In the complex world of healthcare, Shashank Karnik is helping physicians navigate some of the most uncertain times in memory. The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly underscored the robust provider engagement function at Southwestern Health Resources (SWHR), which serves thousands of employed and affiliated physicians across North Texas with vital support.
"The most rewarding part of my job is being at the heart of the action, directly helping physicians who care for their patients and our communities," said Karnik, Vice President of Provider Engagement. He joined SWHR in 2020 after years of healthcare consulting with Navigant and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
"What Southwestern Health Resources is aiming to accomplish is quite remarkable. I've not seen any other organization in the country that has this unique combination of elements — our high-performing clinically integrated physician network, powered by a best-in-class, innovative population management engine," he said. "We bring the resources of a large, nonprofit health system of Texas Health Resources and a premier academic medical center of UT Southwestern Medical Center, delivering high quality and lowest total cost of care in the market.
"My team's core mission in this picture is to engage, educate and support our employed and affiliated clinically integrated physicians while executing strategies that empower them to raise their performance in value-based care models even higher."
Support during the pandemic
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Karnik's team worked to package and distribute essential information to physician practices to help them navigate through the uncertainty. His team of provider engagement executives worked closely with their providers on several important aspects, including how to efficiently pivot to telemedicine; keeping them up to date regarding a rapidly evolving reimbursement and legislative environment; and sharing leading practices on how to adapt office workflows while safely delivering care.
The team also served as the voice of the provider network, identifying issues where providers needed the most assistance. Weekly COVID-19 webinars hosted by SWHR featured key clinical and administrative updates, with regular attendance from physicians, office staff and practice executives.
"During the early days, COVID-19 obviously hit all businesses in the country and healthcare in particular, but it hit some of our community practices — who do not have the resources of a large organization — the hardest," said Karnik, who noted some practices faced a loss of up to 80%-90% of volume as patients stayed home over the course of pandemic.
"We recognized our responsibility to support them in any way we can during these times. We trained them on how to switch to a telehealth model, so they didn't have to shutter. Many thanked us, admitting they wouldn't have been able to navigate this crazy environment on their own."
This year, his team has been collaborating with UT Southwestern and Texas Health Resources to provide COVID-19 vaccines to several hundred network physicians and their front-line staff.
"There is much more work to be done to help our network get back to normal as we look to put the pandemic behind us. We continue to seek and implement new ways to accelerate this stabilization."
Leading transformational change
A seasoned innovator with a long track record of helping healthcare organizations solve complex operational problems, Karnik said he was drawn to SWHR. He was impressed how the organization has built a vast network in just a few years by creating unparalleled value for and delivering top-notch service to providers, he said.
Involved in accountable care organizations (ACOs) since the earliest days of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Karnik in his previous roles helped drive population health transformations for national payors and regional health systems. He led strategic initiatives at various health systems such as launching innovative primary care programs for chronic disease patients. Prior to joining SWHR full time, Karnik helped develop the organization's long-term commercial growth strategy.
'Where all the action happens'
Karnik noted that physician retention is the best evidence of success, and all indicators point to effective engagement at SWHR. "This is where all the action happens — directly engaging and supporting our physicians. At Southwestern Health Resources, we have the ability to influence real change. We have curated a superior network by continually building upon our value proposition for community physicians and attracting the best talent," he said.
"They get access to all the population health tools and services they would not have as unaligned physicians. They also receive the benefits of being part of a larger system, with all the associated resources, providing analytics and driving better outcomes for their patients at lower costs."
Karnik said he plans to continue to build upon this foundation. "We are poised well but know that we can do much more. We continue to remind ourselves that our network is our biggest asset. Every strategic initiative we contemplate should answer the question, 'How does this help our network provider deliver better care to their patient?'"
Karnik noted a pipeline of enhancements slated to launch over the coming months aimed at improving patient access, increasing practice efficiencies, and delivering richer insights at the point of care along with innovative support services for complex, vulnerable patients.
Karnik is excited and energized by the road ahead. "I work every day with incredible leaders in population health who bring with them years of experience and tremendous know-how of what it takes to truly make a difference in providers' and patients' lives, and I am proud to serve alongside them in this exciting journey."