Jason Wendt – Athletico
It’s been three days since you tweaked your knee during a pickup basketball game, and the soreness still hasn’t subsided. You know it isn’t the standard tendonitis you’ve been dealing with since college. But you also don’t want to waste an afternoon in some waiting room.
Normally, you’d give the knee another week to sort itself out. Instead, you consult your phone. Within minutes you’re connected with a licensed health care professional. After a brief assessment, it’s revealed you might have a torn meniscus—one that could’ve easily gotten worse, had you waited much longer.
The silver lining? The entire experience was free. Talk about affordable health care.
According to Jason Wendt, vice president of IT for Illinois-based Athletico, the company’s new virtual assessment tool is part of a broader mission to help patients take a more active role in their own care.
“We’ve been offering free patient assessments for years, but this gives people a way to be assessed without having to come into the clinic,” Wendt says. “People are looking for on-demand solutions and on-demand answers, and this offering is our first foray into that world.”
Introduced in early 2019, Athletico’s virtual free assessment tool is available for both computers and mobile phones. After entering some basic information—name, insurance information (in case of referral), specifics about the injury or pain point—users can schedule an appointment at their convenience, often within a few minutes of registering.
The tool allows clinicians to conduct assessments during early morning and evening hours, as well as on weekends, extending access even beyond the company’s 450-plus national locations.
And while the resulting evaluation doesn’t include the kind of hands-on treatment one might get through an in-person visit, Wendt insists that clinicians—most of whom work in Athletico’s corporate resource center in Oak Brook, Illinois—are able to gauge a good deal about a patient’s condition through video and conversation.
“This isn’t about giving them a solution or a cure immediately, but figuring out the right next steps,” Wendt says. “You can actually observe quite a bit based on how a person moves, the pain they report, or how much swelling someone’s experiencing.”
Moving forward, Wendt hopes to make telemedicine integral to more of Athletico’s services.
Getting there, however, requires scaling a number of regulatory hurdles, particularly those specifying how providers can acquire and use patient data, as stipulated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (better known as HIPAA).
“People are clamoring for more virtual options, but we have to make sure it works with the demands of the business model,” Wendt explains. “That’s part of the reason we started our virtual medicine push in this isolated space: so we can grow it appropriately while putting those security and compliance pieces in place.”
Indeed, it’s that kind of foundational approach—laying the groundwork for Athletico’s IT future—that’s guided Wendt from day one.
Laying the cornerstones
Since joining Athletico in late 2015, Wendt has worked to enhance and integrate its electronic medical records platform. Not only have these improvements helped bolster the company’s compliance efforts; they also made it easier for employees across the Athletico ecosystem to access the information needed to treat their patients.
Another key part of safeguarding patient data (while enabling workforce efficiency) involves a virtual desktop infrastructure that further protects Athletico’s data troves. To achieve this, Wendt commissioned the help of Sayers, a Chicago-based technology solutions company.
According to Sayers account executive Kevin Dunne, the resulting virtual architecture gave Athletico the perfect mix of usability and security.
“Sayers specializes in both infrastructure and cybersecurity to bring our clients a complete solution,” Dunne says. “Athletico is a great partner of Sayers, in that they know how to leverage our technical resources to optimize their existing technology investments. Jason and his team have emphasized the importance of staying agile to be ready for new capabilities and continue evolving their technology program.”
In the right hands
For Wendt, bolstering Athletico’s IT foundation is about more than efficiency and security; it’s about setting the stage for future projects aimed at giving the company’s clinicians the tools to do what they do best.
The department’s growing focus on big data underscores that very idea. While Athletico is just starting to scratch the surface of things like artificial intelligence—using various business metrics to simplify back-end functions like accounting, for example—Wendt hopes to leverage analytics toward more ambitious ends: for instance, using patient outcome data to inform treatment, or to identify workers at risk of injuring themselves on the job, enabling intervention to prevent those injuries and keep them working.
Still, for Wendt and his team, such data is only as valuable as the impact it has on people. The goal of health care providers, he says, shouldn’t simply be to build better tools and services, but rather to put those wares in the hands of the patients.
“People are expecting more from health care, just like any customer should, and we need to continuously improve our service,” Wendt says. “Our job is to make the Athletico experience the best one out there, both for our patients and our clinicians, and that means putting technology into their hands whenever it can help.”
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