Westchester Healthcare Matures During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Westchester Medical Center’s main campus in Valhalla.
Photo courtesy of Westchester Medical Center Health Network

There’s a long list of factors that can trigger change in the healthcare industry. Right now, the factor on everyone’s mind is the coronavirus.

The disease has hospitals around the county — and country — scrambling for medical supplies and a sense of control. At press time, Westmed Medical Group, which has locations across Westchester, is asking patients to visit with no more than one other person accompanying them. Meanwhile, at Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) campuses, “nonessential ambulatory services, procedures, and surgeries [are] postponed,” officials recently announced.

Photo courtesy of Memorial Sloan Kettering

We’re asking the question: What needs to be done [for baby boomers] in the clinic setting versus what could we potentially do with a video or by phone?

-Dr. Diane Reidy, Medical Oncologist, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

It’s undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic is rattling local healthcare. But when the pandemic is eventually tamed, the industry will have another, and longer-term, challenge to address: changing demographics. As patient cohorts age, hospitals have to evolve, too. There are fresh expectations to meet and new clinical issues to address.

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In Westchester, this is especially true as two large cohorts — baby boomers and Millennials — enter new stages of life. Boomers, adults between the ages of about 60 and 75, are retiring, going on Medicare, and becoming more vulnerable. Meanwhile, Millennials, adults between the ages of about 25 and 40, are starting families and using the healthcare system more frequently. There are approximately 213,000 baby boomers and 171,000 Millennials in Westchester, according to county data. Combined, that’s about 40% of the county’s population.

Photo courtesy of Memorial Sloan Kettering

These two demographics have different healthcare expectations, which presents challenges for local hospitals and doctors. It’s a challenge for healthcare providers “because they are two very different patient populations,” explains Dr. Diane Reidy, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which has a location in West Harrison.

When it comes to navigating this space, “You have to think about it in terms of what their preferences are versus what their pain points are,” adds Joshua Ratner, senior vice president of network strategy at WMCHealth, which has facilities around the region.

We spoke with a slate of experts across Westchester to learn precisely what those preferences and pain points are — and how they’re driving the evolution of an industry.

Baby Boomers Want a Mix of Old and New

At Memorial Sloan Kettering, Reidy says the hospital is assessing boomers’ “emotional needs, clinical needs, and physical needs.” No consideration is too small. Just one example: The facilities are designed to prevent fall injuries. “Things happen as we age; we can slip,” Reidy says, so “the environment is always safe.” MSK’s West Harrison location has also introduced valet parking and placed a nurse in the lobby to encourage wheelchair use.

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This is related to a broader trend that accommodates baby boomers: telemedicine. “We’re asking the question: What needs to be done in the clinic setting versus what could we potentially do with a video or by phone?” Reidy says.

Telemedicine can’t replace all in-person visits — like a hands-on meeting with an oncologist — but it has wide uses. Reidy gives an example: A cancer patient experiencing anxiety or depression can meet with their psychologist or psychiatrist via a video or phone call.

Photo courtesy of NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital

All of our rooms have wireless Internet connections and other amenities that are important to the younger generation.

-Michael Fosina, President, NewYork-Presbyterian  Lawrence Hosptial

Westmed Medical Group has a similar telemedicine initiative. Anthony Viceroy, Westmed’s CEO, calls the program “virtual visits.” “Within minutes, you’re online through video conferencing, and you can get treatment,” he says. WMCHealth is part of the trend, too: “We’ve made a significant investment in telehealth,” Ratner explains. “We believe the future for telehealth is going to be huge.”

And CareMount Medical’s program, Virtual Visits, which is supported by electronic medical records, allow its more than 600 providers to deliver telemedicine care — to boomers and other patients — in more than 50 specialties. “We’ve been working for several years to provide our Westchester patients a Virtual Visits platform,” notes CareMount’s President and CEO, Scott D. Hayworth, M.D. “We’re especially pleased that given the current recommendations for social distancing [to curb the spread of COVID-19], we can now meet our patients’ needs via Virtual Visits.”

This digital environment is meant to accommodate baby boomers, but do they find it intuitive? Yes, says Reidy: “Many of our older patients are savvy.” Viceroy says the same: “Baby boomers are adapting more and more to technology, especially with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are seeing a true shift in how patients seek care as a result of this health crisis, which will likely lead to lasting impacts on the adoption of innovation.” Still, Viceroy adds, older patients value face time with doctors in a way that younger patients may not. “They very much have relationships with their physicians. So, one of the first things we do is ensure they have the right access to their primary care physician and specialist.”

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“Boomers are loyalists,” Ratner agrees.

Photo courtesy of NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital

It’s not just strategic operations that are changing to suit aging baby boomers — it’s clinical offerings, too. “Life expectancy continues to rise in the country, so with that, you’re going to have an advance in chronic disease and conditions that come with aging,” Viceroy explains.

Westmed launched a new program to address this in 2019, called Complex Care. “We recognized that there were more and more aging and sicker patients who needed more attention, more touchpoints, more oversight,” Viceroy says. The program provides a dedicated phone line, longer appointments, and specialist referrals. “Basically, we will have many more visits with these patients — to make sure they’re taking their medications, to make sure we’re addressing any social or psychological issues,” Viceroy adds.

