, said there are a number of examples of sharing best practices and how it continues to move the care of patients in the St. E, northern Kentucky area forward.

“We’ve had some of our cardiac ultrasonographers on St. E’s campus last year,” Larson said. “They’ve kind of showed some tips and methods of how to improve cardiac imaging. We’ve also had smoking cessation experts kind of work with the St. E’s team to build a program.”

St. Elizabeth Physicians CEO Dr. Robert Prichard said there are many areas that very quickly bring all of those efforts into the region’s health care network.

“When you look at e-consults (electronic consultations), the ability of our patients to get second opinions from Mayo Clinic without ever having to leave Northern Kentucky, we had 17 of them just last month,” Prichard said. “We’ve looked at the educational benefits, both of our physicians going to Mayo to learn new procedures and get some expertise there, but also Mayo coming here to educate our community.”

For more information on the collaboration, including a first-hand account of how the partnership has benefited a Northern Kentucky patient, click here.

Larson said St. Elizabeth has Mayo Clinic firmly in its corner if its physicians need information or advice.

“If they want to explore a process or system and we have some information that might prove valuable to them that we can share with them, that’s what this has been all about,” Larson said. “We’ve seen the growth in the e-consult numbers we’re very pleased about that. We’ve had a number of health care consulting engagement that we think have hopefully been very productive for the St. E’s team.”

The collaboration has not just been a one-way street, with Mayo providing guidance for t. Elizabeth physicians. Larson said Mayo Clinic has also learned a lot from the St. E team about issues it may not be as familiar with.

It is no secret that the opioid and heroin addiction epidemic has hit Northern Kentucky at least a hard as any region on the country.

Looking to make full use of the collaboration, Pritchard said he reached out to the Mayo Clinic for advice on best practices.

Dr. Prichard

“I reached out to Rochester and said, ‘I’d like to talk to you about opioids’ and they said they didn’t have much experience on that yet,” Prichard said. “As it turns out, we were in a much worse situation than Rochester, Minnesota, surprise, surprise. So then you see Mayo pulling together people from all over the country in an effort to facilitate coming to better solutions.”

While the opioid epidemic has been a scourge on the region, the lessons learned in Northern Kentucky are benefiting others that are now dealing with the problem.

“Next May we are going to have a collaborative event featuring how to handle the opioid epidemic,” Larson said. “It’s not going to be a Mayo recipe on how to handle anything, rather it’s going to be a truly collaborative event. We’ve got a lot of interest already on how to learn from best practices and St. E’s has been really a leader, especially in the region here.”

Perhaps the greatest collaborative benefit has been realized through the expansion of the network, which included jut 10 health care organizations when St. Elizabeth became a member.

The ability to bring together organizations that have a combined 19 million patients in their care, provides a range of expertise no ingle health care group could match.

Larson pointed to a Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) collaborative event that included representatives from 18 sites from around the country. The group got together to talk about how physicians are caring for patients with chronic lung disease and what they are doing to help them at home and to reduce readmission rates to the hospital.

“So, at Mayo, we didn’t have a perfect recipe for how to care for these patients,” Laron said. “We learned a lot from the St. E team that was there, what worked for them, what didn’t work for them. So 18 organizations got together and shared information about this and I think together, in a very collegial, collaborative way, we are moving the health care needle, for this really, unfortunately large group of patients across the country.”

That collaborative expertise is being utilized across the health care landscape.


Colvin said, St. Elizabeth, for example, is proud of the strides it has made with its cancer care and treatment programs but is ready to take it “way beyond” the next level. He believes with the resources available through the Mayo Clinic network, that will happen.

“Having their expertise and having access to research, more protocols and all of those types of things will mean so much to this community and I don’t think we could do it on our own,” Colvin said. “It’s a numbers game. We may see something 10 times that they have seen hundreds of times.”

Most consultations are through the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, but there are times when network partners work directly with each other. St. Elizabeth recently needed advice on first acute care, such as the type used in nursing homes and extend care facilities.

“They put us in touch with their folks out in Arizona because they have a lot of experience and they facilitated the conversation,” Prichard said. “They help us to go and find the resources we need to get the answers. I can call folks at Mayo and say we don’t know exactly what we want, but here is what we’re working on. That really comes in handy.”

Larson said the ultimate goal is to bring the absolute best health care available to every person that needs it, without incurring additional cost.

“There is a small subset of patients that can travel wherever they want to get whatever they need,” Larson said. “They can get a second opinion in New York or Minnesota, because that’s accessible to them, but for most patients it’s not.”

The e-consult allows patients in Northern Kentucky to get that same level of care without the expense and inconvenience of traveling. They can see their primary physician, then see a specialist in the St. Elizabeth network that can really understand their problem and what needs to be done.

“If that patient or their family really feels the need for a second opinion on a very complex issue, they can do that right here at St. E’s,” Larson said. “They don’t have to travel and incur a lot of out-of-pocket expense, there is no additional charge to the patient for that e-consult and they can continue to get all of the care at St. E.”

Patient are the primary benefactor of collaboration, but the collaboration also extends to include focus on issues such as the well-being of physicians.

The Mayo Clinic Care Network uses technology and physician collaboration to deliver a full spectrum of services to patients across the country and around the world (provided photo).

Larson said Mayo Clinic is relying on CEOs to help shape the agenda for change in the care network on those issues that are not directly related to patient care.

“Last year we surveyed the CEOs and asked, ‘What keeps you up at night, what are the biggest issues in your organization?’” Larson said. “We talked about COPD and heart failure, but they also said they were having issues with physician engagement and burnout. Just last month we had one of those collaborative events on that.”

Next year, Mayo Clinic plans to bring all of the CEOs in its network together for a roundtable discussion.

“You will have 50-plus CEOs sitting in a room discussing health care issues from around the country,” Colvin said. “Nothing but good is going to come out of that discussion.”

Prichard said it is very rewarding for him and it should really be a source of pride throughout the region, that St. Elizabeth is an important partner in the Mayo Clinic network.

“We don’t boast much, but I think what people are learning is that we have a real jewel here in Northern Kentucky,” Prichard said. “We are progressive, we are doing things based on evidence and our ability to contribute to the Mayo network is very valuable.”

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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