Five Questions With: Cindy Peterson

Lifespan Corp. recently announced that Cindy Peterson was hired to serve as its executive vice president of ambulatory care. Peterson started in the new role in December and oversees physician practices, health care clinics and urgent care centers. She spoke with Providence Business News about her new role and background working in ambulatory care.

PBN: What are your priorities for your new role?

PETERSON: My main priority is creating an organization-wide approach to ambulatory planning, which ensures that when a patient seeks outpatient care at Lifespan, our health care centers are well-utilized and located to meet the needs of patients. This means when the opportunity arises, we want, for example, primary care, specialty care and labs in the same building, or close proximity with each other, to provide more convenience for patients.

Maximizing our capacity in ambulatory care means better access for patients, which across health care has become a real challenge due to delays in care caused during the height of the pandemic. I’m very excited about Lifespan’s renewed focus in this area and the opportunity it presents to be strategic and innovative, and I’m finding Lifespan to be a great place to work.

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PBN: How have your past experiences prepared you for this position?

PETERSON: My operations experience in a range of patient populations and health care settings – including academic medical center ambulatory operations and services – has taught me the importance of the location of care. You can have the best care in the world, but if the location is a barrier – whether from a convenience or accessibility standpoint – then you are not serving the best interests of your patients. And to determine that, you need to treat the patient like a customer and really listen to what they have to say, and then continuously adjust and improve your operations based on their feedback.

PBN: What drew you to work in ambulatory care?

PETERSON: I have always been drawn to mission-driven work, and ambulatory care is all about providing a wide array of specialty, ancillary and primary care services in local communities where patients live. It is on-the-ground work where you are engaging with people, organizations and businesses who care about the well-being of the residents and the success of the community as a whole. It is a privilege to work with other mission-driven individuals both within and outside of health care and it is extremely rewarding.

PBN: How have you seen the sector evolve within New England over the past several years?

PETERSON: Consumers want the same type of convenience in accessing high-quality health care as they can get when having food or goods delivered to their home. And there are for-profit businesses entering the market trying to meet some of that demand by offering limited telemedicine and pharmacy delivery, for example.

Lifespan has an impressive array of health care programs and services, and we are on a mission to provide our patients with “Wow!” care. One of the ways we can do this is to better leverage technology, making it easier for patients to book an appointment, to get a referral to a specialist, to fill a prescription and to be seen without a long wait.

The technological backbone that gives us this potential is the electronic medical record system – Lifespan just brought all of its Coastal Medical practices onto the same electronic health record platform used throughout our system. As a result of this, our patients’ providers have access to their medical history and can share clinical information, and this continuity of care cannot be matched by for-profit entities such as e-commerce companies or large retail chains.

PBN: The ambulatory care market is expected to continue growing. What are some challenges related to driving a health system’s ambulatory care growth?

PETERSON: The high demand for primary care across the state is a challenge Lifespan is continually focused on addressing. Because we are an academic medical center aligned with the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, we are educating the next generation of primary care physicians, and at the same time striving to recruit more of them to improve our patients’ access to excellent primary care.

Lifespan’s Coastal Medical has a patient care model that includes clinical support such as nutrition and social work professionals – this enables the primary care providers to spend more focused time with the patient, which makes it a very attractive environment in which to practice medicine. Having an effective recruitment strategy is needed to keep pace with hiring needs for the future.

Katie Castellani is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at Castellani@PBN.com