Spotlight on: Corie Rhodes
Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine
Associate Medical Director of Quality
Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine
Associate Medical Director of Quality, Primary Care
“We have a big team, and we have big appetites for innovation,” says physician and associate professor Corinne (Corie) Rhodes. She’s referring to the employees and collaborators of Penn Medicine Primary Care (PMPC), which delivers preventive and other essential care at 100 clinics in Philadelphia, Chester County, and Princeton. As the associate medical director of quality, Rhodes guides initiatives from a big-picture lens to improve primary care for the tens of thousands of patients PMPC serves.
“A lot of our projects are championed or housed by different regions within our primary care network,” she explains. “Where I often work with within our team is to think about the overall strategy of how all these different interventions interlace and where we pick our priorities for the year.”
Rhodes co-leads some of those initiatives, too – mammogram outreach, for example. In partnership with the Population Health Lab at the Center for Health Care Transformation and Innovation (CHTI), she has sought to increase breast cancer screening rates among primary care patients overdue for a mammogram. In 2021 and 2022, the team conducted randomized controlled trials to test different communication methods and strategies like bulk ordering, which eliminates the need for a patient to call their doctor to order a mammogram, to learn what leads to higher uptake.
The initial study found that text messages and multiple reminders, bulk ordering, and using the primary care provider’s name in messaging all helped increase rates of up-to-date breast cancer screening. The team is now applying learnings from the trials to make their latest outreach efforts even more effective across the entire population of eligible patients, with special attention to reducing disparities in screening rates.
As a medical field, primary care is very broad. To determine where PMPC should concentrate efforts, Rhodes targets “that perfect overlap of what is clinically important, both to our patients and to our providers, and what will lead payor funds to flow back into our system.” Penn Medicine has value-based contracts with insurance companies, meaning the health system’s performance on specific quality and utilization metrics affect the payments it receives and, consequently, PMPC’s ability to build and support integrated care teams to deliver excellent primary care. In the quality domain – Rhodes’ purview – metrics connected to preventive cancer screenings and management of chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension top the list.
Rhodes meets regularly with team members who manage the contracts. “We look at how we are performing on these contracts for a subset of our patients, see where there are areas for innovation and improvement, and have a dialogue about resources and how we can get the best care to these different patients.” She also works with disease teams to get input from specialists in relevant disciplines.
With so many clinics, a big part of her job is stakeholder management. “You have to harmonize on overlapping goals. But we’re lucky in Primary Care that this work has been going on for a fair amount of time, and there’s common ground for us to reflect on when we look at our metrics together – we have a strong starting place,” says Rhodes.
One benefit of a large system is that successes from one site can be expanded to others. “Lancaster General, for example, did this great work defining panels, and they developed with their data systems a way to risk-adjust their patient population. That’s something we brought across all our primary care practices last year. We’re often looking for innovations like that within the system and asking, ‘What can we spread more broadly?’” she says.
“Dr. Rhodes has been an ideal partner to collaborate with on these initiatives to both increase population health goals at Penn Medicine and advance the science of care delivery,” says Shivan Mehta, MD, MBA, MSHP, associate chief innovation officer and director of CHTI’s Population Health Lab. “She is practical, data driven, and has a passion for implementing meaningful change across our health system. She also always has the patient in mind as we explore new approaches and opportunities.”
Half a dozen CHTI collaborations alone bear Rhodes’ imprint. Those projects aim to increase medication adherence with a text messaging intervention and by extending the default prescription length, prompt patients with uncontrolled diabetes to test their A1c levels, and improve colorectal cancer screening rates with mailed fecal test kits. Rhodes is working with teams to sustainably scale several screening programs for cancers and diabetes in the coming months.
Rhodes’ administrative roles – she is also the director of population health for the Division of General Internal Medicine – account for half of her workweek. The rest she spends in clinical practice, treating patients and precepting residents.
“I always identify as a primary doctor first,” says Rhodes. “If I don’t have enough of a footprint within clinical care, I find I can’t see the problems. It also brings me a lot of joy. I've only been here for six years, but you can imagine that after being someone's primary care doctor for six years, you grow some great relationships. That is the grounding point for me.”
To clinicians with an interest in innovation but little time to devote to projects, she advises joining a team. “You don't have to take responsibility for everything to get involved. But that clinician voice is so important to make sure that we’re headed in the right direction. So even if it’s just 30 minutes every other week or 15 minutes here and there, we can use that to help achieve our goals.”