As chief medical officer of population health for Aurora Health Care, the large medical group based in Milwaukee, Sylvia Meltzer, MD, is responsible for ensuring that patients don’t miss needed care and end up in crises.
“Population health is how you target in-between visits to be more proactive and to do outreach for people who need it,” says Meltzer, 55, a family physician who trained at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. “It gets at social determinants of disease that are a bigger part of health care outcomes than anything that we do in the clinic.” The Chicago native, who still sees patients once a week, says population health approaches are enabling medical groups like Aurora to “influence the health of our communities and our patients that we care for across the organization in a positive way.” Aurora, which serves more than 1.2 million patients in a network that includes 15 hospitals, has more than a dozen CMOs with either systemwide, regional, or hospital responsibilities in eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.
Meltzer was responsible for incorporating the population health perspective in the newly launched Well Priority insurance product created by Aurora and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Wisconsin. The companies teamed up to create Wisconsin Collaborative Insurance Company, a joint venture health insurance company.
Meltzer has held leadership roles since early in her career. More than a decade ago, she was chief of staff of the now-defunct St. Michael Hospital that served Milwaukee’s inner city.
Now, she reports directly to the president of Aurora and chief business strategy officer. “That makes sense for my role because a lot of it is clinical and influencing physicians to act in a different way and rolling out processes for them,” she says.
Meltzer said she has learned her CMO skills on the job and through leadership institutes and other training.
She said some organizations require an MBA and others an MPH for a job like hers. “I’m not sure that you need an MBA if your job isn’t really to be a financial analyst for the company.”
Meltzer said the “cool part” of being involved in population health for Aurora is that she is in an area that has become a hot topic in the health care industry as providers take on more financial risk. “This is the area of growth and a make-or-break-it area for our organization as far as success goes. As the payers’ models change, we need to be able to be really good at doing these things,” she said.