Penny Wilmot sits across from me, all smiles and with a sense of trepidation at being the center of attention as I tell her I want to find out more about her, and why she has been so successful connecting with patients enrolled in Medicare’s Chronic Care Management Program.
I first met Penny about three years ago when she was working with Accountable Care Organizations. She was helping to engage their patients while improving quality and reducing their cost of care. Penny’s warm nature and innate sense of empathy make her seem like connecting with patients is what she has always done, but it turns out this is actually a second career for her.
P: “I had been in banking for about 20 years. After I had my fourth son I took about four years off. When I thought about going back to work I wanted something different. Being an MA (medical assistant) appealed to me. I really love the idea of being the first person that patients see when they walk in the door (to their doctor’s office). I really love talking to people.”
P: “It wasn’t easy. I used to take my son to McDonald’s so that he could play on the playground and I could study. There was a lot to balance, but I made it work.”
Penny worked hard and graduated at the top of her class with a 4.0 GPA and received her first job offer prior to completing the program. She worked in a dermatology office and loved every second of it. Penny has had many opportunities to touch lives in her 17 years as a practicing MA. However, connecting with patients telephonically through Medicare’s Chronic Care Management Program has proved to be more rewarding than she previously thought possible.
In Penny’s words,
“I love the idea that checking on these patients every month can really make a difference. I have the chance to build a rapport with patients and I have patients that tell me they are looking forward to my calls. I want them to feel like I am their friend. I want them to feel like I am their family. I want them to know that I am someone they can trust. So when I have someone tell me, ‘It’s so nice talking to you. You’re so sweet.’ That really makes me feel good.”
Since the beginning of 2015 when the CCM Program was launched, Penny has personally made over 7,000 CCM phone calls in total. She often volunteers to make calls in the evenings and on weekends to make sure that she can connect with patients at a time that is comfortable for them. Her passion for this program truly radiates from her, as any sense of reticence around talking about herself falls away, and she becomes energized the more she discusses her work with CCM.
P: “My favorite part is talking to the patient and being that extra set of eyes and ears. Sometimes they will tell you things that they won’t tell their doctor and that’s where I can really make a difference. When I am on the phone with them, I let them know that I am never going to judge them, and I can take as much time as they need.”
A recent patient satisfaction survey conducted by Wellbox shows that people like Penny are truly making a difference. Over 90% of patients surveyed stated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their chronic care coordinator. Further, the majority of patients already feel that CCM has had a positive impact on their health since enrolling.
This all comes together to tell us that value-based programs like CCM can truly cause a positive shift in the balance between cost and quality of healthcare. It can especially help when at the center are people like Penny, who never lose sight of the value of a genuine human connection.