In a similar vein, Memorial Sloan Kettering provides screenings alongside traditional oncology care. “We’re trying to better understand what other needs [baby boomers] have, like cognitive impairment that potentially could be worsening from their chemotherapy treatment,” Reidy says.

“The great news for baby boomers is that they’re living longer, healthier lives than ever before, and modern medicine plays a key role in that,” adds Susan Fox, president & CEO of White Plains Hospital. “At all ages, it’s critical to focus on wellness and preventative care and to be able to offer access to advanced specialties close to patients’ homes.”

For Millennials, Convenience is Key

Additionally, despite having different medical needs, “the one thing that boomers and Millennials have in common is they want timely information,” notes Fox. “Healthcare organizations need to offer technology solutions to effectively engage with patients in a way that works for them.”

Millennials, specifically, have grown up in a digital environment, and they expect that to extend to healthcare. “Their pain point is the lack of virtual options and access,” Ratner says.

Photo courtesy of WestMed Medical Group

[Millennials] grew up with technology. They want ease of access. They want to make appointments online. Quality is an expectation.

-Anthony Viceroy, CEO, Westmed Medical Group

Shawna May, 31, is a Millennial who’s in and out of Westchester healthcare facilities several times a week due to health complications (she’s had both spine surgery and heart surgery). “It’s very convenient to just go online and go into your patient portal and make the appointment or see your test results,” May says. May cohosts a radio show, Shawna and LaLa on the Radio, and she’s tackled the topic of healthcare on recent episodes — from acupuncture to certain doctors’ poor bedside manner.

Even Millennials faced with the gravest diagnoses expect digital options. “Many of our Millennials want to keep going. They have jobs; they’re just starting their lives,” Reidy explains. “We really want to make sure we allow them to do that.” In terms of what that looks like: “Everything is Wi-Fied, and everything is plugged in and connected,” she explains.

Photo courtesy of WestMed Medical Group

This new approach isn’t just connecting Millennial patients with doctors; it’s also connecting them with each other. “Often, when you’re so young, you think you’re the only person who has cancer,” Reidy says. “Millennials can often feel lonely.” So Memorial Sloan Kettering has introduced online communities where patients with similar diagnoses and treatments can swap stories and support. “There’s nothing better than having someone who can truly empathize,” Reidy adds.

Westmed is also catering to Millennials’ digital expectations. “Remember, they grew up with technology,” Viceroy says. “They want ease of access. They want to make appointments online.” Crude websites or slow apps won’t cut it: “Quality is an expectation,” Viceroy stresses. Recently, Westmed updated their website and mobile offerings.

But Millennials aren’t willing to sacrifice quality for convenience, according to May. When she encounters an unresponsive website or has to shuttle between specialists, she grows nostalgic. “When my mom was younger, she would go to one doctor,” May recalls. “Now, they send you to multiple doctors for every little thing. And they charge your insurance for every little thing.”

Photo courtesy of Westchester Medical Center Health Network

There’s no one-size-fits-all in terms of strategy [for treating patients]. Segmentation is basically required.

-Joshua Ratner, Senior Vice President, Network Strategy, Westchester Medical Center Health Network

At NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, president Michael Fosina says many Millennial moms desire privacy: “We have a lot of single-bed rooms here at Lawrence. When she’s delivering a baby, a new mom wants to be in her own room,” and, “all of our rooms have wireless Internet connections and other amenities that are important to the younger generation,” Fosina adds.

Local heathcare agencies are also stepping up when it comes to meeting Millennials’ clinical-care needs. For Memorial Sloan Kettering, that includes conducting research on behalf of young cancer patients, who have to navigate the decades ahead with fallout from chemotherapy and radiation. “We do tremendous research and have clinical programs to help, for example,  preserve fertility,” notes Reidy.

MSK is also studying diseases that are affecting Millennials more than they did previous generations. “We have a young-onset program for some of these cancers, which are, unfortunately, more prevalent,” Reidy says, citing a rise in colon cancer diagnoses at younger ages.

Photo courtesy of Westchester Medical Center Health Network

At Westmed, doctors have introduced a wellness program aimed at Millennials. “We’re focusing on hypertension and diabetes management,” says Viceroy, whose company inked a deal recently with WW (formerly Weight Watchers). “Healthy weight management avoids a lot of chronic illnesses; Millennials are very open to this and very sensitive to this,” Viceroy explains.

While the region’s doctors and healthcare administrators are quick to talk about the expectations of baby boomers and Millennials, they also offer a caveat: Don’t generalize. In other words, any two baby boomers, or any two Millennials, can still have wildly different healthcare needs and wants. “There’s no one-size-fits-all in terms of strategy,” Ratner explains. “Segmentation is basically required.”

Of course, experts note that although baby boomers and Millennials are a large cohort, they are not the only demographics in Westchester seeking and influencing local healthcare. “I’m Generation X — the middle between the baby boomers and Millennials — that no one’s really talking about,” Viceroy says. “We could be making healthcare decisions and acting as caregivers for both generations.”

Freelance writer Kevin Zawacki is a frequent contributor to 914INC. and Westchester Magazine.

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