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CU Nursing student Alexis Koutlas

Students

First class in CU’s new doctorate program for health systems and leadership graduates

One grad aims to keep sick patients from getting lost in the health care system

Author Deborah Mandeville | Publish Date December 11, 2020

Three doctors, three different treatment plans. X-rays. MRIs. Referrals to new doctors and new examinations. Despite months of medical appointments, it will still be at least six more weeks until Alexis Koutlas knows the extent of her 83-year-old mom’s arthritis in her neck and how to treat it. And that, Alexis says, is not O.K.

“I get that it’s not critical. But she’s already been at this for three months. Her quality of life is significantly diminished and her pain level is high. The process to care delivery has been fraught with waste.” Alexis, CU Nursing doctorate student, said.

It’s not just her mom. Sick patients everywhere get lost in the health care maze. When the patients are intelligent and determined, Alexis says the complex system can be impossible to navigate. If children of young families or elders are alone, or suffering multiple chronic conditions, the system designed to help can actually hurt them physically, emotionally and financially. A Harvard study of American health care found the process places “unexpected and unnecessary burdens” on the sickest while they try to get effective treatments and services.

That’s just one reason why Alexis has dedicated her life to fixing it.

“My ultimate dream is to look at the health care delivery system and help patients get what they need more quickly and in a way that eliminates waste and improves quality.”

Alexis is one of nine students in the inaugural class at the University of Colorado of the doctorate program for health systems and leadership that graduates December 12, 2020. She also holds an MN Master’s Degree in the I-Lead program from the University of Colorado, and a degree in nursing from Marquette University.

Alexis says health care needs to be reworked from the ground up. The second part of her dream is to develop the nursing framework that naturally allows the health care system to establish and sustain real change.

“It’s like building a house. First you build the foundation and then you can start adding in rooms. The right framework has to be there first,” Alexis said. “I’m interested in building systems that deliver high quality, value-based care that align with the Quadruple Aim of reducing cost, increasing satisfaction and improving patient outcomes.”

Her drive to change the system stems from experiences with both of her parents. When she was 12 years old, her dad had open heart surgery.

“My dad did well. He recovered and lived a very full and blessed life. But he had his fair share of hiccups along the way. As the health care system became more complex, it became harder for him to manage it and get the same level of quality. So, I’ve always used my education to support that navigation, that learning, and improve it.” said Alexis.

Her dad’s experiences left their mark on all of the children. As adults, she and both of her brothers have worked in medicine. Her oldest brother is a pediatric and adult cardiac and thoracic surgeon where they all live in Washington. Now that Alexis has earned a doctorate in nursing, she’s taken a job as Director of Integrated Care Management at Embright, LLC in Seattle. It’s a perfect fit, as Embright’s goal is to enable collaboration that will improve the health and well-being of the patients it serves.

While Alexis’s mom may never receive the benefits of that future health care system, at least her daughter is working hard to make it better for other parents down the road.