Learning from those traveling the path

The health care world has overused the term “journey” to the point where it results gastrointestinal distress.

But that’s because the health care journey metaphor works, we are, undeniably, all travelers on that road at some point or other. And while there is no exact map for such a journey – each path is unique – we can listen to those who have traveled the road and learn from their experience.

Sadly, stories detailing health care experiences that fall short of expectations abound. But there are also many tales of life-changing moments that have the power to uplift and inspire. Fortunately, we can learn from both.

It’s vital that the stories of the health care experience are heard, so we can celebrate the victories, remove the roadblocks, and keep traveling in the right direction, which will lead us to health care that is more personal, accessible, and affordable.

In a recent survey, three-quarters of consumers view their choices related to health care as the most important – and most expensive – decisions they make. Yet, in a world of narrowing networks and escalating co-pays, many consumers are finding that their choices are limited, if they have them at all, let alone opportunities to weigh cost and quality.

For employers, the NOVO Health Bundled Payment Program for Health Care Services is an option that not only helps them reduce their overall medical spending, but it also returns access to high quality providers to employees. In other words, they get a choice.

For patients like Nancy Frank, Jodi Linsmeier and Troy Neumann, that choice was an important mile marker on their road to recovery.

NOVO Live recently interviewed the trio to discuss their overall health care experience. All work for employers who offer NOVO Health’s Bundled Payment Program for Health Services as part of their benefits plan.

For qualifying procedures, NOVO Health packages the services of the physician, the surgery center, anesthesia, and other services as needed (physical therapy, for example) into a single package called a bundle. The price of the bundle is known in advance; a 90-day post-op limited warranty is included. In some instances, employers offer the NOVO Health Travel Package, which provides round trip transportation to the procedure, overnight accommodations to a nearby hotel and a meal allowance.

The per-procedure savings generated by utilizing NOVO Health are typically 25 percent or more when compared to more expensive hospital sites, with potential savings even greater in high-cost health care markets. Many companies share a portion of their savings with employees who choose NOVO Health, often via a cash bonus on top of their normal payroll.

These are their stories.

Nancy Frank

Employer: Park Ridge Distributing, Eau Claire, Wis.

Employer-Paid Bonus: $500

Procedure: Meniscectomy

Nancy Frank

For people like Nancy Frank, being active is a way of life.

A self-described “gym rat,” Frank hit the gym every day. Until a year ago, when she couldn’t anymore.

“COVID shut down the gyms,” said Frank.

She loved to walk, and that became her go-to exercise. Frank admitted to tweaking something in her knee a few years back but felt she put that right with her strength work in the gym. When the pandemic hit, a variety of workouts was replaced entirely by walking.

One night, Frank returned from her walk with a very noticeable limp. She rested her knee, iced and elevated it. And starting the very next day, she continued with her walks.

You can see where this is headed.

“Well, the pain usually went away,” said Frank.

When it didn’t, she ran into another pandemic roadblock.

“Not only were the gyms closed,” said Frank, “but the doctor’s offices were as well.”

When she finally got in last July, Frank got x-rays. Cortisone shots and physical therapy were the recommendations; she opted for the former. The initial shot offered no relief. She stopped walking. The pain increased, a stabbing pain on the inside of the knee that was worse at night.

July turned into January. It was the “new year, new me” mindset, but Frank decided to act again. An MRI revealed a meniscus tear. She would need to see a specialist.

It was at this time that Frank recalled NOVO Health, an option offered by her employer, Park Ridge Distributing, introduced previously at a benefits meeting. She talked to HR, got the number and called.

She was the first employee of the Eau Claire, Wis.-based beer distributor to utilize the NOVO Health Bundled Program. Frank, who lives in Chippewa Falls, would need to get to Appleton for her procedure, and colleagues may have been hesitant to take on the three-hour drive to the surgery center.

