Emergency medicine physician steers Network’s health care reform efforts

Dr. Stephen Leffler’s job is making sure we’re improving health for less money

Stephen Leffler, MD, served as chief medical officer for UVM Medical Center before becoming chief quality and population health officer for the UVM Health Network in April 2017. He is a professor of Surgery at UVM’s Larner College of Medicine and an Emergency Medicine physician.

What will you be doing in this new role?

I’ll be mostly focused on two areas: first, population health – making sure that our network strategy is helping people be healthy and cared for in the lowest-intensity setting that meets their needs. And then quality – making sure the same high standards for quality of care are in place across the Network.

One other critical area is making sure that patients’ transitions from one care site to another go smoothly. And I’m still working one shift a week in the Medical Center Emergency Department – it’s very satisfying to be on the front lines to see what’s working and what’s not.

What are your priorities in your first year?

A major priority is improving clinical access and service. We have a three- to five-year plan for making decisions on what services will be offered, and where they’ll be offered. I’m working on that with UVM Health Network Medical Group President Dr. Claude Deschamps.

If we see people when their problems are easily treatable, they have better outcomes at lower costs. We’re working really hard right now to improve access, including making sure that we have simple, standard ways for patients to go from their primary care provider to specialty treatment, and then back again for follow-ups and monitoring. And then, do we need more providers? If so, where should they be located?

I’m also working with OneCare – Vermont’s accountable care organization – on how we will adapt to the new way we’ll be paid to treat patients. This opens up many new options for how and where we care for patients.

The UVM Health Network has become an “anchor institution.” What does that mean?

Anchor institutions are place-based organizations — generally educational or medical – rooted in their communities. The idea is that hospitals can focus their economic assets to improve health and drive social and economic change.

The UVM Medical Center has invested with great community partners in reliable housing, food security and job retraining. This will continue to make up a big part of our population health work. Many of the things we’ve been doing – such as addressing the opiate crisis with the City of Burlington – wouldn’t have been done by health systems in the past. But they align perfectly with our mission.

We need to do these things now to be successful in the future. I’ve been an ER doc for 24 years, and I’ve seen all the failures in our current system show up in our ER on every shift – no housing, no childcare, etc. – so having a job where I can finally address these things is a dream.