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Facilitating Connectedness Among Physicians with Benazir Ali, MD
Episode

Facilitating Connectedness Among Physicians

In this episode, we have the privilege to host Dr. Benazir Ali, the Clinical Growth Strategist at Flare Health. Benazir discusses health care’s broken referral system and how Flare Health helps patients find the right doctors. This app breaks down barriers and improves communication between PCP and specialists. Benazir talks about EHR integration, improving outcomes, and how Flare Health helps businesses achieve success. Benazir also shares stories, setbacks,  insights, and hope for change in healthcare. Please tune in and enjoy our exciting interview with Dr. Ali!

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Facilitating Connectedness Among Physicians with Benazir Ali, MD

About Benazir Ali, MD

Benazir is a physician interested in life science/digital health tools and diagnostics that make the delivery of healthcare to patients more efficient and effective. She has a diverse background with strong foundations in both the liberal arts and basic/ clinical sciences and has employed these in digital health and medical devices. Her work experience includes clinical and bench research, healthcare consulting, teaching, and healthcare securities litigation.

Facilitating Connectedness Among Physicians with Benazir Ali, Clinical Growth Strategies at Flare Health (Previously) transcript powered by Sonix—easily convert your audio to text with Sonix.

Facilitating Connectedness Among Physicians with Benazir Ali, Clinical Growth Strategies at Flare Health (Previously) was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the latest audio-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors. Sonix is the best audio automated transcription service in 2020. Our automated transcription algorithms works with many of the popular audio file formats.

Saul Marquez:
This episode is brought to you by EHR Go. Go is a simulated electronic health record with a catalog of realistic and diverse patient care scenarios included. Go help educators teach a human-centered approach to technology and health care. Find out more at healthpodcastnetwork.com/rocket. That’s healthpodcastnetwork.com/rocket.

Saul Marquez:
Welcome back to the Outcomes Rocket. I have the privilege of hosting Dr. Benazir Ali. She is the Clinical Growth Strategist at Flare Health. She’s an M.D. interested in lifescience, digital health tools and diagnostics that make delivery of health care to patients more efficient and effective. She has a diverse background with strong foundations in both the liberal arts and basic clinical sciences. Her work experience includes clinical and bench research, health care consulting, teaching and health care securities litigation. A very fascinating background. And today we’re going to be honing into exactly how we could improve health care delivery with digital. And so it’s exciting to have you on the podcast here today. Dr. Ali, thanks so much for joining us.

Benazir Ali:
Hello, how are you?

Saul Marquez:
Hey, doing well. So you’re a literature major?

Benazir Ali:
I was major. Exactly. So you can get from that into medicine makes total sense.

Saul Marquez:
How did that work out? Tell me how that transition happened.

Benazir Ali:
So I was a Lit major with a double in gender studies and I always really liked the sciences, but I didn’t really want to I didn’t really think I wanted to study them or I always did stuff in undergrad. From a sociological perspective, I worked a lot of women’s health groups, a lot of stuff about sociologically like what groups of people have better health care? Well, who doesn’t? And as I graduated, I started volunteering with a sexual assault violence prevention program. So I was in the hospital a lot and kind of just snowballed from there. I ended up in a securities litigation position, but one of the cases we worked on was a huge pharma case. And so I had to do a lot of scientific document review and it just all kind of fit together. And I went back to school, did a postback, and then did a whole bunch of health care work and then went to med school.

Saul Marquez:
Oh, my gosh, man, that’s awesome. It’s such an interesting background, atypical and also very, very fascinating. So what is it that inspires your work in health care?

