Flipping the switch: An MGMA Rise Above honoree helps with the speedy implementation of telehealth at the start of COVID-19

Insight Article - July 13, 2020

Patient Access

Patient Engagement

Practice Efficiency

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Arizona Arthritis & Rheumatology Associates, a private, single-specialty medical practice with 16 physicians and 30 advanced practice providers in eight locations across Arizona, hadn’t even considered telehealth, primarily because of the necessity for hands-on care with rheumatology. However, according to Billy Steele, SHRM-SCP, chief operations and human resources officer, the practice knew it would be a necessity to increase access to care during the pandemic.
“If we shut down, as some other rheumatologists have, then our patients are driven to urgent cares and ERs,” Steele said of the importance of ensuring patient access. “That’s something that all the way through this pandemic we’ve very much tried to avoid, so it made sense for us to remain open.”
Surprisingly, the practice was able to get up and running with telehealth in just three days, largely due to its experience with Zoom meetings. Once all the physicians were set up with Zoom accounts, the next step was to ensure that telehealth was an option for all patient types in the practice’s EHR system.  
Enter MGMA Rise Above Recognition honoree Lisa Wass, CMPM, patient experience supervisor, who played an integral role in helping the practice adopt telehealth in a timely manner. As Steele expressed, she was responsible for spearheading the implementation of the practice’s telehealth EHR templates and the plan to message all patients about the practice offering telehealth.

“On three separate occasions, Lisa has created brand-new templates for 46 providers and has been instrumental in setting up the strategy to accommodate telephone and video telemedicine, including outbound calls, while still ensuring all inbound calls, messages and tasks were completed,” Steele said of Wass’ prodigiousness. Steele also mentioned that Wass accomplished all of this “while never missing a beat on accurately providing critical utilization information to keep the practice sustainable.”

As Steele related, the practice typically sees almost 3,000 patients a week, so this initiative was no small feat. Patient messaging alone encompassed more than 25,000 phone calls over the first month of the pandemic. “Between flipping telemedicine, setting up Zoom calls or actually conducting those calls, that’s been a very enlightening figure for our doctors and our partners,” Steele maintained.   

Arizona Arthritis & Rheumatology’s determination to remain open, largely through the implementation of telehealth, was a team effort. This was echoed in a recent all-staff meeting during which the entire practice was praised for their hard work. ”A huge part of that was really to applaud the doctors for the decision to remain open and to applaud the staff for keeping the train on the tracks,” Steele said. “Everyone has played their part and done an absolutely phenomenal job.”    


We know great work is being done every day on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we want to help share these compelling stories and honor our nation's healthcare heroes. Rise Above Recognition highlights those who have solved difficult problems, conquered challenging situations, inspired others in times of uncertainty, contributed to your community and overcome the circumstances with innovation and excellence. 

Keep watching The Ascent blog for more stories of perseverance and practice excellence, and then please join us online, Oct. 19-21, for the Medical Practice Excellence Conference to hear more about these amazing stories and the best practices borne from unprecedented challenges.

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