A group of three people gathers around looking at a stack of empty bins labeled “regulated medical waste.”
A waste audit tour of HUP included both the inpatient hospital buildings and the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

Over the course of three weeks this spring, a phalanx of consultants in an unglamorous specialty took a thorough behind-the-scenes tour of Penn Medicine’s loading docks, storerooms, clinical labs, and patient rooms. Their goal was to better understand the trajectories of trash cans. Specifically, they examined where trash, recyclables, and other waste materials flow, where they end up, and how they can be better managed. The audit team traveled through all six of Penn Medicine’s acute-care hospital entities and several outpatient facilities, spanned hundreds of miles across the region, and also included more than two dozen hospital personnel, from environmental services managers to senior administrators.

This waste audit was an important part of Penn Medicine’s ongoing effort to become the nation’s most environmentally friendly health care system. However messy, complex, or difficult it may be to conduct a thorough audit of a complex system, the insights gleaned in this way can make a big difference in building a systemic solution. The carbon audit completed last year, for example, is making it possible to now develop a customized plan so that different parts of Penn Medicine can contribute in different ways toward reaching the system’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2042.

This comprehensive approach also represents an important aspect of how health care can work better, and smarter, by looking at all the parts to improve an entire system. Doing so is essential as Penn Medicine works to implement its 2023-2028 strategic plan, “Serving a Changing World.”

Developing a stronger “systemness” in both operations and culture across one Penn Medicine has been a priority within this organization for some time. As an organizing principle, it is typically capitalized as a formal term, “One Penn Medicine,” and serves as an imperative for work at every level.

These integration processes are rarely simple, but always important, because it is only by pulling together in one direction that we can begin to solve some of the most vexing challenges in medicine.

Turning discovery into treatments

One case in point is turning biomedical research into medicines available to patients nationwide. Going back almost two decades, grim discussions swirled on the national stage about the “valley of death,” a drop-off in the progress of research that happened in between basic scientific discoveries made in research labs and the ultimate goal of translating those findings into new treatments and cures for diseases. As Jonathan A. Epstein, MD, interim executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and dean of the Perelman School of Medicine, recently remarked, “We listened to that debate and did something about it. We took a series of steps that made us the best place for translational research.” For evidence of that success, look no further than the growing, carefully vetted list of FDA-approved treatments that trace back to research advancements made at Penn Medicine.

Bringing care within patients’ reach

Meanwhile, Penn Medicine has grown its physical presence thoughtfully across a wide geographic region in the past decade, providing access to care for patients from the Susquehanna River to New Jersey. Doylestown Health may be the next new piece of UPHS, pending a review process underway this year.

The health system’s growth is not just a matter of increasing scale. It is designed to diversify and strengthen the types of care offered in different places in order to make “One Penn Medicine” a greater system than just the sum of its parts.

Penn Medicine’s investment in cancer care as a system exemplifies this principle. Where once patients had to travel to Philadelphia from across the region to get the most advanced cancer treatments, Penn Medicine has focused on opening doors to care closer to where patients are. Sometimes, this even means that chemotherapy or post-surgical care can be delivered at home. Or, for radiation therapy, many types of treatment are available at outpatient centers through the region, while advanced proton therapy is available to patients at three locations, still leveraging the centralized treatment planning expertise with the world-leading team at the Roberts Proton Therapy Center in Philadelphia, through a unique hub-and-spoke model.

This model brings to life a key pillar of Penn Medicine’s strategic plan: to make care easy and put it within reach. Becoming the nation’s most environmentally friendly health system is another key goal of the plan.

The idea of working together as “One Penn Medicine” makes it possible to soar toward these lofty goals because when we move together, we can move in one direction—for the good of patients, the wider community, and the planet.

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