Benazir Ali:
So you think what I really always say to people is that every industry has really wanted technology Right. like if you look at the auto industry, the food and beverage industry, hospitality, every industry you can think of is really marrying technology. Health care, like on a date with technology in like 1985 and didn’t get along. Then they went on a date again, then health care goes to technology. It just it’s been this really this relationship, it just hasn’t been solidified. And it’s very frustrating, especially once you when you’re a medical student. One of the things that you end up doing a lot of your third year of med school is waiting for faxes on the floors of records. We come from other hospitals and it’s just such an archaic way of doing things. I once had a lecture given by a physician who’s also an administrator, and he said, you can go anywhere in the country, put in a plastic card into the machine, put in four numbers and date a certain amount of cash. But if you are in a hospital in Zone A and Zone B is two miles away, it won’t be that hospital doesn’t have the same electronic medical record. You’re waiting on a fax and it’s just it blows my mind. There are definitely times in the hospital where I was like, it would be easier for me to walk two miles and physically get people’s records. So things like that really got me interested in the tech side of health care.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah. What and you’re right, the opportunity to leverage technologies and actually go beyond that date is there. So tell us a little bit about how you and Flare Health are are improving health care for the ecosystem.

Benazir Ali:
Thank you. So people generally think that if you’re a physician, you must know all the other physicians. And the truth is, is that more than 80 percent of doctors have fewer than 20 doctors in their network. So there’s this issue where physicians are faced with who should I go see for X, Y, Z? They often don’t know. And also, as health care grows and as are more and more specialties, even within like a subspecialty, there are some specialties. And so certain physicians like doing one thing or better at one thing, and there’s no real way of flagging that. And so what our what we do is we create referral apps for a large hospital systems. And through these referral apps, doctors can make referrals to specialty care physicians within a hospital system. And they can kind of search based on things like insurance, location, subspecialty training, and they can really hone in and find the right physician. And it really focuses on that patient centered approach. And we’re really talking about fixing that doctor patient and getting it to a point where it’s optimal.

Saul Marquez:
And it matters right. I mean, when when you’re talking about getting the right doctor, it could mean overall better outcomes. It could mean faster recovery.

Benazir Ali:
And that’s what’s interesting is that what better means really depends on the patient. Now, I train in a place, Camden, New Jersey, significantly underserved place, lots of opioid use. And so a lot of my patients didn’t speak English. A lot of them are hourly workers. For those patients, the Right. doctor is the one that’s going to have availability and be able to reach some kind of public transport. So I didn’t have cars right. For those patiente the right doctor is very different than somebody who maybe lives in a suburb and has the ability to take off work for an entire day and not lose wages. So that really is something we have to think about because we’re not going to be able to change the entire system all at once. So right now, what we have is really make sure that the patients get the kind of care they need as best as they can.

Saul Marquez:
Now, that’s interesting. So let’s just say a given health care system. So you’re saying that today they really don’t have the set up for physicians to be able to tell a patient, hey, you got to go to this doctor? It’s the best fit.

Benazir Ali:
There really isn’t anything. A lot of it is word of mouth. And I went to medical school with this person who went to residency with this person, and they know this person who does this. A lot of it is like that. A lot of it is people, you know, through work. And it’s not necessarily you might have a person that is a cardiologist, but they might not be somebody who specializes in resistant hypertension, Right., or they might not be somebody who specializes in a fib. There might be somebody who’s better equipped to handle those things.

Saul Marquez:
It’s really surprising.

Benazir Ali:
Yeah. And I mean, similarly, it’s the same way with I remember there is a there are a couple of hospitals that when I was training at Cooper Hospital and one of them was particularly interested in the liver. And so he was a he was a hospital, is an internal medicine residency, had not done a residency. All of the really complex liver cases had cases would kind of be funneled to him before they would go to other hospitals. So you can only build your practice around what you’re interested in, what you’re good at, what you’re well informed about. And there’s no real way for people to know that right now aside from word of mouth.

Saul Marquez:
Wow. Well, that’s definitely surprising and a great opportunity. And I even think about I think about physician burnout to right. when you’re wanting to get physicians to work on what they love and thrive at work. If you have a tool like this, Right., if your physician listening or your hospital executive listening, what if you had a tool that will help your physicians shine and they could plug in that what their best that and now they have ways to be engaged with what moves them?

Benazir Ali:
Yeah, absolutely.

