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    Colleen Luckett
    Colleen Luckett, MA

    Northern Light Health, a statewide hospital network in Maine, partnered with Optum to enhance access to care, reduce provider burnout and boost financial performance via improved productivity. To do so, they developed four strategic initiatives, as outlined by Optum Advisory’s Samantha Wyld and Rebecca Martins, MBA, in their 2024 MGMA Summit presentation, “Infusing Transparency, Technology, and Consistency to Enhance Physician Enterprise Performance.”

    Benchmarking provider productivity

    Wyld emphasized the importance of using data and benchmarking to identify areas for improving provider productivity. By leveraging data from the MGMA DataDive Provider Compensation report, they pinpointed where changes were needed. 

    Northern Light’s productivity varied significantly across sites and specialties, Martins noted, with some sites performing exceptionally well — surpassing the 80th percentile — while others were below the 50th percentile. “We agreed to focus on those providers below the 50th percentile and getting them up to the median,” Martins explained.

    By leveraging data and benchmarking to improve provider care, Northern Light Health also saw opportunities to build more efficient appointment scheduling, reduce wait times, and optimize patient referrals and follow-up processes. 

    Increasing data-driven transparency and accountability

    The creation of data tracking tools facilitated a culture of openness, allowing for real-time performance tracking. “Driving data-driven transparency through dedicated scorecards and dashboards, shared not only with the leaders and practice managers but also with the providers themselves, really helped instill and create a sense of trust across the system,” Martins explained.

    The dashboards — one focused on practice accessibility, the other with productivity details on each provider — allowed Northern Light to measure the metrics most crucial to meeting their objectives. “We agreed that we wanted to focus on a range of KPIs that really showed a variety of the most important metrics,” Martins noted.

    This dual-dashboard system pinpointed performance gaps for improvement and fostered a more transparent environment, encouraging collective contributions. “This was a true partnership with operations leadership,“ Martins said. “We tried to make sure we had all the right representation at the table to land on which metrics merited a spot on the dashboard.” 

    Northern Light Health and Optum implemented a meticulous dashboard training and rollout strategy, using on-demand sessions, live interactive sessions and personalized guidance for navigating the data visualization platform Tableau — all designed to ensure accessibility and comprehension. “The rollout and training, it’s really been centered around awareness of the tool and making it easy to use at an individual leader level to help promote adoption across the system,” Martins said. 

    This concerted effort embedded a data-driven culture across the organization, empowering leaders to leverage insights effectively for better outcomes.

    Becoming more consumer-centric

    With this data, Wyld noted that “some of the access metrics around no-show and late cancel rates illuminated a real need” at Northern Light to boost patient experience and become more consumer centric. 

    Improving patient experience is no simple task, Martins acknowledged: “It’s a mix of consistent processes supported by self-service technology, automation capabilities and operation workflows created with patient experience at top of mind.”

    Optum’s tech solutions for Northern Light centered on enhancements to digital waitlist technology. “The Northern Light digital team created what they called a ‘digital roadmap’ that comprised self-scheduling, pre-registration and automated deployment reminders,” said Martins. “This allowed for a comprehensive view of how to modernize and optimize the patient experience through these self-service options.”

    Specifically, the team integrated DirectBook for patient self-scheduling, Artera for automated appointment reminders and Chronic for streamlined patient pre-registration into Northern Light’s workflows.

    Wyld predicted a trend toward increased investment in these and other self-service tools to accommodating patient preferences for autonomy in their health management processes.

    Optimizing workflows

    To optimize practice workflows amid these improvements, Northern Light and Optum identified high medical assistant (MA) turnover — more than 40% of MAs hired were turning over in the first year, Martins pointed out — as a priority to address. “We partnered with … C-suite, finance, HR and operations, and we built career ladders for each of these roles.”

    By enabling employees to advance in their current roles, organizations retain valuable institutional knowledge and foster the growth of leaders capable of mentoring and training newcomers. This approach, Martins emphasized, is particularly beneficial in patient-facing positions, which are crucial to the overall patient experience in clinics. 

    Wyld highlighted another MA retention challenge: “these roles becoming Jacks- or Jills-of-all-trades, either without a well-defined job description altogether, or with one that all too often reads ‘and all other duties as assigned.’”

    These job description inconsistencies were not specific to a single provider but were prevalent across the healthcare sector, Martins said. The partners tackled this issue by performing an MA job description review across the system, which revealed the need for standardizing roles and responsibilities.

    “That’s a lot of job descriptions,” Wyld quipped. “Standardizing the expectations of those roles in terms of how we title the role, what tasks we associate with the role and how we compensate for the role is integral in moving that needle on retention.” 

    Wyld addressed the challenges in evaluating compensation for MAs, emphasizing the complexity of the task given their prevalence across the system. Martins sounded optimistic that their strategy would lead to a substantial decrease in MA turnover. 

    “Coming out of the agreement on the defined career ladders, it was established that … three different levels of MA roles would now be consistently posted, hired and staffed across the entire system,” she said. “We partnered with human resources and compensation to assess what was competitive and appropriate compensation for each of the three MA levels.”

    Martins added that increasing MA compensation was key to boosting clinic efficiency and reducing the administrative burden on the practitioners. “This will in turn contribute to enhancements in productivity and drive more sustainable workflows for clinicians and non-clinicians alike,” she said. 


    Wyld noted that results from the first year of work, still ongoing, have been very strong: “More than $10 million in incremental revenue and more than 120,000 work RVUs were generated above and beyond that initial performance baseline from benchmarking.”

    Additionally, patient access substantially improved throughout the system’s footprint across Maine, ensuring timelier medical care.

    As with any change management or major initiative, Wyld and Martins noted that rallying the organization around these changes — by highlighting how the aim is to improve the practice as a whole, not overload any one team with more work — was vitally important. 

    Colleen Luckett

    Written By

    Colleen Luckett, MA

    Colleen Luckett has an extensive background in publishing, content development, and marketing communications in various industries, including healthcare, education, law, telecommunications, and energy. Midcareer, she took a break to teach English as a Second Language for four years in Japan, after which she earned her master's degree with honors in multilingual education in 2020. She now writes and edits all kinds of content at MGMA. Have an idea for an MGMA Connections article or whitepaper? E-mail her

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