Hi, HIStalk! I hope you’re well and that January is treating you just fine! I wanted to take the time to say thanks for reading my posts. I am learning fast!
This column is based on an interview with Natalia Southerland, MD from Brand New Med, PLLC. Dr. Southerland serves part-time at Crossover Health and is president of Brand New Med, PLLC in Texas.
I interviewed Dr. Southerland to discuss how primary care is changing, as well as how COVID-19 has impacted her as a provider. Dr. Southerland became a doctor to serve the underserved and to provide access to healthcare to everyone, particularly as an African American provider.
“Just trying to get people who are usually ignored by the system, trying to provide them quality care, has always been my goal,” Dr. Southerland said.
Dr. Southerland expanded her interest in medicine to wellness, as she is a sports-oriented and wellness-focused person and doctor. Initially interested in surgery, she focused her efforts on a more rounded approach to medicine alongside the ability to interact with patients, moving into family practice. She said inspiring people to take wellness into their own hands is important. She started Brand New Med to do just that.
“What was really missing for me was the ability to really spend time with people, and to really educate them about what was going on with them,” Dr. Southerland said. “I really wanted to serve people and get to the basis of chronic disease instead of just prescribing medication for chronic disease.”
Brand New Med combines a variety of wellness-centered treatments and services to inspire health protection and prevention. Movement and exercise, mental health and mindfulness work, sleep help, and relaxation are pivotal points in care that Brand New Med works towards. Dr. Southerland said that Brand New Med provides services that allow people to understand that they are more in control of their healthcare than they know.
Brand New Med had to adapt to COVID-19, just as primary care has also had to face the challenges the pandemic brought to light. Dr. Southerland said COVID has taken healthcare somewhere completely different than wellness. Healthcare is healthcare, she said, the treatment of illnesses. But wellness is the focus on feeling good, and that became harder to implement when a pandemic is looming over everyone’s head.
“I ended up actually moving my practice. My goal now is to help people really focus on the things that are going to keep them well,” Dr. Southerland said. “And putting together a program so people feel comfortable coming to the doctor not simply for sick visits, but for those visits that are going to keep them well.”
Providing wellness care virtually was a challenge, but learning how to adapt a wellness-centered healthcare space was not going to slow Dr. Southerland down. People were eager to do virtual visits, and the rare few took advantage of coming into a mostly empty office.
Dr. Southerland took this time to teach patients that if they have a particular medical condition, they can take charge of that at home. For example, a patient who has high blood pressure should keep a cuff at home and watch their pressure and learn to respond to it. Caring for patients from a virtual standpoint is easier when patients can gather information themselves at home, she said. Inspiring people to take control of their own healthcare will help the prevention of disease versus treatment of it become the new norm.
COVID-19 has changed the direction that both healthcare and healthcare IT are moving in general. Just as Brand New Med had to be moved and goals had to be changed, Dr. Southerland said the technology used to reach and treat patients was of utmost importance through the pandemic, and continues to be. Staying in contact with people through the pandemic was more important than ever, Dr. Southerland said.
“Using an EHR to send out mass messages to people, what information I got recently from the department of health, or information about where they get vaccines,” Dr. Southerland said. “Being able to contact them from that standpoint.”
Digitally contacting people is only one step in the evolution of primary care, as each day our internet-driven world becomes more entangled in the application of healthcare. Dr. Southerland believes there is catching up to be done in the healthcare IT industry, as she provided digital care during her time at the National Health Service back in 1995.
“It’s funny that COVID had to come to make it [digital care] the normal, or to make insurance feel that now it is OK to pay for it,” Dr. Southerland said. “I think this should become the new norm, and I think as we get better at making patients independent and giving them things that are going to help them help us diagnose them, then it is going to be better.”
The drawbacks to digital care are the obvious lack of physical examinations, but moving towards value-based, digital care can help build relationships in ways we might not have imagined. Dr. Southerland said a large part of the problem in moving towards value-based care is insurance payments, as doctors make more income when four people come into an office versus one person for an hour-long visit. But by moving to value-based care and instilling patient wellness, digital check-ins will become the new normal and new relationship between patients and providers.
“Moving to value-based care is valuable, but value-based care has to be couched into where you actually spend time with the patient to do what you need to do or have the ability to educate the patient in a way that the patient is actually going to become an independent healthcare provider and not dependent on the healthcare system,” Dr. Southerland said. “That relationship of not going back and forth, that has to be established.”
Dr. Southerland and I also talked about technologies that have helped her provide care during the pandemic, and where she hopes that tech will go. She mentioned the importance and ease of having a good EHR, and the ability for an EHR to change over time. Having communications, appointment making, video visits, payments and more all in the same place has been extremely beneficial throughout the pandemic, she said.
Other improving and useful technologies include wearable apps for monitoring blood sugars and other information will also be the future of helpful tech, Dr. Southerland said. Proactive care versus reactive care will benefit patients and providers alike, and technology can and will continue to help fill those gaps.
“Anything that is going to help the patient provide us with more information to diagnose and treat or to follow their condition is going to be a lot more helpful,” Dr. Southerland summarized. Any technology that allows for interaction with the patient, or allows group visits, etc. will be the future of primary care.
That is it today, HIStalk!
Katie The Intern
TLDR: Dr. Natalia Southerland of Brand New Med, PLLC talks services and how COVID-19 impacted primary care in general. She believes moving towards value-based care is important but instilling overall patient wellness will help VBC become the new normal. “Really helping people to change their behavior is what is going to change the course of not just chronic disease, but primary care as well.”