On October 26, the Nashville Health Care Council hosted a discussion with Andrea Willis, M.D., Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST). This virtual event was the latest installment of the Council’s “Health Care Brass Tacks” series, which invites Council board members and C-suite health care leaders to discuss their perspectives on the coronavirus pandemic and its overall impact on the health care industry.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has more than 6,400 employees and serves as the health plan for more than 3.4 million members. In 2020, the payer saw $16 billion in health care claims. In her role, Dr. Willis guides the company’s clinical processes, which are central to improving the health and well-being of its members.
Seeking Value through Partnerships
Like many in health care, BCBST relied on strong partnerships throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically with providers, technology companies and public health organizations. Dr. Willis emphasized that her focus is always on what is best for members, and that is the factor that drives her decision-making.
“One bright spot of the pandemic was the way everyone came together to quickly implement new technologies like telehealth and reduce access barriers for patients,” said Dr. Willis. “Looking ahead, I hope we can find a way to get on the same page to keep moving health care in the right direction. Innovation should make the system more efficient without fragmenting care any further.”
One such partnership was announced earlier this month between Tennessee Oncology and BCBST. The two organizations have come together to launch a value-based cancer care program to improve treatment coordination for thousands of cancer patients across the state. This venture will be one of the most comprehensive value-based arrangements for cancer care in the country.
“This program is designed to support high-quality, cost-effective health care, following BlueCross members at all phases of the cancer journey from diagnosis through treatment and follow-up,” said Dr. Willis. “We believe that our members will see positive outcomes from the program and are hopeful that this could be a model for other value-based initiatives in the future.”
Industry’s Role in Public Health and Health Equity
Dr. Willis said that BCBST has consistently played an important role in public health and invested heavily in public health initiatives during the pandemic.
“We all have a role to play, and for us, it’s emphasizing the importance social determinants of health and making an effort to remove barriers to care,” said Dr. Willis. “We’re having conversations with providers and grassroots organizations about these issues. Things like providing vaccines for underserved populations and supporting food banks through our foundation can have a major impact on someone’s health down the line.”
BCBST partnered with Meharry Medical College during the pandemic, combining both organizations’ data to better understand vaccine hesitancy and communities that struggle with making such health care decisions. Dr. Willis pointed out that BCBST data provides valuable insights into community health, and it can be used to collaboratively drive change and awareness.
With specific regard to health equity, Dr. Willis said that events of the past year have pushed people to broaden ideas about who should be at the health care table. Internally, BCBST is focused on making DEI efforts a part of day-to-day operations.
“Equality means that resources are out there to be accessed, but equity means removing barriers, so it is easy to access care,” she said. “We’re having more and more conversations with our staff and provider partners to make sure we are looking at situations from the member’s point of view and solving from there. We start by asking the basic question, ‘how would you want to be treated?’”
Innovating with Purpose
When asked about strategic imperatives and investments, Dr. Willis was clear about her desire to focus on providing a better experience for members above all else.
“We have so many technologies, and there are more innovations proposed constantly, but the intent must be focused on the goal of more coordinated, comprehensive care,” she said. “I’m not a fan of technology for technology’s sake. Solutions that lead to quality outcomes for the people we serve and work with the systems we already have in place – those are the things that spark my interest.”