Saul Marquez:
I mean, is that is that kind of what you guys are heading after? Absolutely. People are less likely to burn out if they don’t hate what they’re doing. And that’s just the truth, Right.. And I think that there used to be a notion that if you’re a doctor, you have to do as medicine gets more and more specialized, we’re realizing that that’s not the case. You can really focus on certain things. And then you have people that are wonderful primary care physicians that are very holistic, that want to focus on the entire patient as a whole, and that a holistic medicine in and of itself is like another area of now. It is. I completely agree with that, though.

Saul Marquez:
Interesting. So we’re talking about outcomes here. We’re talking about physician wellness. We’re talking about being more efficient with technology. And so how has what you guys do improved outcomes and made business better?

Benazir Ali:
Absolutely. So right now, if you need to, the typical way a referral kind of gets processed is that you’ll go to your primary care physician. That physician will tell you to either look through your insurance or they’ll give you a name of a few specialists they think are good fit for. Let’s say you have abdominal pain, that just this isn’t going away. And then you D.I. They will look through a few of their their networks. They’ll give you a list of people. You then take that list, you call that that office, you make the appointment. If you can get in touch with them, the referral has to be faxed over. The office has to get the fax. It’s a very, very long, slow process. And there are a lot of a lot of points along the way where people just get tired of they say, OK, I’m not going to see the specialist. I’m just.

Saul Marquez:
Forget about it.

Benazir Ali:
Forget about it. I’m just going to deal with a problem with that is that sometimes you actually do need to see a specialist and then three, four or five, six months later, you’re way, way sicker. An example of this, I think that’s really that’s really hits close to home with me is that my father had a haemorrhagic stroke at the age of fifty three and he’s a non-smoker, non-drinker, but just had hypertension that was uncontrolled for a long time. And of course, there are no real symptoms for hypertension for most people. So someone like someone like that who should probably go to a specialist to get their hypertension controlled because it’s resistant to medication or whatever doesn’t is then can get into a situation where they have they have a massive stroke, they have disability, they’re losing time at work. They’re it’s just it can turn into so much more than it has to be. So that really getting that patient to the right physician and a lot of cases is really important before things escalate.

Saul Marquez:
Wow. Such a great example and so personal. I appreciate you sharing that.

Benazir Ali:
And our app does is we have our app. It’s basically an app on the phone or if you use it on an iPad, we’re also going to have it on the desktop. For now, it’s on phones and what you can do is you can select the specialists you put in the patient’s first name or last name, their date of birth, a quick reason for referral. And you just click, send or automatically happens is the referral gets electronically sent to that specialist office. That specialist’s office gets pinged. They then call the patient themselves. They reach out to the patient, which I think is a key difference in the way things are done right now. Right. they reach out to the patient, they make the appointment, they put the information in the system, and then the referring physician can see these updates on their phone. So you’re referring physician. Your specialists are both in the loop and they know what’s going on, which I think is often also a problem because there’s not a lot of transparency and often PCP’s and specialty care docs aren’t collaborating as much as they can.

Saul Marquez:
So it sounds great. And today it seems like we’re definitely very focused in the clinic on doing everything through the EMR. Tell me a little bit about how it integrates into EMR, maybe not yet and the vision around it.

Benazir Ali:
So, yeah, so currently we integrate with the EMR at one of our sites. The eventual goal is that I mean, all of obviously all of our sites want it. So we’re we’re working on that. And the eventual goal is going to be to you put the referral order in on the phone and it automatically populates in epic or Cerner or whatever EMR you use. And then also another idea we have is that it would kind of I don’t know if you’ve ever seen up to date.

Saul Marquez:
I have not.

Benazir Ali:
Up to date is kind of this spare physicians go to get all the most up to date research information on best practices. And when you’re in EPIC, which is an EMR, you can kind of toggle back and forth between Epic and UpToDate. So the goal eventually would be to have like a Flare window within all these and you can just tell that forth. And so, yeah, and we don’t want to I think innovation is great, but sometimes I say like some has run. Innovation isn’t bad either. Right. like you don’t necessarily need to rebuild everything, I think. Great. Right. So let’s work on how we can integrate with them rather than building something completely different that doesn’t top the EMR. Very big on integrating with the EMRs.

