She’s Got The Road Map For Health Care Transformation

Each week in the Vital Signs lecture series students and attendees hear from health care experts who are able to zero in on the biggest and most pressing issues in their fields. They each have shared big ideas about how to solve issues such as allocation of health care resources and improving the physical environments that affect health care, among many others, and hope to test out their best-world hopes as part of Dell Medical School’s focus on improving community health in Austin’s most underserved areas.

But as a longtime business and policy journalist the cynical voice inside me tended to pipe up as I reviewed each lecture to say “That sounds good, but who can come in and show people how to overhaul and improve an entire entrenched system?” That’s like herding a bunch of very old and stubborn cats, pardon the cliché.

Then this week along comes Amy Young, the inaugural chair of women’s health at the medical school, to tell my inner cynic that not only can systems be reinvented but the results of standardization and improved delivery of health care have dramatic effects on an entire population very quickly.

And she’s been an agent of dramatic change twice — first in Houston and then in New Orleans — and can show how her work in making prenatal care more available to at-risk populations and screening and education expecting mothers on an assortment of frequent problem areas lowers complications and improves outcomes across the board.

Even in her short time in Travis County, Young has already looked at existing analysis and studied what’s available to in-need populations and found a women’s health and birthing system that is fragmented, has no standardization for delivery of care and can very easily result in expectant mothers receiving incorrect diagnoses for conditions related to their pregnancy.

Young said early on she encountered a first-time mother who was bounced between several specialists for diagnosis and treatment of a condition she turned out not to have, resulting in wasted time and resources for the mother and assorted providers.

Steps such as robust ultrasound regimens, home visits for high-risk patients and parent education on lactation and other potential risk factors can help ensure that more babies are delivered successfully and in good health in the portions of East Austin that have historically suffered from a lack of prenatal care.

And in a separate initiative, Young and others have started a comprehensive “wraparound” program for treating a selection of frequent women’s health conditions — pelvic floor disorders and vulvovaginal disorders among them — that are traditionally tough to treat in a fragmented and nonstandardized system.

The benefits of this kind of gradual system transformation are many. The most acute and potentially expensive needs of an in-need community get treated in a logical way that keeps them from falling through the cracks. And those small-scale wins can easily earn support from other stakeholders in the health care community and beyond, which can bring more resources and partnerships to bear as word spreads.

Near the end of her talk Young shared how her role in overseeing and transforming women’s health systems required her to be constantly be on the lookout for how to utilize available dollars in creative ways to meet various needs throughout the health care spectrum she had influence over.

Calling her resourceful is probably an understatement, but that sort of thinking is a key trait of someone who knows how to bring about big change, and has an appetite for doing it again and again.