Simple fact: Doctors try to make their patients better. A less simple fact: Jason Atienza, MD, MBA, is a physician who tries to make doctors better. Better at engaging their patients, that is.
Dr. Atienza is the Corporate Medical Director, Rehabilitation Medicine, for Orlando Health. In his world, quality care doesn’t end with the patient’s discharge from the hospital. It’s up to him and his team to improve access to rehabilitation services, improve the quality of care rehabilitation patients receive, and to ensure that patients who are undergoing rehabilitation (and their families) – whether they are hospital inpatients, outpatients or those in in-home health care – are experiencing the best rehabilitation experience possible.
This makes Dr. Atienza responsible for thousands of patients. He has to see the big picture, and that seems like a natural role for someone who was drawn to the idea of rehabilitative medicine as a way to treat the whole person.
Beyond the administrative side of Dr. Atienza’s responsibilities is what he describes as a “back to basics” effort on strengthening the doctor-patient relationship. That effort, which he started with Les Torres, Director of Service Excellence with Orlando Health Medical Group, is now a program called Partners in Care, which emphasizes improving the interpersonal skills of doctors. “We started this program a year ago, and already we are seeing results.”
“For several years we have had a program that helps non-physician team members to provide a better experience for our patients and families, but there has never been a program at Orlando Health to specifically address physician engagement until now,” said Dr. Atienza.
So, the Partners In Care program focuses on individual coaching with doctors to emphasize the importance of establishing an appropriate “bedside manner” and a higher level of personal engagement with the patients and families.
“The most tangible results are improved patient experience scores and patient compliance with a treatment plan,” explained Dr. Atienza. The more engaged a patient is in their care, the more involved they are and the more likely they will follow through with their care. It’s been shown that patient experience has a direct correlation with the quality of care and with patient outcomes. In the program’s first year, working with 30 physicians, Dr. Atienza said patient satisfaction scores have shown a 29 percentile increase.
Dr. Atienza grew up in Los Angeles, the youngest of three children. His parents both worked nights for the U.S. Postal Service, and they ingrained a strong work ethic in their children. “I was a self-starter,” he said. That’s putting it mildly. He went to medical school at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and to Stanford University for his residency. Board certified, he joined Orlando Health four years ago and took on his current role last year. Dr. Atienza and his wife have two sons. “They are one and two years old, and according to my wife they are both going to be doctors. I guess they don’t have a choice about it.”
“I started off in medical school thinking I would go into primary care,” he explained. As the first doctor in his family, that was the practice area in which he had the most familiarity. Then he discovered physiatry or rehabilitative medicine. “The physicians in this field seemed a little different,” he said. “They just seemed more engaged with their patients than other doctors. They thought of the patients globally, not just about their medical condition today, but their overall functional improvement. They had a real holistic approach. In this field, you can really see a wide variety of patients who have one thing in common: They require functional restoration.
“What I have focused on is the opportunity to build programs within rehabilitation because there is such a high need. Rehabilitation services is quite broad in scope and plays an important role in making length of stay more efficient while decreasing readmissions,” Dr. Atienza said. “It is essentially for any patient that has some sort of functional loss that they regain key abilities.” This broad mandate can include patients with ailments affecting the brain, spinal cord or nerves, and also orthopedic, trauma, surgical, and cancer patients.
“Part of the reason my role developed is because our service line has continued to grow,” said Dr. Atienza. “We now have four inpatient rehab units, including an acute inpatient rehab facility at Orlando Regional Medical Center, as well as three skilled nursing facilities, numerous outpatient facilities and home-health services. As we grow, we have had to develop a clearer direction and increase the quality of the care we provide.”
“In our rehabilitation service line, we have patients who not only come back for their follow-up visits, they have developed life-long relationships with us,” said Dr. Atienza. They come back for reunions. They give testimonials and share their stories with others. They feel that they are not in this alone because they feel like the team here is part of their extended family.”
It’s a family that’s getting bigger. In fact, Dr. Atienza says the biggest challenge he faces is the operational growth of the rehabilitation medicine service line. “We are getting set to open a large facility at Orlando Health - Health Central, Center for Rehabilitation. We have just updated our acute inpatient rehabilitation facility at ORMC, formerly known as Orlando Health Rehabilitation Institute; it is now the Orlando Health ORMC Institute for Advanced Rehabilitation as we have upgraded our certifications, equipment and processes. We also have plans to strategically expand our outpatient rehab presence as the Orlando Health ambulatory footprint continues to grow in Central Florida.”