On July 12, 2017, Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) announced an agreement to operate and provide clinical services at retail health clinics in Walgreens across Middle Tennessee. Five months later, the newly branded Vanderbilt Health Clinics opened their doors at 14 locations in 11 cities across 6 counties.
For VUMC, the clinics provide 14 new access points into areas where the system had no prior presence, but they also represent a new line of service, one where the health system meets patients in their neighborhood, without the inconvenience of appointments or a commute into Nashville. “The right care at the right location,” says Dr. James Fiechtl (MMHC’16).
The walk-in retail clinic is a new setting and practice style for Vanderbilt — nurse practitioners and physician assistants provide the care, with no physician on site — which required significant strategic thinking and development.
For Dr. Fiechtl (MMHC’16), a physician at Vanderbilt Bone and Joint, Assistant Professor of Clinical Orthopaedic Surgery and President of the Retail Health Clinics, LLC (d/b/a Vanderbilt Health Clinic at Walgreens), it represented a new challenge, one that allowed him to leverage his Master of Management in Health Care (MMHC) education.
Dr. Fiechtl was introduced to the Walgreens project during his time in the program by Dr. Wright Pinson, CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System, who teaches the MMHC healthcare strategy course. Dr. Fiechtl joined the team, composed of operations and administrative professionals, advanced practice providers, and physicians, in October 2016.
“My responsibilities were looking predominantly at strategy and development: how can we get clinics busy, how can we work on transitioning them,” he recalls. “There was already a team in place that the Department of Medicine had already done a phenomenal job setting up. I added just a little bit of a different flavor.”
Having a role in how healthcare is changing and what that entails is fun. It’s exciting to be a part of it and think about how we can offer great customer and provider satisfaction. – Dr. James Fiechtl
When the agreement was formalized in July, Dr. Fiechtl’s team went into implementation mode, finalizing the structure of the clinic and putting staff through orientation and training. After the clinics opened in November, they began to work on “level-setting expectations,” he says, “and creating a culture of team work and openness. We’re on the front door for a lot of patients, so we want to provide a high if not higher standard of care.”
“Things have really started to stabilize,” he adds, “and we’re really starting to churn.” Flu season has kept the clinics busy — they are seeing an average of 20 patients per day at each location.
Through the development, implementation, and ongoing support of the clinics, Dr. Fiechtl finds himself using “just about every class” from the MMHC program: marketing to raise awareness of convenience care, economics to develop incentive plans, operations to figure out queuing at clinics, and strategy to grow through new service lines and other plans. “I hopefully ask better questions about financial statements,” he adds with a smile.
“What I use the most is Leading Teams and Organizations,” he says. “A lot of what I do is dealing with people. The HR aspect has been the most eye-opening one.”
The Vanderbilt Health Clinics offer services such as laboratory tests and treatments for common conditions, similar to other clinics at Walgreens and elsewhere, but the main difference is the communication with the greater Vanderbilt health system. “For current and existing patients,” Dr. Fiechtl explains, “there’s greater transparency. We also relay communications with community providers.” The team will be rolling out additional services in the near future, “to help with the needs of the system and keep the care local.”
Dr. Fiechtl finds that his work with the clinics meets a larger challenge he sees within the health care market: finding consumer-driven solutions to health-related problems. “Having a role in how healthcare is changing and what that entails is fun,” he says. “It’s exciting to be a part of it and think about how we can offer great customer and provider satisfaction.”
As for his MMHC experience: “I’d do it again. I really enjoyed it,” he says. “It’s really for people who want to get a good foundation, not just in the Vanderbilt system, but in systems around the country.”