February 19, 2020

Rounds: A tagline to remember


Defining personalized care. It’s a tagline that has appeared in our marketing on social media, billboards and even primetime TV. About 1.7 million Middle Tennessee Super Bowl viewers watched Vanderbilt Health ads showcasing this tagline with compelling stories of how our science, training and clinical expertise bring a distinctive, personalized care experience to patients and their families.

Jeff Balser, MD, PhD

Do we have it right? Does the tagline capture not only where we are today, but where we intend to go tomorrow?

Consumers consistently rank “personalization” as their highest priority when considering preferences for health care. But personalizing care means far more than advanced science and technologies. It describes a culture that cares.

The loftiest, most meaningful interpretation of personalized care is that it’s a compass pointing toward the future. Some would say it is our highest calling in health care.

VUMC is, in many ways, on the vanguard of defining how personalized care will unfold. We have a storied history of “firsts.” Key advances in the 1990s allowing personalized decision support occurred at Vanderbilt when we launched Wiz Order and StarChart, allowing online, real-time guidance for drug and test ordering — at a time when nearly all leading medical centers ordered on paper.

Fast forward to today. The megatrend to understand one’s DNA is an anchor component of what people say is personalized care. And true to our history, Vanderbilt leads.

We host the NIH Data and Research Center for the “All of Us” Precision Medicine Initiative — the largest project in history to map a population’s DNA. We’re studying millions of variations to understand the individual.

The Vanderbilt Center for Undiagnosed Diseases has the highest diagnosis rate in the country, which means we give patients peace of mind after years of searching for answers. That success is a showcase of how we leverage one-of-a-kind resources, such as BioVU, our immense DNA-bank linked to deidentified health records, to find elusive answers for patients at the outer limits of science and health care.

We are following that compass to personalize the care experience. Vanderbilt Health on Call provides our region the option to see a nurse practitioner at home or at work within two hours. And our large and ever-growing network of Walgreens, walk-in, after-hours, employer and school-based clinics put Vanderbilt Health closer to where and when people need us.

Creating a digital health home is as personal as it gets for most people. This year, we exceeded a half-million VUMC patients using My Health at Vanderbilt. New features make it a cinch to upload preferences ranging from end-of-life care to pharmacy choices and stored credit cards. And with an expanding menu of scheduling capabilities, we’ve already made more than 50,000 online appointments since July. Soon, My Health will better serve nearly 10% of Middle Tennesseans through a Spanish-language version.

It’s all personalizing care. Yet we’re chasing something bigger and more revolutionary than choices à la carte. Getting this right in a way that works for patients in the years to come requires a system that smartly adjusts for every situation and scenario — effortlessly — behind the scenes.

Through eStar and other connected applications, we are building a kind of intelligent guidance for clinicians and patients using what we already know about lifestyle, jobs, relationships, finances and education. Machine learning methods being developed at VUMC can analyze routine inpatient records to identify patients at high risk for conditions ranging from liver disease to suicide.

At its core, personalized care is a commitment to being personable. We can nail the technology and convenience, yet if we somehow forget along the way to show people we value them — in the way we greet them, inform them, answer questions and support them — then what we provide may be personalized, but it will never be care.

So, let’s consider an upgrade to our tagline. It should still be succinct and easily remembered. Our patients and all of us at VUMC should find resonance with the words anywhere we discover, train and deliver care. And our tagline should capture not only what we do today, but what we aspire to do tomorrow.

Rather than just “defining” personalized care, let’s declare that we’re the place making that kind of experience real — maybe Making Care Personal. That’s my idea, but I’m eager to hear your thoughts! Share your ideas at mailto:newscomm@vumc.org.