Health Care “Sherpas” Guide Patients Through Complex Care at Cleveland Clinic

May 29, 2023

Continuous improvement of patient access is an enterprise-wide initiative, deeply embedded in and supported by the culture, and now reflected in every patient touchpoint, beginning with how patients start looking for care.

// By Cheryl L. Serra //

Cheryl L. SerraProviding start-to-finish patient care — whether it’s scheduling a patient’s appointment with the right provider, providing directions to the care facility, or determining if a health care provider is covered by the patient’s insurance — is now shepherded through a main point of contact at some Cleveland Clinic pilot sites. The process transformation is aimed at letting patients know they’re not alone in navigating the complex provider organization, and giving them easier, more personalized access to care.

This approach stemmed from Dr. Lisa Yerian’s work in 2010 with Cleveland Clinic’s enterprise process improvement team. A practicing physician specializing in surgical pathology, Yerian, whose current title is chief improvement officer, saw how effective the discipline of continuous improvement was in solving issues in the laboratory, and she was intrigued. She believed it could go further and impact many more people.

“I began seeing how people using process improvement disciplines could really make things better, and I saw in those methods an opportunity to make things better for a whole lot more people than I could in my clinical work,” Yerian says. “In my clinical work, I could serve, on a good day, maybe 40, 50 patients a day. But if we could use process improvement, we could help thousands, even millions.”

Yerian’s motivation is partly influenced by her own life, growing up in a rural community with limited access to health care. Her parents still live there. Many in the community need medical help but don’t seek it or are hesitant because they’re intimidated by or don’t understand the system. She wants to rectify this, using the principles of continuous improvement to improve access.

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