Saul Marquez:
Got it. Yeah, that’s critical, I think, to really gain adoption. And I had no idea that the referral system was so broken. So I appreciate you highlighting this and I’m sure the listeners will like, wow, really? Or some of them are like, yeah, no kidding. Thanks for the opportunity here to make it better.

Saul Marquez:
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Saul Marquez:
What would you say has been one of the biggest setbacks that you’ve experienced and key learning from that setback?

Benazir Ali:
Particularly in this role or just?

Saul Marquez:
With Flare Health and how you guys have rolled things out, what you’ve learned?

Benazir Ali:
So I think one of the biggest setbacks, like I mentioned before, is health care and its resistance to change. And I just I see that every day Right.. I see that when I went to the health conference in Vegas, it was so invigorating and so refreshing because I was surrounded by all these innovators and people in health care that want to change. But then you come back and you work with a lot of local physicians who just are set in their ways and they don’t want to change the way the system is run. But they also complain about the way the system is. So that, I think, is the biggest is the biggest setback. But I think that’s changed. And I think with every generation of physicians that we create, they’re becoming more and more tech savvy. There’s more of a focus in medical education to really embrace change, not as much as there should be, but it’s there and it’s happening. But it’s a slow process.

Saul Marquez:
So it’s definitely a big pain point for a lot of innovators in health care. So we talk about a lot of things on the on the podcast, definitely outcomes improvement, but also business success. So tell us a little bit more about the business opportunity here. I mean, is there with missed appointments, there’s lost revenue, Right.. And so maybe you could highlight a little bit of the benefits for the business?

Benazir Ali:
Absolutely. Referrals are a huge, huge, huge part of the hospital systems revenue. And appointments are missed you lose that revenue, obviously. But again, if that appointment is missed and that patient ends up getting sicker, then you’re now costing the system a whole bunch of money as well. And then the second thing to keep in mind, I think a lot of the focus on the referrals is in the past has been let’s keep referrals within our system. Let’s keep as a hold on to as many referrals as we can within our system. And I think what our Right. eventual idea is that let’s get patients to the best to the best person that does that, that treats that ailment. So if every different institution has people that focus on the things that are best, that there won’t be an issue of losing referrals, because if you might lose those referrals for one kind of issue, you’re going to gain them for something else because you have an expertise in something else. And I think that really pushes every health care system to hone in on its on its physicians and really draw from them what their best out of it.

Saul Marquez:
And we’re all experts in a specific area. If you really lean on others to become more efficient and and to improve your referral the way that you’re doing referrals meaningfully think Flare Health has some options. You might want to want to think about it and consider. So what would you say you’re most excited about today?

Benazir Ali:
I’m really we’re working on a really big project right now that I’m very excited about. And that project basically is and it’s something that I envisioned. It’s the idea that we would get all the safety net hospitals, safety net hospitals or hospitals that cater to the underserved at a higher percentage than other hospitals. A larger percentage of their patients don’t have insurance or are either uninsured or have state insurance. And the idea would be that we would get all of these safety net hospitals on one giant electronic platform, and we would then have all the federally qualified health care centers, different primary care organizations that the underserved be on the other side and be able to refer into this huge platform. And so it would be away to get these underserved patients to specialty care they need. And it would allow their physicians to be able to choose from like five, six, seven doctors with thousands and thousands of doctors across a large geographic area. And what we’re looking to do is you’ll be able to search by things like insurance, by things like first available, the subspecialist training. Are you close to public transport, all the things that you would need to really find the right specialist for your patient, especially those patients who don’t necessarily have means to get the best health care, fortunately, in our country.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, it’s a nice project. And thinking about access Right. and making it easier when you talk about having all the safety net hospitals and just kind of the vision, maybe incorporating the government Medicaid, giving you guys some funding to figure that out, I think it would be really meaningful to the less fortunate in means to improve access Right.

