In 2020 the hospital began the process of outlining a strategy that would enable the growth of key service lines outside of its current regional market by designating a few select programs as destination Centers of Excellence (COE).
According to Tina Sanzone, administrative director, “The goal of the COEs is to provide significant, additional support to programs we feel can attract children and families both inside and outside our region for quality care.”
The Spine Center and the Mitochondrial Center were selected as Akron Children’s first 2 COEs with plans to continue to add other specialty programs in the future. With the COE program model still in its infancy, Tina and her team have been strategizing what comes next.
“We recently added nurse program coordinators to each COE,” said Tina. “Colleen Neal (Spine) and Kimberly Jaeger (Mitochondrial) will serve as the first clinical contacts for families to help with triage, answering questions and scheduling appointments. As their roles grow, we’d like to include them in expanding the quality and research aspects of the programs.”
Tina and COE co-lead, Mike Deckard, business development manager, work closely with a multidisciplinary steering committee to help guide their work.
“The steering committee is made up of leaders from various areas in the organization (research, quality, business development, managed care, human resources) who can help us pave the way through their own experiences,” Mike said. “Teamwork has been strong.”
Another point of distinction for the COEs is a concierge service.
“The concierge can address the non-clinical needs of our families,” said Tina. “The goal of this position is to take their needs and connect them with the right people every step of the way.”
Stacy Carson will serve as the concierge for the Spine Center, while Cynthia Wenhart holds the position for the Mitochondrial Center.
Tina says whether a family is local versus long-distance can create different needs, but the goal is to establish a high-level patient experience for everyone.
“Getting procedures authorized for out-of-state patients may take more time and resources,” she said. “A family traveling from outside the area may need help navigating where to stay and things to do. There are a lot of moving parts behind the scenes, and we want to make it seamless for everyone.”
In addition to developing referral relationships with other providers, being present and active in national forums will also help grow our providers’ and programs’ reputations.
“Telling our story anecdotally and academically through presentations, publications and regional/national educational leadership will continue to differentiate our team and enable us to improve the lives of more patients,” said Dr. Ritzman.
“Having our physicians be leaders through national speaking engagements, memberships in professional organizations, and through research, publishing and sharing quality data helps grow our brand awareness and creates opportunities for mentoring, collaboration and referrals,” said Tina.
“There are about 3 dozen physicians working in 20 medical centers who dedicate most of their clinical time to the care of patients with mitochondrial disease,” said Dr. Bruce Cohen, director of the NeuroDevelopmental Science Center; interim vice president and medical director, Rebecca D. Considine Research Institute; and chairman, American Academy of Neurology Advocacy Committee. “Although we have been providing comprehensive outpatient and inpatient care for our mitochondrial patients for over a decade, the COE structure will add both depth of physician excellence as well as a seamless patient experience within our center.”
“The goal is to deliver white-glove care and service,” she said. “If we find things like a concierge service are creating a high level of patient and family satisfaction there may be an opportunity to roll it out in other service lines.”