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Northwell Health Physician-in-Chief Focused on Staff Member Well-Being

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   April 23, 2024

David Battinelli says the health system must offer a range of approaches to boost the well-being of employees.

The top priority for the physician-in-chief of Northwell Health is the well-being of physicians and other staff members.

David Battinelli, MD, is executive vice president and physician-in-chief of Northwell. He is also dean and Betsey Whitney Cushing Professor of Medicine at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. Prior to taking on his current roles, Battinelli served as senior vice president and chief medical officer at Northwell.

1. Physician and staff member well-being

"I need my providers and staff members to be as well as possible," Battinelli says.

Addressing the well-being of a clinical staff requires "an entire menu of approaches," he says. "The concept of well-being is not a one-size-fits-all. We are going to have to engage a variety of different strategies for a variety of different people."

For some people, the adoption of a hybrid work environment at Northwell has been a big improvement, but for others, it does not work, Battinelli says. "You can't just say a hybrid work environment is going to solve well-being problems."

A crucial element of addressing workforce well-being is engaging staff members, he says. "If you are not aware of the things that people are struggling with regarding maintaining their well-being, then you are going to offer programs that have nothing to do with their real problems."

For clinicians, Northwell wants to work on reconstituting relationships that were formed in the past, Battinelli says.

"Years ago, ambulatory providers would round at the hospitals. They would congregate in a doctor's office or lounge, and they helped each other maintain their balance," he says. "Doctors used to support each other quite a bit, which helped them maintain balance. Now, ambulatory doctors don't go to the hospitals anymore."

The health system has two programs to foster physician get-together events. "The Doctors Lounge" is a regional dinner program initiated by practice leadership. "Connect the Docs" is a smaller local program initiated by individual physicians.

"These programs are a way for physicians to get together and relax," Battinelli says. "These programs have been remarkably successful—it is a way to ensure that doctors can support each other when they are feeling unbalanced."

David Battinelli, MD, is executive vice president and physician-in-chief of Northwell Health. Photo courtesy of Northwell Health.

2. Patient access

Battinelli is also focused on an organizational goal to improve access for patients.

"There are many ways that our people are working at providing access," he says. "Getting in to see a provider for an appointment is important, but it is not the primary issue when people talk about access. The primary issue is that the only way to speak to a provider is with an appointment. Often, a provider cannot see a patient for two months."

Battinelli says Northwell has learned a lesson from the banking industry, which expanded access with online banking rather than hiring more tellers or expanding hours.

"We need to embrace 'connected care,' which is what they use in Great Britain, or embrace virtual care," he says. "Patients want to be connected first, then achieve access through an appointment later. They do not want to feel like they are being left 'out there' on their own."

To promote access, Northwell has two primary initiatives: offering a nurse navigation program and launching a virtual patient engagement program.

"Our nurse navigation program is centered on cancer services because of the emotional context of cancer and making sure that patients are connected immediately with anybody that they need," Battinelli says. "Our nurses can connect with patients 24/7 and make sure they understand everything that is going on with their care."

"The virtual patient engagement program is triggered the moment a patient calls in," he says. "The patient gets a virtual connection with a member of our staff, even if it is not the doctor with whom they get an appointment. This virtual connection assures the patient that waiting for an appointment for two weeks or two months is the best time if that is appropriate. The virtual connection also assures the patient that they are going to meet with the right doctor."

3. Technological transformation

Battinelli is also involved in efforts to establish the mindset at Northwell that artificial intelligence and other new technologies will help the staff to do work in the future.

"Many of these technologies are not mature yet, but it is clearly a good idea to be thinking about adopting these technologies," he says. "The number of things that can be done with AI is mindboggling."

For example, the patient-provider interface of the future will not involve a mouse and a keyboard, Battinelli says. At Northwell, the right interface is going to be new digital technology such as AI. The health system is looking at technology that will record the entire patient-physician interaction, then AI will generate the clinical note and documentation for the encounter.

"This will free up the physician, who can interact better with the patient," he says.

4. Becoming an age-friendly organization

Battinelli says he wants to be at the forefront of efforts at Northwell to better serve the health system's aging patient population.

"The healthcare industry has delayed addressing the aging population for as long as theoretically possible," he says. "If we do not start thinking about how to engage our aging population, the Silver Tsunami is going to hit us, and we are going to be overwhelmed."

Leaders and care teams at Northwell must think about all the things the health system should do beyond just giving expert medical care to be perceived as age friendly, Battinelli says.

"We must be able to provide things that aging patients might need," he says. "This does not necessarily commit us to something specific, but as things come along, we are thinking about how we can position ourselves to be age-friendly because we want our aging population to understand that we want to partner with them to learn how to take care of them."

Northwell is challenging care providers and other employees to identify potential programs that are going to be age friendly, Battinelli says. "For example, as an organization, we have more than 85,000 employees. We are considering creating a program that will allow employees to take time off to care for aging family members. We want to provide an employee environment that is age friendly."

The health system is also reaching out to older patients to find out about their needs, he says. "We are not going to solve the aging problem. But we can engage the aging population to find out what it is that they want from us."

Christopher Cheney is the CMO editor at HealthLeaders.


To promote physician well-being, Northwell Health is working to reconstitute relationships that supported doctors in the past.

The health system's physician-in-chief, David Battinelli, is involved in efforts to improve patient access.

Battinelli wants to be at the forefront of efforts at Northwell Health to better serve the health system's aging patient population.

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