Health problems are societal challenges and our healthcare is far too reactive. Obesity is an example. Socio-economic issues, inadequate access to high-quality food, lack of regular exercise all contribute to terrible healthcare outcomes. We should be more proactive on the front end to improve outcomes later.
Asa part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Jeff Patton, president of physician services at OneOncology, a member of its board of directors and chief executive officer and chairman of the board for Nashville-based Tennessee Oncology, one of the largest community oncology practices in the U.S. Dr. Patton is nationally recognized in the oncology community for his extensive clinical trial research and peer-reviewed publications on advancing cancer treatment and bringing exceptional care to the communities where patients live. Dr. Patton has published eight manuscripts and nearly 20 clinical trial abstracts on cancer treatment research. He specializes in all adult malignancies and holds memberships in the Tennessee Oncology Practice Society and the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Dr. Patton, a graduate of Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, completed his residency and fellowship at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he served as Chief Resident. He is on the board of directors for the Tennessee Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and Community Oncology Alliance.
Thank you for joining us Dr. Patton! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was in internal medical training you rotated through every discipline. I liked everything, but I wanted to be a specialist who also had primary care responsibility for patients. And that’s one reason oncology was attractive: in Oncology, you become the point person for your patients. The oncologist develops a primary care relationship with each patient, but you are also their specialist.
When I was in training, cardiology was the “it” specialty. But I knew then, because of the science and opportunity for medical advancement, that oncology was on the ascent as a specialty. Now, there are over 3000 cancer drugs in development globally, and of those 80 percent have the potential to be first-in-class treatments.
I chose the community oncology route as opposed to academia primarily because I wanted to see patients. When I was in my residency at Wake Forest, I was exposed to excellent leadership in the community setting. We saw that cancer care was moving from the hospital to the community setting and I wanted to be a part of charting the future for community oncology.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The thousands of patient stories I’ve heard over 25 years as an oncologist, to me, tell an incredibly interesting story of the value people receive when we deliver world-class cancer care and clinical trials in the community setting — the neighborhoods where our patients, live, work, go to school and church.
To me, knowing that every day 90 physicians in 32 clinics across Tennessee are using the same best-practices to focus on each person’s personal experience; to form relationships with patients and their caregivers all while delivering cutting-edge care and clinical trial access is one of the most gratifying stories in my life.
I am excited to see this commitment to best practices and focus on delivering patients’ personalized experience grow nationally through OneOncology.
I’ve been in leadership in community oncology and at Tennessee Oncology for 25 years. I’m proud to have, throughout my career, dedicated myself to collaborating with colleagues and helping shape and innovate cancer care delivery in the community setting.
Interestingly, in the early 90s, as cancer care moved from hospitals to outpatient, Tennessee Oncology’s reputation grew more on a national scale than locally in the healthcare hub of Nashville due, in part, to my leadership. Somewhat ironically, while world-class care and innovation fueled our strong reputation nationally, our reputation lagged a little locally until our practice grew large enough — with medical oncologists and specialists joining us as owners and leaders — that the strength of our reputation caught up locally.
Can you tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the healthcare field?
I’ve been successful at anticipating change and leading innovation in oncology, specifically by advancing clinical research, care and physician best practices. I have had success at examining the available data and being able to — using a hockey metaphor, since I come from hockey town — skate to where the puck is.
Being part of an innovating large community practice that pioneered and developed clinical research gives me a platform for a vision of the future not broadly clear to others. As an example, about 10 years ago when we noted that half of the drugs under development were orally administered, it became clear to me this massive transformation from injectable to oral was about to occur. We realized we had to get in front of the issue and soon thereafter became one of the first practices in the country to open an oral pharmacy.
After analyzing the data at our new oral pharmacy, we noticed the margins we’re thinner than we anticipated, thus we knew we needed the buying power a group purchasing organization (GPO) can deliver. But in the earlier days of oral drugs, I couldn’t get a GPO to make a deal with us. So, we started our own GPO, the first in oncology — Raintree Oncology. Before we started Raintree there were zero orally administered drugs and within two years, 80 percent of our products were purchased through our GPO creating financial efficiencies, and ultimately increased access to the latest cancer therapies.
What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
It’s our structure. Tennessee Oncology has been successful being physician led and physician owned. OneOncology takes physician ownership and leadership to a national level with a national network. We’re started with three highly successful practices and we’ll aggregated with the most successful practices in the country.
Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?
Great question. We ask ourselves this every day. I’ll give you three innovative examples that OneOncology is laser-focused on to address specific pain points:
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this studycited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
We have more of a health problem than a healthcare problem in our country. The disparities in our healthcare system are real, including the ability to access high quality, affordable care. Some of these disparities are due to a bureaucratic system, but many are connected to social economic issues that are not part of medicine — even though the healthcare system — from medical professionals to employers to payers — are faced to grapple with their outcomes.
But despite the disparities, it’s important to remember we have the best specialty care in the world. Individuals come to U.S. providers from all over the world for cancer therapies or to have heart surgery. So, while I agree we face — and know that community oncology addresses — care disparities on the extremes, we still deliver the best healthcare in the world.
That said, four reasons why the U.S. healthcare system struggles:
You are a “healthcare insider”. If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
Thank you! It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities and leaders do to help?
First, collaborate. Best practices, aligned incentives, better decision making, interoperable data — all integral parts of solutions to improving health — and healthcare — can only be achieved by building trust and collaborating.
Second, and very specifically, at the end of the day, the government pays for half of the healthcare delivered in this country. Turning to more free market strategies rewards value. Medicare Advantage plans, which are capitated to reward value, are an example. We should do more to use those as incubators of the best ideas and practices to reduce cost and improve outcomes.
Third, scale providers’ direct-to-employer relationships, such as between General Motors and Henry Ford Health System, in southeast Michigan. Aligning incentives between employees, employers and providers improves value.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
Factfulness, by Hans Rosling, a public health physician, changed how I looked at the world. It looks at how our instincts can distort our perspective, and when we base our worldview on facts, we can focus more clearly on what matters. It’s a fascinating book.
I read voraciously and am a self-educated business leader. I bought a book ten years ago synopsizing the 100 best business books of all time. I had read 50 of them. I’ve read the other 50 since