Dr. Kenneth T. Bellian, Principal and Chief of Clinical Strategy, provides our clients with a physician executive perspective and a deep understanding of the complex challenges that exist in healthcare, as well as the opportunities which avail themselves to deliver disruptive solutions. Alongside many impactful projects, Dr. Bellian currently works on the ground with a leading state on their pandemic response strategy. We sat down with him amidst his busy schedule to talk about clinical strategy, innovation, and planning. Dr. Bellian holds an M.B.A. from Duke University’s The Fuqua School of Business and an M.D. from University of Virginia, School of Medicine.
Dr. Bellian, you have been working at the forefront of COVID-19 response, leading several confidential projects with public and private institutions. What would you be able to share with us about this unprecedented time in healthcare?
Uncertainty brings opportunity — and there certainly has been a lot of uncertainty and opportunity with COVID-19. First and foremost, health systems are becoming more patient-centric. Health systems providers have had to rethink the way they engage with patients and their families. It’s about developing a tighter relationship and more communication, not less.
One example is how the provider’s office communicates closely with the patient every step of the way. Communication is more streamlined today than before the pandemic. This has pushed us to apply innovative techniques for how we communicate with and see patients, how we manage their various conditions, health, and wellness, and how we deliver care, both virtually and face to face.
From a strategy standpoint, historically both providers and patients have been resistant to virtual care. Yet, the data has been out there showing that remote patient monitoring offers more touch points, not less, and patients feel more engaged in their care. Virtual care also provides an economy of scale, making a very labor-intensive business more scalable by leveraging this technology.
We, at Jensen Partners, have been tracking and strategically recommending the use of virtual care and other technologies, such as artificial intelligence, for a while now, and with COVID-19, virtual care has been pushed into the community. The pandemic has allowed us to think differently about the strategies that were already pushing the envelope. When the next highly contagious illness comes down the pike, healthcare will be more dynamic and flexible, both from a care perspective and how we utilize space.
What have been some core changes with space utilization in healthcare?
There are many spaces where we currently provide care but we no longer use as frequently. We offer data-informed strategic solutions, such as creating multiple purposes for a space that otherwise would have a limited singular purpose.
Further, care has been pushed into the home. The pandemic is giving leaders an opportunity to think through when and where care should be provided. Especially in situations with highly infectious illnesses, you want to avoid exposing vulnerable people to risk. Innovative perspectives will continue charting the path toward a new care paradigm, such as hospitals at home, where providers can take care of many illnesses at home that used to require admission to the hospital.
What does this mean for the hospital systems looking to adapt and innovate?
In the past, we had a fairly fixed set of structures with large hospitals and campuses. Now, health systems and various practices need to be much more flexible. We prepare our clients for a future model, and we implement projects that bring forth a community care system. Healthcare needs greater integration with technology and a framework for transferring resources seamlessly, and this involves many logistical elements. Hospital systems have to think about using their critical resources and leveraging them to address community needs innovatively and in an adaptable way. And, in healthcare, we have to make sure that empathy and compassion are built in. At Jensen Partners, my colleagues and I have unique strategies that look at the particularities of each space and leverage resources with innovative approaches.
As a physician yourself, you know the buildings as a surgeon who has worked in them. How does your experience shape your approach to clinical strategy?
I have realized during my career that a building is no different than a stethoscope or an instrument in the operating room. It can either help or hinder me when I’m trying to provide care. I think about this if a building is poorly designed or if it does not work well for patients. We need buildings that help us deliver the quality of care that is essential for patients, and that’s what successful health systems are really thinking about these days.
That’s a fascinating way to think about it. How does being in the leadership team of Jensen Partners serve that goal?
When I’m asked about how I transitioned from practicing as a physician to doing strategic master planning for states and health systems, I first think about how rewarding the opportunity to work in medicine has been. It’s a privilege to take care of patients and people’s loved ones. At the individual level, it’s incredibly rewarding to be in the exam room to take care of a patient and follow them along through their health and wellness journey.
In my role at Jensen Partners, I am impacting healthcare not at the single patient level, but at the tens of thousands of patients’ level. We strive to make a large impact in healthcare, still thinking of patients and care, but at a different level and in a more strategic, forward-thinking manner. As a result, it has been enlightening to set the strategic direction of many healthcare systems to be clear, concise, and focused.
I’ve always been intrigued by architecture and design; I took architectural classes in college and have my favorite architects whose work I’ve long admired. My surgeon-side loves reconstruction and working with my hands, so I’m fascinated to think about how to create a hospital and operating room that eliminates any waste or excess movements. As a surgeon, I am used to thinking that each move should be calculated, deliberate and accomplish something, and so I carry that to our work at Jensen Partners.
And, I’ve always been intrigued by the financial side of delivering care. Healthcare is very expensive, and there are many redundancies as well as high potential. We know that anything we recommend has to be affordable. There are lots of great ideas, but a lot of those will sit on the shelf if they’re not actionable or within the budget. Our team at Jensen Partners brings together finance, real estate, architectural design, urban planning, clinical strategy — all the while focusing on the patient.
This is truly a one-of-a-kind team. One of your areas of expertise is clinical innovation. How do you apply your perspectives in your work?
I partner with our clients and all my team members to really push the envelope and define where clients want to be. At Jensen Partners, we have the foresight and expertise to strategically map the steps that will get our clients to that point. The roadmap is different for each system, and it’s fun having the opportunity to work with various states and health systems all around the country. I learn a lot from our clients, especially from my medical clinical colleagues, about evolving technologies, such as utilizing virtual reality in surgery. I keep informed about cutting-edge technologies to provide my colleagues with what they need in order to leverage these technologies. For instance, we plan for how to utilize 3-D printing in the operating room or in emergency departments. We evaluate space for any constraints and opportunities, while adding flexibility to accommodate leading technology. Adaptable master planning will allow our clients to better meet the needs of their patients and staff.
Thank you, Dr. Bellian. After seeing various approaches to COVID-19 response and working to improve this in our country, what gives you hope about this time?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with a leading state with their medical planning efforts during the pandemic, and one of the most exciting developments has been how different hospitals and health systems collaborate in a way that has never been seen before. Another is that people have taken a step back and are really thinking about what needs to exist in a given community. I think people are thinking more deeply about public health and its social determinants, as well as how to address them.
People have been really innovative and creative, so medicine is forever changed for the good. For that, I am very hopeful.
Thank you so much for this excellent conversation and your time. We know you are extremely busy working on the ground and are grateful for your work.