It was never the outsides of things that interested Christopher Crow, a man who has always had a way of seeing things as they were while daring to dream of how they could be. It’s not surprising that his office in Plano, Texas, is a nice but unremarkable structure, the sort of professional services building one might see in any new American suburban development. But the building’s very ordinariness belies the extraordinary and trailblazing work unfolding inside.
It’s the guts, the insides, of Village Health Partners—what Christopher envisioned and brought to life—that is leading to a sea change in healthcare delivery.
Christopher’s model begins with a bedrock principle of focusing on what patients want—access to health care and to information about themselves as well as how they should be thinking about their health. And that access had to be convenient, meaning that online portals to personal medical information would always be open. Christopher’s practice began offering this service in 2003, well ahead of the curve and presaging the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Convenience also meant weekend clinics.
“I built a model early on of always saying ‘yes,’” he says. “Our brand promise is that patients always have access to care.”
These insights led Christopher in 2007 to build his first medical village, a co-location of medical services in a single place that was one of the first of its kind. The village concept, he believes, promotes preventative care. And when specialized services are needed, patients don’t have to leave the building, improving both patient compliance and health outcomes.
“It was a better service model built on a practice of primary care physicians,” he says. “And it saved money, too.”
It wasn’t long before Christopher’s “little ol’ practice in Plano, Texas” received industry accolades. One publication named it practice of the year and another honored it for best use of technology in the United States. By 2008, his practice became the first certified and accredited medical home—a patient-centered, team-based, comprehensive, and accessible model of primary care—in the middle of the U.S.
That’s when major insurance companies came calling. The Blue Crosses, Uniteds, Cignas, and Aetnas of the world had an idea. They were willing to draw up a new kind of contract that would award his practice more money if it could show it was practicing a higher quality of medicine and that it reduced overall costs. That’s worth repeating: major insurance companies were willing to reward the practice for providing better care and lowering costs.
“We were able to do that in the first couple of years,” Christopher says. “And that’s when I had another insight that shifted the course of my life professionally: I recognized that it was my gift and calling to change the way medicine is practiced.”
The medical village system has opened up streams of data to Christopher and other family practitioners in his group; the kinds of data that hadn’t always made it to physicians in the old model. “You’d be surprised, but most physicians don’t necessarily know what is going on with their patients when they’re seeing a cardiologist or show up at an emergency room,” he says. “They don’t always call us to tell us. But now I see everything happening with my patients.”
It was around this time when Christopher recalled the doctors in his hometown when he was growing up.
“They were doing way more than taking care of our physical health,” he says. “They were taking care of the emotional, spiritual, and financial health of the community. And I realized that might be my role to play, too.”
But that also meant that always saying “yes” and making care more convenient wasn’t enough for his practice or the medical care system overall. “We need to deliver not only a better experience, but we need to get better results and better value out of our healthcare system. And I knew I might be able to deliver that.”
About a year after Christopher gained greater clarity on his purpose, Christopher was full of passion and hope for the work he was doing but needed more leadership tools. He entered the Stagen Leadership ecosystem at a perfect time.
“Stagen gave me a latticework to grow and develop myself as a leader and deepen my stakeholder orientation,” he says.
Surveying the medical field, Christopher sees ominous signs. Doctors commit suicide at a higher rate than the general public, an alarming statistic fueled by professional dissatisfaction. And part of that dissatisfaction, he believes, can be attributed to the way physicians are compensated.
Insurance companies tend to pay based on the volume of work a physician does rather than on patient outcomes. “You don’t have to do better,” he says. “You get paid by the widget.”
But most people enter the field because they have caring hearts. Doctors become frustrated by economic pressures that might limit them to 10 minutes with a patient. “Under that model, I started to lose the heart of why I got into the profession, which was to bring healing,” he says.
“The models we’re building acknowledge the fact that doctors are in pain,” he says. “We’re not necessarily trying to remove that pain but to say, ‘Hey, there’s a better way to have a relationship with it.’
“There is a lot of resiliency and character that can be built by going through a difficult situation together,” he says. “We bring these physicians together, name the problem, and then offer a forum for them to be vulnerable and release pent-up resentment and anger. Then we can refocus some attention on the art that we chose as a profession.”
Christopher has since expanded his model under the Catalyst Health Network, an enlarged village concept that has connected and aligned a network of more than 500 primary care providers who care for almost a million patients across North Texas.
In 2016, Catalyst’s first full year of operations, the network improved patient health and lowered costs to the tune of an estimated $20 million.
Changing lives while changing healthcare. Helping communities thrive. These are the reasons Christopher gets up in the morning, and so many of the tools he learned in the ILP at the Stagen Leadership Academy have allowed him to get there.
“In America, money is a pretty high lever for choices and actions that we take, but the dopamine squirt from doing something good for others is powerful, too,” Christopher says. “That’s its own reward.”