Jenni Bendfeldt, a manager at ECG, was recently named one of Becker’s Hospital Review’s Rising Stars. We sat down with her to get her perspective on the future of healthcare and her work in the industry so far.
Q: As one of Becker’s Hospital Review’s rising stars, what impact do you hope your work will have on the healthcare industry moving forward?
A: I hope I can help healthcare organizations think about their approach to care a little differently. I feel very fortunate to be in a position where I can help organizations “connect the dots” and figure out how innovative concepts apply to them and what tools (i.e., information and technology) they will need to execute those plans. A lot of it comes down to having a basic understanding of people, how care is provided, and what is possible in a particular environment. Ultimately, I just want to help as many people as I can get better healthcare.
Q: How did you get into healthcare management consulting?
A: I always knew I wanted to be in healthcare, but like a lot of people, I had no idea such a job existed. When I was 19, I started working as a diet tech at a hospital in Nebraska while studying nutritional science/dietetics and psychology. I got to interact with patients and their families, provide nutritional counseling, and experience firsthand what it was like to care for patients. I then moved to Boston to pursue my MHA degree. When I took my first business classes, I realized that I could help even more people by fixing “the system” instead of just one patient at a time. At that time, I also worked part time as a nutritionist doing community wellness programming and as an office manager for a women’s health center. I then got an internship at Tufts Medical Center, where I worked on several process improvement projects and learned the ins and outs of how healthcare operates as a business.
When I graduated, Tufts offered me a position on their EHR implementation team, which was a little scary at first because I had never thought of myself as a “technical” person. But I soon realized that it was less about the technology itself and more about how to operationalize technology so that clinicians and staff could do their work more effectively. I found that my seemingly random previous experiences in healthcare were actually incredibly helpful when trying to understand situations and come up with solutions. I loved it and wanted to do more of it. I had some great mentors that suggested I try my hand at consulting. I searched around for a bit and realized that the culture and opportunities that ECG provided would be a great fit. Now I can’t even imagine a life where I’m not running around trying to solve problems in healthcare.
Q: What is the most interesting challenge you’ve faced as a consultant?
A: I think work-life balance and trying to organize your time so that you can get everything done is probably the biggest challenge for every consultant. Since moving to San Francisco in 2013, I’ve worked with many clients back on the East Coast (having a network in Boston is certainly a contributing factor to this). Dealing with different time zones, conflicting meeting schedules, and competing deadlines is not easy. I’ve also been heavily involved with HIMSS and served on the board of the NorCal chapter for the last three years. I really enjoy the professional development and relationships that have come out of my involvement with HIMSS, but it can be difficult to juggle alongside a demanding consulting career.
Q: What is a particularly rewarding project you’ve worked on?
A: When I was about a year into my career at ECG, I held an interim management position for a health system on the East Coast. I was responsible for the clinical applications team that supported its ambulatory EHR, managed its participation in quality and regulatory programs (i.e., Meaningful Use, PQRS, and ACO), and implemented the EHR to the ever-growing network of community physician practices. The role became increasingly complicated by the fact that we needed to perform a series of upgrades to the EHR in about half the time that it would normally take, did not have enough resources to begin with, and needed to figure out how to successfully operate in the organization’s quickly evolving care model. What should have been an impossible task turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I learned a lot about dealing with vendors and regulatory requirements and managing people, projects, and budgets. I was able to build a team that would go on to support the organization’s future plans—all while traveling coast to coast every week.
Q: Who are some of the leaders in healthcare that inspire you?
A: First off, I think Atul Gawande, Don Berwick, and Zeke Emanuel are visionaries. They have this amazing ability to wrap their minds around the incredibly complex world of healthcare and come up with innovative, realistic ways of making it better. I always feel inspired (and more intelligent) after reading something written by one of them. More recently, I’ve been deriving inspiration from leaders of forward-thinking digital health companies. Concepts like AI, VR/AR, and simple tools to make patients active participants in their own care can be game-changers. I get really excited thinking about how to make these ideas part of everyday care. I’m also constantly inspired by the people I work with at ECG, other healthcare organizations, and HIMSS, as well as mentors/colleagues from the past that got into healthcare because they truly wanted to make a difference.
Q: What do you do outside of the office?
A: I’m a music junkie and will go to concerts or geek out with anyone who will play along. I spend a lot of time with my dog, Sven, who has developed a bit of a cult following at the local dog park and on Instagram. I also enjoy spending time with friends, working out, traveling, cooking, and baking (there is a difference—I enjoy both).