Dr. Sumir Sahgal
Dr. Sumir Sahgal moved into private practice in 1999, leaving the hospital setting for good. For some reason, he felt he could do more, contribute more positively to the community, as a care provider if he was running his own practice.
Since then he’s built a thriving medical practice, Essen Medical Associates, that has 25 healthcare providers who provide services in 20 medical facilities including nursing homes, hospitals and in one of five multi-specialty offices (with more coming online) owned by the practice.
Based in the greater New York City metro area, Sahgal’s practice, a certified medial home, serves more than 15,000 active patients per year. But true to his calling in that he wanted to do even more to provide care to patients, in 2005 he started down a new path that, at the time, most of the people he spoke with said he was making a costly mistake.
Of the population he’s served, there were several dozen (80 patients, in fact) that were home bound. Other than the random hospital visit, they received no care. That is until Sahgal opened EssenMED House Call Service.
EssenMED House Call Service primarily provides care for elderly home-bound patients in the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Westchester. It is currently one of the largest private medical house call programs in New York.
“We opened a house call practice in the Bronx and everyone thought we were crazy,” Sahgal said. “We serve some pretty tough neighborhoods.”
After six months, the practice’s leaders evaluated the program. It made no financial sense to continue the service, he said, but there was an inherent value in the service his practice provided, and that’s all that mattered. The house call service fit his patients’ needs and they were receptive, and word of the program spread.
First slowly and then much more quickly. In seven years, the number of patients has doubled each year. There are now 1,800 being cared for by Essen’s nine caregivers.
“Through word of mouth, patients kept calling,” he said, “and eventually we had enough volume that it created efficiency in the program. Patients gravitate to where they can get the best care.”
The investments the practice made in electronic and mobile technologies also helped. Without his EHR, he currently uses eClinicalWorks, and being able to access patient data through iPad, the house calling practice is almost no different than the office-based practice.
“Healthcare technology helps create efficiency, and since we’ve moved to eClinicalWorks, our coordination of care has gotten much better,” he said.
All of the information needed to care for patients is on hand through mobile technology. In many ways, his staff is just as efficient in the homes of the patients as they are in the practice setting.
Much of the business’ success can be tied directly to the current technology in place.
All of the information is available wirelessly through the practice’s server including labs and documentation. “It’s like truly transferring the office to the home,” he said. “We can prescribe directly from the patient’s house.
The technology has helped him grow his practice and open communication lines with colleagues and share information, as would be expected, making for a much easier documentation process, especially for staff members in the field.
“The technology has helped us improve care and increase patient engagement. With improved patient engagement, patients have better access to their health information, access their medications and communicate with us, which helps us improve care,” he said.
As devices and capabilities continue to improve, Sahgal is confident that the same can be said for patient care, which he’s extremely passionate about. He’s in the business of practicing health to help people have better or more comfortable lives.
His approach is also saving money for the overall system. The more home care is available to patients, the less likely they are to seek care in the hospital. Likewise, the more comfortable patients are as they manage their conditions or approach the end of their lives.
The patient’s response to the technology has been overwhelmingly positive, he said, especially when he’s able to provide video consultations with patients through his iPad and perform remote triages and blood pressure checks from miles away. The services provided by Essen save patients from unnecessary hospital visits and many thousands of dollars in the process.
At this point, one of the next things that can be done to improve care is for interoperable systems to be fully engaged and useable by caregivers despite the vendor in which they employ. But, for now, the technology is in place to allow for the patient to be the central figure in this play, not the technology.
Serving patients in their space and in their areas of comfort is not a common business model and is much easier now than it has been in the past. Dr. Sahgal says his work is his calling, something he does because he loves providing care.
It’s not always easier either: “You are in the field, there are environmental factors to deal with; we have our war stories. But we’re able to provide TLC in the patient’s home, where they are most comfortable,” he said.