By Randena Hulstrand, Vizient
As a fourth-year OB-GYN resident at Emory University School of Medicine in 2007, Dr. Renée Allen witnessed one too many close calls in the delivery room while waiting for the attending physician to arrive — from pregnant mothers' swelling blood pressures to unborn babies' unstable heartbeats.
Then, she discovered a new OB-GYN hospitalist model. The model assigns a board-certified OB-GYN to work within the hospital for a 24-hour shift and serve as a safety net to hospitalized mothers and their babies and a crucial collaborating colleague to the assigned practice physician — helping to ensure the well-being of women and their babies.
Dr. Allen gravitated to join the innovation.
"Traditional OB-GYN's must juggle their clinic schedules with being on call to run to the hospitals for deliveries and emergencies. They're pulled back and forth, working around the clock and sometimes missing a delivery due to another emergency, which in turn puts the labor and delivery nurses unfairly in difficult situations that are out of their scope," said Dr. Allen, now a principal of physician clinical operations at Vizient. "OB-GYN hospitalists offer a safer, more efficient way to care for patients with better perinatal outcomes since they can jump in quickly when needed."
And because the model, which has since grown more popular in the last decade, is often implemented at hospitals in communities where patients are indigent, uninsured and don't have an OB-GYN, Dr. Allen felt an even greater calling.
"I was drawn to it," she said. "I'm always the person to fight for the underdog."
That mentality is also what guides her new role at Vizient. Since joining last year, Dr. Allen, who is the practice lead for the capacity, throughput and financial process improvement team, has guided the development of Integrated Care Management Solutions, an innovative approach to addressing utilization, optimization, physician advisory development and denials mitigation prevention efforts — with plans to develop solutions specific to obstetrical and neonatology units.
Vizient is doubling down to address hospitals' margin erosions, often due to inefficiencies, and to help ease capacity constraints without adding additional space or workforce.
"Through Dr. Allen's experience as a provider and physician advisor, she is ideally equipped to help deliver solutions to healthcare systems so that they can efficiently provide patients the right care at the right time and in the right place," says, Eric Burch, executive principal, who leads operations and workforce at Vizient. "It's so important that providers adapt and meet the needs of healthcare's changing landscape, which includes diminishing margins, a regulatory environment that is intensified and frequently changing, as well as managing the care transitions of patients and their social needs."
'Hard work is not foreign'
Forging ahead with determination to find solutions through obstacles is ingrained in Dr. Allen's DNA. As a 2-year-old immigrating from Jamaica to Toronto, Canada with her teenage single mother and aging grandparents, Dr. Allen lived through situations she describes as "not ideal." At 16 — the same age that her mother birthed her — Dr. Allen left home as an emancipated minor. She rented an apartment with the help of family and the social system as she worked part-time and finished high school.
"That time was important in my journey because it influenced how I work with people," Dr. Allen said. "It doesn't matter who you are — everyone has a story. That's why I approach every single person with respect because I have been in many different social strata within my own life. Sometimes it's just the luck of the draw."
By 20, she purchased a townhome and attended McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, full-time by day and worked full-time by night with aspirations to become a professional midwife. Her goal after college was to move to Florida to be closer to her mother and stepfather, who had remarried and given birth to two more children. But because the U.S. didn't require a baccalaureate degree in professional midwifery like Canada, she wanted her education to be transferable. "OK," she decided. "I'm going to be an OB-GYN.'"
And while the discouragement of a short-sighted guidance counselor may have stopped others in their tracks, Allen took it as a sign to push ahead full throttle.
"He told me that I couldn't do it — the wrong thing to say to me," she said. "At that time, there weren't a lot of women or men of color who I could see as role models in professional practice in Canada, but I went forward."
After earning a psychology and biology degree with honors, she focused on getting into medical school. But faced with the limited spots in Canadian medical schools she was waitlisted. So, she strategically earned a master's degree in Community Health and Epidemiology centered on population health from University of Toronto to make her more competitive on future applications.
"Hard work is not foreign to me," she said. "When I put my mind to something, I get things done."
'The absolute bottom line'
Today, Dr. Allen, tapping into her wealth of experiences, is focused on transformative patient care management at Vizient. The company's Integrated Care Management Solutions, she says, are "the engine for hospitals and health systems."
"We can help them be more efficient by improving a patient's clinical care progression with better coordination and utilization of care that will in turn impact their capacity constraint issues — all with improved margin management in costs and care outcomes. And the solutions are another way to help transform cultures of safety and employee engagement as part of a hospital's journey toward a high reliability organization."
Dr. Allen has never been surer about the importance of the work she is doing, especially following hospitals' devastating post-COVID-19 margin pressures in 2022.
"Initial denial rates are now 11-12% nationwide — we're talking about billions of dollars that our providers are currently losing, and it's for care that they are giving efficiently," she said, adding that she and her team are laser-focused on making sure hospital utilization management teams are structured to capture inpatient reimbursement when appropriate and are aggressive in fighting denials.
"It is what brings money in the door," she said. "Systems must become empowered to put utilization management and denials mitigation protocols in place to go after the rightful reimbursement of care providers are giving patients. It is not just cost containment or getting the patients out of the door more quickly. It's also margin protection — the absolute bottom line."
'The good fight'
Dr. Allen's no-nonsense mindset in creating improved outcomes for hospitals and their patients is nothing she doesn't also challenge herself with.
"I have high expectations, especially of myself," she said. "It's always been like that because really, I didn't have anyone else to rely on growing up. Still, today, I tell myself, 'It's falling on your shoulders, Renée — you've got to get this done.'"
While she has accomplished much in her career to date, she sees the tremendous promise ahead. Her motivating North Star is the difference she's able to make for healthcare during these challenging times.
"At Vizient, I have such greater ability to impact more healthcare systems, to help make them more successful so that more patients can receive efficient, safe and quality care," she said. "Sometimes I look back on my career and I'm like, 'Wow, now I get it.' I understand why I went through all the struggles and different chapters in my life. I learned to be tough. Whenever a door shuts and a window opens later — I sneak in. It's always been that way. I will always fight the good fight."