Matt Kelley of Case Integrative Health: “Recognize that the patient experience doesn’t start or end in your office”

Recognize that the patient experience doesn’t start or end in your office. There are a lot of people working very hard to get the patient to the right spot, at the right time, with the right paperwork, labs, etc. so that you can swoop in and do your thing. After you leave, more people have […]

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Recognize that the patient experience doesn’t start or end in your office. There are a lot of people working very hard to get the patient to the right spot, at the right time, with the right paperwork, labs, etc. so that you can swoop in and do your thing. After you leave, more people have thankless hours wrestling with insurance to make sure you get paid, triage post-visit questions, or even just water the plants and take out the trash.


As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Kelley, co-founder of Case Integrative Health.

Matt is a dynamic and passionate professional, who has helped to create a safe haven for Chicagoans suffering from various chronic illnesses. From an early age, Matt found himself gravitating toward economics, fascinated by the subject’s roots in human behavior and psychology. Following his graduation from Miami University Matt continued his study of human behavior by taking a job as a consultant. First at Deloitte Consulting, then at Weber Associates, Matthew began to apply data to human interactions, founding Weber Associates’ Insight and Analytics team in 2004. With a desire to continue his education Matt left consulting to earn his MBA from the University of Chicago, after which he spent 11 years at W.W. Grainger in various leadership positions. Despite his success in the company, in 2017, Matt decided to leave W.W. Grainger, going on to found Case Integrative Health, with his wife: Dr. Casey Kelley. Throughout the past three years Matt has built a home for patients at Case Integrative Health, enabling practitioners to support, help and heal numerous Chicagoans every day.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you ended up where you are?

Matt Kelley, a co-founder of Case Integrative Health, is a dynamic and passionate professional, who has helped to create a haven for Americans suffering from various chronic illnesses. From an early age, Matt found himself gravitating toward economics, fascinated by the subject’s roots in human behavior and psychology. Following his graduation from Miami University Matt continued his study of human behavior by taking a job as a consultant. First at Deloitte Consulting, then at Weber Associates, Matthew began to apply data to human interactions, founding Weber Associates’ Insight and Analytics team in 2004. With a desire to continue his education Matt left consulting to earn his MBA from the University of Chicago, after which he spent 11 years at W.W. Grainger in various leadership positions. Despite his success in the company, in 2017, Matt decided to leave W.W. Grainger, going on to found Case Integrative Health, with his wife: Dr. Casey Kelley. Throughout the past three years, Matt has built a home for patients at Case Integrative Health, enabling practitioners to support, help and heal numerous Americans every day.

I’m a huge fan of mentorship throughout one’s career. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Who has been your biggest mentor? What was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?

I’ve had some great mentors throughout my career; people who had a genuine interest in helping me succeed. The most important mentor in my career was a colleague at Grainger who helped me shift from an individual contributor to a leader. The transition from ‘having all the answers’ to ‘helping a team arrive at a solution’ was tough for me. I made a lot of mistakes.

My mentor taught me to reframe the problem I was trying to solve. As a leader, my problem didn’t end with finding the answer. It ended when the team implemented the solution. In addition, the best answer wasn’t the one I came up with, but rather the one the whole team rallied behind. Rallying a team behind an idea required me to engage them in finding the answer. I learned quickly that when I looked at a problem through a broader lens, the team came up with better ideas, were more productive, and my job was easier and more fun.

Now that I’m running a small business, I jump back and forth daily between leading my team and completing tasks. Even when I’m the one coming up with the answer, I’m constantly thinking about how to get buy-in along the way from our team. This allows any new ideas to become permanently integrated into our business.

What made you want to start your own practice? Can you tell us the story of how you started it?

Integrative and Functional Medicine has been central to my wife’s medical career from early in Med School, so I’ve been around the approach for almost two decades. She took a job at an integrative clinic in Chicago after her residency, but I didn’t honestly understand what that meant, or how her style of medicine was different from conventional MDs.

I started engaging more when her health deteriorated enough that it affected her quality of life. She had been sick for several years, but none of the dozen specialists we saw could answer why. By 2013, it was a struggle for her to just get through a day. Eventually, she was able to piece together the answer with help from one of her colleagues — she had Lyme Disease, most likely contracted before she started college.

