Recently, FedHealthIT’s Executive Vice President, Susan Sharer, had the opportunity to speak with Patty Horoho. Currently CEO at OptumServe, Optum’s Federal Health services business unit, Patty is a 30+ year U.S. Army Veteran and served as the 43rd Army Surgeon General and Commanding General, U.S. Army Medical Command ensuring readiness and providing Healthcare to Servicemembers, retirees, and their families around the globe. Patty was the first female and nurse to serve in these capacities in the 236-year history of the U.S. Army at the time. Here, she speaks about the positive disruption created during her tenure there and how that disruption needs to continue to move forward.
Transformation from Healthcare to Health
As the first woman and nurse Surgeon General in DoD, I recognized it as a platform from which to impact change. From the start, I considered how we were and could be grooming women and others from diverse backgrounds and experiences to take on future leadership roles. When I took the job, it was less important to me that I was the first woman, than it was that I wouldn’t be the last. In order to ensure the changes we implemented were enduring, it had to be engraved in the DNA of the organization and based in a desire for change.
The disruption in Healthcare in the Army required the same kind of change in DNA, the same kind of view through a different lens. It required taking our capabilities outside of our bricks and mortar and pushing them into the life space where people live, labor and love. It meant empowering people to make decisions about their health, for the Servicemember and for their families. We knew we would be successful when this was not discussed as a medical program but something embedded in the minds of line leaders, funded, embedded in doctrine and reaching all levels of the military.
Our focus was on improving the overall health of Servicemembers who were wounded, ill or injured with a health model that included complementary and alternative medicines as part of their regimen to help them improve and live the best possible lives into the future.
There was also a focus on changing our view from disease treatment and management to ensuring people were healthier, stronger and making better decisions to ensure they were able to stay that way. We had to move beyond disease treatment to a system of true health that would impact people’s lives now and for the future.
Disrupting Healthcare and the Challenges
Serving on active duty is all about teams of teams working together on a collective mission. I found the same mission within industry and in my new role at OptumServe. Healthcare, health and the readiness of the force can’t be solved by one agency. It takes a collective partnership with industry and Government, a melding of technology and innovative minds, to really drive change. People don’t necessarily want a disruption in their personal Healthcare; they want friction to be gone. They want seamless, quality, safe care and that means we have to look at disruption through a different lens. The challenge really is the speed in which change is occurring as a result of the technology and how disruptive it can be. That’s why we need to look internally at how we can disrupt and change the way we do things, while keeping the needs of the individual person in mind. There is a competing friction with many outside forces that want to disrupt Healthcare. That’s why change needs to be something embraced within and across the system. The people in the Healthcare system know how to deliver care and how to deliver quality care in a way that can use data to drive clinical performance. We need to look at industry and what it is doing and we need to find ways to use machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) in ways that can personalize care so we don’t just look at it from the lens of a patient, but from the lens of a person.
There must also be a culture change based on trust. If people don’t know where and how they fit within the system, they look at it through a more negative lens. There will always be early adopters who are ready to go, a bunch in the middle who aren’t sure and then the laggards. You need to understand the full spectrum, to be able to change the way you communicate to each group to address their view and bring the team along.
Window of Opportunity
I believe we have a window of opportunity to truly disrupt Healthcare and to come up with a model that leverages technology to personalize care for each individual that changes the question of when disease will occur, to if it will. We have to let go of old tendencies and practices that won’t move us to where we need to go.
Right now, 75 percent of our youth are unable to serve in the armed forces, mostly due to health related issues. If we don’t collectively come together, the Federal Government, commercial sector and industry, in a way that will really drive the health of our youth so they have the right capabilities and for our people to be strong, if we don’t do that now, we will find we are in a very dire place in the future.
We have a great opportunity now, but one that will take people thinking and acting differently. We sit on a wealth of data and advances in technology that has already changed parts of our lives. Healthcare has to be part of that rapid change.
I believe the world watches what the U.S. does and we have a global responsibility to get this right. We have an opportunity to help with these advances that will make the global society better. That should excite us all: to be able to partner to make change and to leave behind a legacy that made a positive difference.
About Patty Horoho
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Patricia (Patty) Horoho joined Optum in 2017 and is CEO. Horoho has extensive experience leading large, integrated Healthcare systems, served the Army for 33 years, and was appointed as Army Surgeon General, the first woman and nurse to hold that position. As the 43rd Army Surgeon General, she led the Army Medical Command and was responsible for ensuring readiness and health, and providing health care to Servicemembers, their families, and retirees around the globe.
Her military citations include: The Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, France’s National Order of Legion of Honor, Chevalier (Knight), Japan’s Defense Cooperation Award Second Class, and the President’s Lifetime Achievement award. Other recognitions include being honored by Time Life Publications for her actions at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001; among nurses selected by the American Red Cross and Nursing Spectrum to receive national recognition as a “Nurse Hero”; 2009 USO Woman of the Year; Tiffany Circle Distinguished Woman Warrior; first military Servicemember and nurse to receive the New York Institute of Technology’s Riland Public Service Award; the Helen Manzen Award from the New York University College of Nursing for exemplary leadership on behalf of the health of the nation; honored by the Jonas Center for Nursing and Military leadership; and by the American Red Cross with the Women Who Care Humanitarian Award.