Skip to content ↓

MIT Medical director outlines improvements in care, access for Institute community

Kettyle likens task force report to 'annual physical'

MIT Medical's 389 staff members handle 130,000 patient visits a year from students, staff, faculty, alumni and their family members. These patients, who range from newborns to the elderly, see primary care clinicians and a host of specialists or are referred to world-class teaching hospitals such as Mt. Auburn, Massachusetts General, Children's and Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

In 2004, then-President Charles Vest created the Task Force on Medical Care for the MIT Community, charging it with examining the cost and quality of medical services and health insurance coverage provided by MIT to its students, employees, retirees and post-docs. In November 2005, the task force concluded that the existing MIT model for providing health care and health insurance has performed well historically, that the MIT community is generally highly satisfied with it and that it can continue to serve MIT well in the future. A working group led by then-Executive Vice President and Treasurer Sherwin Greenblatt reviewed the task force's 41 recommendations and issued a progress report last month.

Dr. William M. Kettyle, medical director of MIT Medical, provides an overview of the task force process and what MIT Medical patients can expect as the recommendations are implemented.

Q: You've seen a lot in your 15 years at MIT Medical, the last seven as the department's medical director. How has health care at the Institute changed during your tenure?

MIT Medical has provided over 100 years of care for students and faculty and staff, so we have a very long tradition of providing convenient on-site care, and that won't change. We're a multi-specialty practice providing care across the continuum of ages from preconception to conception to geriatrics. It's like providing care for an entire extended family, albeit one with a huge number of children in the 17-to-21 age range. We're not just a student health service or just a company doctor--we're all those things and more.

The task force process allowed us to take a thorough and careful look at the medical care needs of the community and how we were meeting those needs. We also looked at our insurance programs with a renewed interest in making sure their fiscal foundations are robust.

The task force pointed out areas in which we needed to enhance our services and underscored a real need to administer benefits differently. MIT Human Resources is making a number of changes in medical benefits, and we are undertaking a number of changes that will enhance availability of care.

A recent trend is that patients have become much more involved in their own diagnosis and treatment options. Medical care is now more of a partnership between the patient and the provider, which is a good thing.

Q: One of the recommendations of the task force was to add resources and improve the access to care. How is MIT Medical working toward these goals?

Our goal is an overall improvement in access to care, as well as improvement in access to care in specific specialties and to new clinicians. We now have a full complement of five triage nurses. This means that we will be able to get people to the right level of care and the right caregiver in a timely fashion by phone, e-mail or in person.

We also are hiring two new additional female internists. We want to be sure we have comfortable care for all members of our community, and we saw a need for more female, primary care practitioners. Both of these new internists are highly experienced, mid-career physicians. In addition, we have improved access to Dermatology, the Eye Service and Neurology through partnerships with key medical institutions.

We evaluated our dental services and decided that on-site, convenient, high-quality dental care with a full range of services from checkups to implants makes a lot of sense for the community. To put the Dental Service on a more robust fiscal footing, we have increased the hours of service and increased the efficiency of scheduling so we now have more appointments available and can serve more people.

We have expanded our mental health services for students and staff and continue to look carefully at our outreach programs as we explore more ways to connect with the community, especially regarding the effects of stress and overwork.

We have made huge strides in the technology of our information systems as well. We are one of the few major medical practices with completely electronic and secure patient-data recording. Patients can request appointments and ask questions online while their privacy is completely protected. Soon, all medical records will be online, and patients will be able to access their test results online.

Q: One of the current trends is a focus on wellness, healthy lifestyles and preventive medicine. What is MIT Medical doing about these issues?

We have a number of initiatives in place and are developing more ways for people to be proactive about their own health. Getfit@MIT, for instance, is a team-based exercise-focused program, this year involving almost 2,300 people.

Our Center for Health Promotion and Wellness works to help members of the community get the information they need to make healthy lifestyle choices. Their outreach efforts include workshops and classes on specific topics like nutrition, fitness, and stress management.

We are also continuing to increase our role in environmental safety and natural disaster, pandemic flu and severe storm preparedness. This is an important area of involvement for us.

Q: Do you have any final thoughts on the task force process?

I like saying that the task force evaluation can be compared to one's annual physical. It is something you should do on a regular basis to make sure that you are healthy and fit. It's a source of valuable information you can use to stay healthy or become healthier. So at MIT Medical, we want to make sure that our organization is also healthy and vital. It is our mission to continue to serve the Institute, in this way, by promoting wellness and providing care in support of effective learning and research.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 25, 2007 (download PDF).

Related Links

Related Topics

More MIT News