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Optum Care Medical Professionals

2019 Physician Partnership Forum recap

A Physician Executive Council-hosted event to share best practices and celebrate physician success.


Last year we showed we could come together, this year we will show our strength.

– Austin Pittman, Chief Executive Officer, Optum

Optum CEO Austin Pittman, charmed the audience as he appeared on stage to the beat of the classic hip-hop tune "One Shot" by Eminem.

Showcasing the success of a broad range of care delivery organizations, Pittman praised the performance within Optum. "These groups give credence to the vision that Optum can change the U.S. health care system." 

With the numbers, scale, and resources of Optum, and most importantly, “our dedicated physician partners to keep us learning how to be better,” our potential is great to continue to make a meaningful impact on our patients' lives and in our communities.

He spoke of the important work already underway with his physician co-leaders: the Physician Executive Council, the Clinical Leadership Congress and the Clinical Performance committees at work just before the conference commenced.

Robert McBeath, MD, joined Pittman in his vision. Echoing the theme of the conference, Dr. McBeath assured members that we are “stronger together as the largest medical group in the country.” 

Over the past year, our physician partners have grown by 44% — now 1,006 in total. Dr. McBeath congratulated the organization for its growth, but emphasized that, “scale is necessary, but not sufficient to achieve our vision.”

The rest of the one-and-a-half day event covered strategy, targeting guiding principles of care and our goals to improve quality and affordability. The discussion also addressed enhancing the patient and clinician experience.

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  • At Optum, affordability is a feature of good care. According to Dr. Bart Asner, “in our mature, value-based markets, we are already providing a 30% lower cost of care for Medicare Advantage patients.” 

    The “Stronger Together” initiative employs learning from successes and communicates these ideas market-wide. Austin Pittman plans to “harness the knowledge and experience of groups who are further along in their value-based journey and apply learnings to groups just beginning.”

    Delivering a consistent, high-quality patient experience across our markets presents many opportunities for innovation: the diversity of geographical settings, access points and local culture across care delivery organizations. 

    Who do you look to for best practices? The Forum presented a wide variety of thought leaders representative of the diversity of our medical groups. Some stressed the importance of cultural and linguistic understanding to direct patient care. 

    Other thought leaders have piloted digital telemedicine, while others have implemented the very analog solution of a mobile clinic — each from a representative niche — to inspire and improve patient experience network-wide.

  • As a physician leader, Ken Cohen, MD, from New West Physicians, took the forum main stage to share how getting rid of inefficiency and wasted care allows us to replace counter-productive incentives with more time for holistic, proactive care for patients. 

    Focusing on affordability and patient satisfaction, Optum Care OptimalCare is driven to deliver quality and efficiency in care. “One-third of care does not improve health outcomes.” Cohen paused to let this reality sink in. “And, more care does not equal better care.”

    Optum Care OptimalCare uses proven clinical insights from major journals to create more effective treatment plans, translating research to action.

    Cohen says, “We will lead the country in developing evidence-based medicine and bring our patients along in true shared decision-making. We will deliver patient-centered care at the optimum intersection of quality and efficiency. When it comes to wasted care, we are all responsible. But the solution is all of us sitting in this room.”

  • Optum addresses the challenges facing their clinicians, as they are the core of the organization. As was said by Toby Cosgrove, MD, “What makes Optum Care special is its physician leadership. We don’t achieve our goals without well physicians.”

    Throughout the Forum, leaders focused on a concern that weighs on physicians: how to fight burnout and find joy in practicing medicine. At Optum, physician welfare is one of our primary goals. Wellness among clinicians impacts the success of all of our work.

    Engaged physicians provide better care, and according to our research, moving to a value-based model gives physicians more time to care for patients. We have found this approach not only improves quality of care, but it helps physicians bring more meaning to their work. 

    Nearly half of our practices are value-based, while the others are on the path to transition.

    Within Optum, physicians have taken it into their own hands to solve the dilemma facing their profession. Curtis Mock, MD, and Kari Mader, MD, gave a breakout session to a room packed with colleagues wanting to find well-being at work. 

    Dr. Mader, a trainer from the Primary Care Progress group, engaged the round tables with work that described the successful and not-so-successful teams members have experienced over their careers. 

    She introduced the idea of “psychological safety,” a sense that within the team, communication is safe and fluid. The fundamentals of team-building and an individualized plan for fostering better communication with your colleagues went home with each participant.

  • Inspired by the collaboration, brilliant innovations and shared successes of Optum over the past year and days, Tarek Elsawy, MD, praised the “level of talent throughout this organization that just thrills me.”

    As the conference wrapped, the opportunity to take that “one shot,” to make health care better was presented once more. Austin Pittman rallied his leaders, reminding them, “You are the core, the heart of our work. We need you to guide us, advise us, and help us build the future.”

    Richard Migliori, MD, implored each member, “Go home to your practice and continue to teach this company to be compassionate, to be good stewards, and to raise the bar.”

    Driving the vision home for each attendee, Austin Pittman borrowed a phrase from David Wichmann, “We have the greatest chance to change the health care system, not because it’s what Optum needs, but it’s what the country needs." And, Pittman added, "it’s what our patients deserve.”

  • The formal dinner and award ceremony “Night of Honor” closed out the event. 

    An opportunity for Optum to show gratitude to the physician members for another year of dedication to quality patient care, Austin Pittman gave credit to all in attendance by saying, “Not only are you local leaders in your community, but you contribute your time and leadership to the greater venture of Optum Care.” 

    For the second year, Value in Action Awards were given to honor the partners who most embodied the Optum core values of integrity, compassion, relationships, innovation, performance and leadership. The awardees were nominated by the Physician Executive Council. 

    Stephen Johnston, MD, gave the award for integrity to David Kim, MD, who credited his accomplishments to his parents, teachers and colleagues. 

    Greg Kimura, MD, gave the award for compassion to Shaparak Kamarei, MD, who spoke of loving her work and the great privilege she feels in being of service to her patients. 

    Carl Allen, MD, presented the relationships award to Barbara Lopez, MD, who was excited about opportunities to improve recruitment. 

    Greg Kimball, MD, handed out the award for innovation to Adam Crawford, MD, who spoke to the changes in his life controlled, and uncontrolled, that brought him to this point. He advised seizing opportunities to change. 

    Laura Huete, MD, presented the award for performance to Melissa Helms, who expressed passion for information technology and how it helps make the care environment better for patients and physicians. 

    Awarding the leadership award for the first time, Dan Frank, MD, remarked, “Leadership isn’t about your title, or your role, it’s about your passion and commitment.” 

    Jennifer Donahue, MD, was the first winner of the leadership award. She thanked her regional and office team for their support, and gave credit to them for the success they’ve achieved.

    The evening, and the event, ended with a warm thank you from Dr. Bart Asner. He gestured to hundreds of physician partners in the room and reminded everyone of the truth of the event theme, “That we are truly stronger together.”