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Baylor S&W’s New Chief Medical Officer Begins With A Focus On Technology, Costs

Dr. Robert Probe follows the footsteps of one of the men responsible for the merger of the largest systems in North and Central Texas, which created a network of more than 40 hospitals spanning 40,000 square miles. The Baylor Scott & White brand extends all the way from Frisco to Brenham.

Dr. Robert Probe sounds genial when he answers the phone from his Temple office. It’s Monday, his second day as the highest-ranking practitioner for the state’s largest nonprofit health system: Baylor Scott & White Health.

He follows the footsteps of one of the men responsible for the merger of the largest systems in North and Central Texas, a move that created a network of more than 40 hospitals spanning 40,000 square miles. There are Baylor Scott & White hospitals all the way from Frisco to Brenham. Dr. Robert Pryor, the last chief executive of what was the Scott & White Healthcare, retired as chief medical officer last month. Probe, an orthopedic surgeon, began on Jan. 31.

“I’m really overseeing the medical practice throughout the system,” he says. “That involves a lot of things. We’re looking at the quality of the care. … we’re looking across the medical universe, not only what happens in a hospital, but what happens after discharge, how we follow up with clinic visits; it’s not until you look at it as a system that we can identify issues we’re trying to improve.”

Probe, 55, helped build a 12-physician orthopedic practice into one with 38 providers at five locations. In October 2013, the program opened the Roney Bone & Joint Institute, a 75,000 square foot multidisciplinary musculoskeletal treatment facility and patient-centered medical home. The only time Probe sounds down about his new position is when he’s asked about whether he’ll have to stop practicing: “I struggle with that,” he said, “I recently made the decision that I am going to try and at least see patients in the clinic … just for a couple half-days a month.”

What drew him to the CMO position was helping change the delivery of care and eliminate waste across an entire system. He’s monitoring infection rates and readmissions as well as studying how hospitals and clinics follow patients after discharge. What works has the chance to be replicated in other care settings elsewhere.

He says he’s dedicated to growing the system’s accountable care organization, the Baylor Scott & White Quality Alliance, as to continue identifying waste and improving the health of a population. According to Dr. Cliff Fullerton, the president of the Quality Alliance, the organization hopes to notch 400,000 covered lives within the first quarter of this year. Probe also said he planned to emphasize big data and figure out ways to use genomics to better understand each individual patient and what may work specifically for them.

“That lets every individual know what genes they carry and as our research in this area progresses year by year we’re going to become much more skilled about knowing exactly which drug to choose,” Probe said. “We have real expertise and activity in clinical trials. Several million patients come through our doors every year, and I bet we have around 2,000 active clinical trials. And because of our electronic record and how we follow patients, we really want to answer questions about what how they respond to specific treatments.”

The challenge now for Baylor Scott & White is creating a statewide network. Probe is charged with physician recruitment—both practicing physicians and newcomers. He’s well aware of the physician shortage and understanding that the feds have capped funding for graduate medical education, or GME. To combat that, he says he plans to attract more mid-levels and physician extenders to help meet with patients and be part of a multidisciplinary care team. Too, the physicians need to get away from thinking that patients will always be willing to visit their offices. He said he hopes to incorporate telemedicine and an online patient portal that can show blood work results, remind them what medications they’ve been prescribed, and other details related to their health records.

“We’re moving into a digital age and most other industries are so far ahead of us,” he said. “We’re trying to get up there with Amazon.”

Getting there won’t be easy. Interoperability remains a challenge—Probe says the system has somewhere between 70 and 75 different systems for electronic health records among the various physicians who have privileges at all the hospitals (mostly due to non-employed practitioners). There’s also a battle to attract and retain young practitioners.

“Dr. Probe is a highly accomplished surgeon, teacher and leader,” says Joel Allison, CEO, Baylor Scott & White Health. “He will be instrumental in the continued growth of Baylor Scott & White, bringing advanced, integrated care to communities across Texas and building models of care for other providers around the country to emulate.”

Just as his predecessor did, Probe will office out of Temple.