The multi-year struggle to get to a diagnosis was followed by a multi-year treatment at locations around the country. The process of treating her Lyme made it clear to us that Chicago was missing a clinic that supported patients struggling with complex, chronic diseases (like Lyme, cognitive decline, auto-immune dysfunction, and a host of other issues). We started working on the business plan in 2017 to build that clinic and after I left my role at Grainger in 2018, we took the leap- and opened our own practice.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

When I was asked to lead Grainger’s Global Export business, I inherited teams all across the world, including a 100 person team in Puerto Rico. In September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the island, our team, and their families.

I learned a new meaning for the word ‘triage’ as our priorities shifted in the aftermath of the storm. We created an emergency response war room in Chicago to do what we could remotely.

Priority #1: Accounting for everyone on our team, a process that took 3 stressful days.

Priority #2: Getting supplies to our team. Basics that we used to take for granted: drinking water, diapers, baby food, and charged cell phone batteries.

Priority #3: Calm our team so that they could help others. We created several new benefit programs on the spot — a new paid time off program to help cover the time when employees were unable to come to work, extra time to stay home to put their lives back together, and a line of credit to help them repair the damage. I dealt with Grainger leadership, HR, and others so that our team could take some peace of mind to their families.

The final priority: Get the Grainger stores open so others on the island had access to supplies necessary to rebuild. We worked with officials from FEMA, our transportation suppliers, and Grainger’s U.S. network to get critical items such as generators, water filtration systems, and repair parts onto the island as quickly as possible.

The impact was profound — Grainger warehouses and stores opened on the island less than one week after the storm. Our team there was filled with a sense of purpose, determined to help their community while rebuilding themselves.

The lesson for me was clear: in times of crisis, take care of your team first. Remove worry for them and they will pay it forward. Sadly, those learnings were put to use again in 2020 with the pandemic outbreak. But I’m glad to have the experience to lean on.

Because it is a “helping profession”, some healthcare providers struggle with the idea of “monetization.” How do you address the business aspect of running a medical practice? Can you share a story or example?

I see that struggle first hand. A doctor’s primary goal is to heal, so asking for money seems to cheapen the process for them. It’s made worse because of insurance that shields patients from costs. It feels completely normal to pay a masseuse, lawyer, or handyman for their time, yet it feels strange to do the same for a doctor. Discussing the costs of medical care with patients can feel very unnatural.

The truth is that monetization is directly linked to care. I frame it this way: our goal is to help people get better, today AND tomorrow. We need to be profitable today so that we’re in business to serve tomorrow’s patients as well.

Additionally, we want to continue to provide the best care possible. Staying current requires constant investment — in training, in new technology, in new people. So, to help as many patients as possible over the long term, we need to pay the bills and have enough left over to be able to bring the next great treatment to our patients.

As an aside: medical costs are so opaque that most people find it helpful that we’re clear about the costs upfront. The prices may or may not work for them, but the choices of care are put back in the hands of patients and doctors, not insurers.

Managing being a provider and a business owner is a constant balancing act. How do you manage both roles?

Understand that you can’t do it alone. Doctors have a deep expertise in medical care, but they typically haven’t been trained in other fields that are critical to success. HR, Finance, Operations, contract law, inventory management are all aspects of a successful medical practice that most doctors don’t have any exposure to before opening their clinics. So, hire good people, set clear expectations, trust them to do their job, and make sure that you’re aware of what’s happening outside your office walls.

For example, I provide a set of management reports to my partner on a weekly basis. In this way, she understands where the business is now and where we’re forecasting it will be over the rest of the year. We discuss the wins and challenges, the progress we’re making on key initiatives, and what’s next for our practice. This process takes about an hour each week and ensures that she has visibility to what’s happening on the business front, allowing us to make decisions together.

From completing your degree to opening a practice and becoming a business owner, your path was most likely challenging. Can you share a story about one of your greatest struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?

My biggest challenge has been managing a new medical practice through the pandemic. We had been open for just about a year and had just moved into our permanent clinic location after a 9-month build-out process when the city and state were ordered into lockdown.

We had just started a medical clinic focused on complex chronic disease at the beginning of the largest acute outbreak in history. We went weeks without any new patient calls. Our business is deemed essential, so we’ve been able to stay open throughout the pandemic, but the office we built for growth sat mostly empty. We had put our house up as collateral for the bank loan to fund the build-out and we were now staring at an unknown future.

