Oak Street Health: A Clinic System Designed with the Elderly in Mind

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010, Mike Pykosz and his partners, Griffin Myers and Geoff Price, saw an opportunity.

The three Harvard graduates knew that once the ACA was implemented, doctors would be rewarded for the quality of care they provided rather than the quantity. Embracing the change, the trio decided to open up a clinic of their own – one that would emphasize the importance of providing comprehensive preventive care and reducing hospitalization rates. To get the most mileage out of their new model, they made an unusual choice: their clinic would only treat Medicare patients.

From experience, the doctors knew that Medicare patients often suffer as a result of preventable pain points: one problem is that the Medicare system in and of itself is confusing, another is that patient care tends to be divided up among multiple doctors who may or may not communicate. Myers, Pykosz, and Price theorized that an all-inclusive clinic, equipped to help patients understand and navigate both their own healthcare and the Medicare system, would improve the seniors’ health and minimize ER and hospital visits.

In September 2013, they opened Oak Street Health, their first clinic. Located in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, the clinic served 2,500 patients. Within two years, Oak Street Health would boast 15 clinics, all of which served between 2,500 and 3,000 patients, and most of which were located in historically underserved neighborhoods in the Chicago area.

Oak Street Health’s mission hinges on approaching patients holistically. Ability to reach a health clinic can be an issue for seniors, so at Oak Street, patients who live within 5 miles of a clinic can choose to receive rides to and from their appointments in one of the clinic’s dedicated vans. Once at the clinic, which is equipped with all of the facilities needed to provide preventive care, each patient works with a dedicated care team, consisting of a lead doctor, who spends about 20 minutes per visit face-to-face with the patient, a nurse, a medical assistant, and a staff person who can help the patient navigate the Medicare system, fill out important paperwork, and schedule follow-up appointments. Because this care team never changes, patients are able to establish friendly and trusting relationships with their healthcare providers – and Oak Street Health’s commitment to employ community members whenever possible doesn’t hurt!

Equally importantly, each clinic features a community room, where seniors can mingle with each other (whether or not they have an exam scheduled), attend events, or take classes. Events and classes are targeted to appeal to the community: for example, in communities where many seniors are Spanish-speaking, staff are required to be bilingual and classes are frequently conducted in Spanish.

Myers, Pykosz, and Price have reason to be proud of what they’ve accomplished: their patients are 35% less likely to end up in the hospital compared to an average Medicare recipient, and their reviews are glowing. At a time when the costs of healthcare are burgeoning, the success of the Oak Street Health model is a sign of hope. If more clinics can adopt the Oak Street Health approach, it would be a step in the right direction for the American healthcare system.