“I guess I was the guinea pig,” said Frank. “All I can say is that the experience was awesome. I called and they took care of everything. I didn’t need to do a single thing.”

The NOVO Health bundled experience included, among other things, round trip transportation. Frank was picked up in Chippewa Falls and was dropped off at the Orthopedic & Sports Institute (OSI), had the procedure with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tim Mologne, joined her husband following the surgery at Cambria Suites, the hotel situated across the street from OSI (lodging and dinner was also part of the bundle), and returned home the following day.

“And other than the surgery, all of my appointments with Dr. Mologne have been virtual,” said Frank.

Frank’s experience validated the choice she made to go with NOVO Health. As many employers do, Park Ridge shares a portion of the cost savings generated when employees use the bundled program, which saves money compared to more expensive hospital sites. For her meniscectomy, Frank received a $500 cash bonus.

She considered the bonus exactly that – a bonus. Frank’s decision to use the NOVO Health option was influenced to a far greater extent by something else entirely.

“Park Ridge Distributing is a wonderful place to work. The choice I made was really for my company,” said Frank. “We’re small and I knew that NOVO Health was going to save us money.”

Frank returned to her role at Park Ridge, which includes pricing, payroll and bookkeeping. The multi-talented employee just added another hat to that list: guest speaker.

Frank has volunteered to share her NOVO Health experience with her colleagues at the next benefits meeting.

Jodi Linsmeier

Employer: Manitowoc County, Manitowoc, Wis.

Employer-Paid Bonus: $2,000

Procedure: Total Knee Replacement

Jodi Linsmeier

Jodi Linsmeier began with a simple, profound statement.

“I’m anxious to get back to normal,” she said.

Then she offered a potential roadblock standing in the way of that return to form, namely herself.

“I’m very impatient,” she added.

It began in late 2019 as Linsmeier, who works for Manitowoc County’s Aging & Disability Resource Center, pushed herself a bit too hard on a bike ride a bit too far. On the following day when both knees were feeling sore, she turned around and heard a pop.

Unable to put weight on her left knee, Linsmeier soon went in for an MRI, which revealed a double meniscus tear. An arthroscopy was performed to trim and remove the damaged cartilage.

And Linsmeier struggled for the next year and a half.

“Things never got right, where I could walk and function like I would normally,” she said.

Linsmeier tried several injections but found it challenging to walk, bike or even stand, especially for extended periods. A normal walk with her dog around the country block was both problematic and painful.

“I just really couldn’t do the things I wanted to do,” said Linsmeier. “Eventually, I decided to do something different.”

Feeling she had exhausted all her conservative options, Linsmeier contemplated surgery once more. This option was not without anxiety for her, having already gone through it once and not having the anticipated results.

Linsmeier was aware that NOVO Health’s Bundled Payment Program was available to Manitowoc County employees, so she took steps.

“Getting started was easy. I called and Teri talked to me about the different options. I downloaded the NOVO Health app, then went to the website and looked at providers and their bios,” said Linsmeier.

As part of her homework process, Linsmeier went through the online video bios of all the orthopedic surgeons at the Orthopedic & Sports Institute (OSI), a facility she zeroed in on immediately.

“I wanted to go to a place that specialized in joint replacement,” said Linsmeier.

She set up an appointment with OSI’s Robert Limoni; the orthopedic surgeon, based in Appleton and De Pere, was able to see her at a satellite clinic in nearby Two Rivers.

“I liked how Dr. Limoni presented himself,” Linsmeier said. “Also, he’s from Manitowoc, which I like.”

Limoni looked at previous MRIs. Unless she was willing to continue living with the pain, Limoni suggested a surgical option to consider was a total knee replacement.

“After my first surgery I had worked really hard on my therapy and doing everything correctly but still wasn’t at the activity level I wanted,” said Linsmeier. “I wanted a quality life back. I didn’t want to wait any longer. That’s when I moved forward with NOVO Health.”