Most of all, we worried about how to keep our staff and patients safe. The patients who were coming to us for treatment were there because they needed help from us for chronic health challenges. Many of them are severely immuno-compromised and in the highest risk category. Our staff was understandably scared to come to work as well. It was a very difficult time to lead.

Through those difficult times, I was extremely grateful to be working in health care. I’ve worked in other industries that need to manufacture some reasons to give work purpose and meaning. In medicine, the purpose is built-in — and healing was never more important than during the depths of the pandemic. It wasn’t just Case Integrative Health either. Many of our suppliers were able to move us toward the front of the line for scarce supplies (N95 masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes, and sprays- which were under an international shortage). You could feel more than just our team working to help patients.

We were told almost daily by patients “this is the only place I go outside of my house.” “You are my most trusted resource.” Of course, it is an enormous responsibility to be the only business our patients trust during the pandemic. However, it is comforting to know that we are making such a significant impact on their health and that we can cultivate an environment where people feel safe.

Then, we got to see patient’s health improve, giving every ounce of our work a true sense of purpose. When you begin to see your work making such a remarkable effect on someone’s health and life, you have almost no choice but to continue.

Underneath that comforting fact, we were lucky. We got to come to the office every day and maintain a routine where we got to interact with people, even from six feet away- and it was extremely revitalizing. It got me through the darkest times of 2020.

Here is the main question of our interview. What are the 5 things you need to know to create a thriving practice, and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

First, be very clear about the answer to the question: “Why would someone come to see me rather than any other doctor?

I know many practices (and businesses for that matter) that can answer the first part of that question, but not the second. It is that second part that defines what your practice is going to be and how to build it.

There are lots of right answers to this question. Patients might choose a practice because it’s closer, it’s cheaper, it’s more specialized, etc. There is no one right answer, but it’s very difficult to build a thriving practice without any answer.

At Case Integrative Health we believe patients choose us over other practices because we have “MDs delivering integrative care for complex chronic diseases using evidence-based medicine.” The mix of MDs practicing whole-body integrative medicine against some challenging diseases is very unique.

Knowing this is our niche helps dictate our business decisions, from who to hire, to how we raise awareness, to how we structure our patient intake process, treatments, and more.

The second key to a thriving practice is: be purposeful about building culture from Day 1. Figure out what values are important to you in your practice, what behaviors you want to see from your team, and integrate them into everything you do.

The values we expect at CIH are that team members be: patient-centric, innovative, respectful, and passionate. As a team, we’ve defined what each of those means, and we hold each other accountable. To reinforce our values, we hold weekly one-on-ones to discuss them. We pay cultural bonuses every quarter based on living the values. We talk about it every chance we get.

Your practice will develop a culture whether you engineer it or not, so you may as well build it right from the start. It’s a lot harder to fix a broken culture than to build one correctly from the start. Years of fixing broken businesses taught me that.

The third key is a reminder for doctors: you can’t do your job until everyone on your team has done theirs. As the actual (or de facto) leader of the clinic, the staff will look to you for guidance, direction, and validation. Everybody on staff has a role to play to create a great patient experience. You cannot over-communicate gratitude to your team.

It’s very easy for doctors to spend all their time behind closed doors with patients. It’s what you’ve been trained for and, for many, it feeds the ego. Patients give you respect and validation. You are the reason that they are in the clinic in the first place!

Recognize that the patient experience doesn’t start or end in your office. There are a lot of people working very hard to get the patient to the right spot, at the right time, with the right paperwork, labs, etc. so that you can swoop in and do your thing. After you leave, more people have thankless hours wrestling with insurance to make sure you get paid, triage post-visit questions, or even just water the plants and take out the trash.

All of these things have to happen for your clinic to be an amazing experience, and most of it goes unnoticed — unless YOU say something. So say something! Notice the details your team gets right and publically thank them for it. You’ll be amazed at how much harder they want to work to make your life easier.

Expanding on my previous point, my fourth key is to pay attention to the entire patient experience. It’s easy to believe that consults and treatments are the only elements driving health outcomes. That gives away huge opportunities to help patients across every interaction they have with your clinic.

How is the experience signing up to be a new patient? Does the front desk staff convey compassion and knowledge about the treatment plans that instill the patient with confidence, or are they accidentally undermining your protocols?

How is the clinic designed and built? Are the exam rooms white boxes with high-gloss paint, tungsten lighting that is too bright for the size of the room? How is the airflow in the clinic? Are the treatment rooms the centerpiece of the clinic or converted closets? Is there office clutter visible to patients in every direction? Several studies of architecture and human health have linked material choice to health markers. The right materials for a waiting room can slow breathing and heart rates, lower blood pressure and stress levels.