Benazir Ali:
Absolutely. And I think that if you take if you increase the communication between a primary care physician and the specialty care physician, that’s only going to benefit the patient. It only benefits the patients to have all the doctors that are taking care of them, to be able to talk to each other candidly and openly. And so that’s another piece of the puzzle with our with our platform is that we really want to increase transparency between the referring physician and the physician that’s being referred to.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, very interesting. So fantastic. Dr. Ali, appreciate the insights here. The referral system is broken. We need to find ways, innovative ways to fix it. Flare Health provide some. Provided some really interesting ways to meaningfully improve that physician relationship network. So check them out there at Flarehealth.com. So what are you reading nowadays, Benazir? What would you recommend as far as books to the listener’s books, to listeners?

Benazir Ali:
One of my reading right now, I just finished reading a book by a ton of French. I can’t even read my French form of the name. I don’t read my head. I was a Lit Major. So there are a lot of books I recommend and I do plan on finishing the book. Shantaram At some point it’s about one hundred pages of about eight hundred for the last year and a half. Wow. In terms of its favorite books or books, I really like I would have to say one of the first books that made me cry and really that I really love, as in high school I read was Beloved by Toni Morrison. I think it’s really has a supernatural aspect to it. And then but it also is based in reality and beautifully written. And I think it says a lot about I’m very passionate about women and women not feeling marginalized. I think we often do. And in the book, there’s a part of the book where Toni Morrison is. She always assumes the best part of her is her children. And one another character says, well, no, you’re the best part of you. And I remember it being I was like, oh, shouldn’t just anybody know that? But the way it was written, it’s a reality that’s part of my favorite books.

Saul Marquez:
I love it. What a great recommendation and touches a human aspect of what we should be thinking about and considering. Identity. What’s your identity in this health care ecosystem? And in general, I love the recommendation. Again, folks go to outcomes rocket dot health in the search bar, type in flare health or type in Benazir and you’ll find the entire show, notes, transcript and the short notes to our discussion today. I’d love if you could just leave the listeners, Benazir, with a closing thought and then the best place for the listeners could continue the conversation with you.

Benazir Ali:
Absolutely. So I was thinking I was having this conversation with my dad the other day about just about a career and life. And he said to me, don’t ever forget to celebrate your failures just as much as your successes, much more Zen than I am. He really believes that everything for a reason. This is a man hemorrhagic stroke and still will be like, oh, well, hell,

Saul Marquez:
I’m glad he’s doing well, by the way.

Benazir Ali:
And he feels like it happened for a reason. So I sometimes struggle with that, but he’s much better at that. And so I think it’s very important to count your blessings and your successes, but to also be thankful for the things that didn’t work out, because those things not having worked out are what kind of bring you to where you are and open your doors for you. And I think it’s very important to keep that in mind, to not always kind of sit there and think, oh, it’s better if I had done that, well, then you wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing right now. And chances are that this can be awesome, too.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, that’s a good one. And yesterday I was running and I and I was playing this kind of like inspirational YouTube thing, running on my treadmill. And it was the Rock. It talked about how not making it to the NFL created this incredible opportunity.

Benazir Ali:
Exactly.

Saul Marquez:
What a great message from your dad and you relaying it to us. So appreciate you sharing that. And again, folks, the opportunity here that Dr. Ali has really presented to us is let’s take a look at our referral systems and are we doing a good enough job? Are we improving outcomes the way that we could be improving them by making the right referrals to the right physicians? And are we missing out on revenue? Because if we are, it’s it’s a problem and we need to fix it. And Dr. Ali, where’s the best place that people can get in touch with you?

Saul Marquez:
Sure. You can reach me at my email address is probably the best place. It’s benazir.ali@gmail.com BENAZIR.ALI@gmail.com

Saul Marquez:
So, Doctor, I just want to give you a big thanks and really looking forward to staying in touch.

Benazir Ali:
Sounds good. Thank you very much for having me.

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Things You’ll Learn

  • Some best practices you can implement for physician referral effectiveness
  • Ideas on how to improve communication between Primary Care Physicians and Specialists
  • Leveraging existing network best practices outside of healthcare to improve referrals

Resources

https://flarehealth.com/