In March of 2021, Linsmeier made the trek to Appleton for the replacement surgery, spending a night at Recovery Inn, OSI’s attached skilled nursing facility. She was back home the following day.

Linsmeier is happy with how she was prepared for success and with the follow up. She’s also very good with the bundle (“a lot simpler than getting a bunch of bills, and PT is included”) as well as care navigation (“it’s good to talk to a live person who answers the phone right away”).

What about the $2,000 bonus for using a NOVO Health provider for her procedure? Linsmeier said it was another benefit but not the reason she went the way she did.

“I wanted to go to the experts,” Linsmeier said. “And you should go to who you want to go to.”

Troy Neumann

Employer: Pointe Precision, Plover, Wis.

Employer-Paid Bonus: $1,500

Procedure: Total Shoulder Replacement

Troy Neumann

When Troy Neumann laid his motorcycle down, he blew out his right shoulder. After he got it fixed, he realized he had another problem: his left shoulder.

“Yeah, that one felt a lot like the other,” said Neumann, “and it kept getting worse.”

Neumann, a machinist at Pointe Precision in Plover, was working a lot of hours there in 2020, staying on as others were furloughed due to the pandemic. The pain in his left shoulder, one that would attack and then abate, appeared more frequently throughout the year. When it would strike, it had a very distinct sensation.

“Felt like somebody drove a screwdriver through my shoulder, then hung a bowling ball in a bag off of it,” said Neumann. “Working above my head and down below, twelve hours a day, seven days a week, it took a toll.”

Another gym rat, Neumann tried strengthening his shoulder through workouts, but the pain was too great. Then, he’d go to work, and it would hurt worse. The spiral continued; he needed to act.

“I went to Jackie (Pointe Precision’s Director of HR Jackie Ritchay, cover story focus of the April issue of NOVO Live: https://novohealth.com/cover-story/case-in-pointe/) and said I was thinking about having surgery and they had a packet ready for me to go. I checked out NOVO Health, found out I could go to the Orthopedic & Sports Institute (OSI). I was sold and went over there,” said Neumann.

He describes his experience at OSI in a single word: turnkey.

“They are ready to go and keep things moving very nicely, but it’s never rushed,” said Neumann. “Super organized; they know what they’re doing.”

After an initial x-ray revealed a bone spur and bone on bone arthritis, Neumann was offered three options from his surgeon, Dr. David Kuplic: injections, arthroscopic surgery, or a total shoulder replacement.

“I didn’t want to be the guy looking at a replacement down the road,” said Neumann. “And I sure didn’t want to be the guy ten years from now wishing I had it done ten years earlier. Do the total now.”

In April, Neuman traveled from his home in Wisconsin Rapids to Appleton for his shoulder replacement. He checked into the Cambria Suites hotel the night before, got himself a good night’s sleep, and walked across the street for his procedure the next morning.

Following surgery, he recovered at Recovery Inn, another experience he described in a single word: sweet.

“They do all the little things right. I woke up from surgery, and I was wearing their t-shirt and shorts. I was thirsty, and I got one of their water bottles. I was cold, and they gave me the very blanket I am sitting home with now. The food was awesome, and they send you home with five meals. It was phenomenal,” Neumann said.

Now without pain, Neumann is off light duty and glad to be back to full responsibilities at Pointe Precision, working in the recreational cell of the CNC machine shop.

“Pointe treats you like family,” he said. “Hands down one of the nicest and best places I’ve ever worked in my life.”

A straight shooter who’s unafraid of telling you exactly what’s on his mind, Neumann has a few words to share about NOVO Health as well.

“I can’t say enough about the program, the facility, the process, the physicians,” said Neumann. “And it wasn’t a fluke or a one-off. I got to talking with a co-worker who went through the program just as I did, and he had the same experience.”

Scott Hutchinson

Scott Hutchinson

Scott Hutchinson is a writer and content creator for NOVO Health.

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