We’re meeting patients at a sick and fragile point in their lives. It’s our job to make every interaction supportive of healing.

Finally, the most important key: improve your patients’ health. This might sound obvious, but we see many patients who report that their previous doctors weren’t invested in working to help them heal. We are obsessive about making sure we’re moving the dial on improving health outcomes.

Our patients are loyal to us because we are partners in their healing process, but they become true advocates for us when we help them achieve their health goals, even if that takes years. Your clinic might be dealing with patients at different points in their lives. Make sure you are a partner in their health and that you’re making them better.

As a business owner you spend most of your time working IN your practice. When and how do you shift to working ON your practice? (Marketing, upgrading systems, growing your practice, etc.) How much time do you spend on the business elements?

I spend all my time working on the practice so that the medical staff can stay focused on healing patients. Operations at CIH include executive functions like strategy, marketing/practice building, culture building, as well as the more specific tasks such as managing licensing and insurance, ordering supplies, paying bills, troubleshooting IT systems. There are lots of ways to divide up clinical and operational work, but it’s probably a 50/50 split between the two categories.

Within operations, I’m lucky if I get to spend 30% of my time on big picture items. To help with this, we try to spread the work out as much as possible. For example, we ask everyone in the practice to spend ~10% of their time working on “Innovation Projects.” The projects can span any topic the team member and Medical Director agree on. We have team members doing global literature reviews on emerging research, looking into new treatments, and building programs around existing treatments. This helps us stay ahead of the curve, and helps our team stay engaged and challenged.

I understand that the healthcare industry has unique stresses and hazards that other industries don’t have. What specific practices would you recommend to other healthcare leaders to improve their physical or mental wellness? Can you share a story or example?

Patient’s illnesses don’t magically go away at 5:00 PM or disappear on weekends. As natural caregivers, it’s very hard to set boundaries that enable a healthy lifestyle. Those boundaries are vital to ensuring you have a career that is sustainable over many decades. Just like monetizing your practice, these boundaries enable you to maintain a practice that will help the greatest number of people.

Some successful limits I’ve seen put in place are: home by 5:00 PM during the week, taking every other Monday and Tuesday off, or closing early on Fridays. These boundaries shrink the schedule during the week but have extended the practitioner’s careers by years.

Another idea is simple: practice what you preach. You know more about healthy lifestyles than most people. Use that knowledge to build eating and sleeping habits that support energy, cognitive acuity, and immune function. Many practices like ours provide professional discounts to those in the industry, so take advantage of your own services to keep yourself healthy. Many of the treatments we provide our patients, from nutritional IVs for immune function, to microcurrent neurofeedback to drive neuroplasticity, stem from providers’ interest in their own lives.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

“Average leaders have quotes. Good leaders have a plan. Great leaders have a system.” — Urban Meyer.

The quotation has stuck with me because the more I study the most successful individuals, the more I see their “systems.” In football, Nick Saban calls Alabama’s system “The Process”. Bill Belichick has the “The Patriot Way” in New England. These systems aren’t playbooks or game plans. They are sets of skills, character traits, and physical attributes coupled with instructions on how to develop plays and game plans.

Having a system allows these great coaches to have flexible organizations that adapt to each situation. Game plans change for each opponent. Coaches and players change each year. The only things that stay consistent are the results. Contrast this to much of the business world, where the goal is to produce an identical widget using an identical process each time. This is great for efficiency but creates cultures that are slow to adapt.

Medicine is a lot closer to sports than to manufacturing. Each person is unique, and just like running a play, each time you do something, it changes the situation for the next step. Having a system, rather than a plan (aka protocol), is vital to achieving the best health outcomes.

At Case Integrative Health, the system we’re building looks for key character traits during the interview process then teaches practitioners how to evaluate and assemble plans. Too much of medicine today seems too focused on blindly following decision trees: “If the test says X, then the prescription is Y.”

This quotation helps me stay focused on my overall job of building a robust organization that can help the maximum number of people. And it helps us create a model of care that is responsive to each patient.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Fortunately, you can find me in our clinic in Chicago most days, which you can call at 773–675–1400. We’re also on the web at: www.caseintegrativehealth.com and Instagram at: @caseintegrativehealth.

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success and good health!

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