Emerging Leaders in Healthcare: Kyna Fong of Elation Health

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Article
MHE PublicationMHE September 2023
Volume 33
Issue 9

Kyna Fong, Ph.D., CEO and co-founder, Elation Health, the clinical-first technology platform for high-value primary care, is one of the 12 up-and-coming leaders in healthcare included in the annual Managed Healthcare Executive feature.

I was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, and moved with my family to the U.S. just before high school. My first exposure to primary care was as a teenagerhelping my dad, a family physician, start his practice in the San Francisco Bay area. I was the receptionist, biller and office manager in the clinic, hiring and training the staff more than a decade.

Fong

Fong

Professionally, I began my career in academic policy and research. After graduating from Harvard University with undergraduate degrees in math and computer science and then my Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University, I became a tenure-track economics professor at Stanford, focusing on game theory and healthcare.

In an effort to move my dad’s practice from paper to digital, my brother and I were disappointed and confused by the electronic health record products available on the market, which would require us to either hire additional staff or see fewer patients. We built the first version of Elation to put the clinical experience first, not coding and billing first, and implemented it in our dad’s practice. We continued working on the product together, eventually co-founding Elation Health.

Career turning point: When my dad asked me to help him with his primary care practice. In the clinic, I was exposed not only to the inner workings of a medical practice but also the front lines of patient care. I learned quickly what high-quality personalized care looks like and how much it means to patients to have a doctor they trust. My experience during that time was instrumental in shaping how I view healthcare and the mission and purpose my brother and I have built into Elation’s ethos — to make it possible for every patient to have a primary care doctor they trust. 

Biggest challenge of the job: Today, we’re honored to work with a variety of primary care-led organizations, from large enterprises to small independent practice. In my job, I need to shift quickly between different contexts — simultaneously focusing on priorities to execute in the near term while ensuring our strategy continues on track and is sustainable for the long term. This includes not only making critical strategic decisions but also building a phenomenal team and maintaining an authentic culture so we can continue to scale our primary care mission.

Long-lasting COVID-19 Effect: We tracked the impact of the pandemic on our primary care community closely. Almost overnight, we watched practices face a wave of cancellations and a rapid shift from in-person appointments to high volumes of phone and telehealth appointments. It was a stressful time for many of our customers.

Elation Health worked closely with our community, supporting them with navigating the new parity reimbursement and by integrating telehealth tools into the platform. During that same time, we also transformed our workforce to being a remote company and doubled our team in size.

What I would change about U.S. healthcare: If I could change one thing about the U.S. healthcare system, it would be for primary care physicians to be one of the best-paid specialties, instead of one of the worst-paid specialties. This would mean that we were finally unlocking the value of primary care. Our financial incentives would be aligned in the right direction, and we would be attracting the best and the brightest clinicians (to primary care). Research has shown that an additional $1 spent on primary care leads to $13 saved on downstream costs. It’s no secret the U.S. healthcare system absolutely needs to be investing more in primary care today.

Book everyone in healthcare should read: The 2007 book “How Doctors Think” “by Jerome Groopman, M.D., is a must-read for anyone wanting to create positive change in healthcare. The book explores the nuance of the physician-patient relationship and how to work with clinicians to deliver the highest quality care in the future.

Guilty pleasure: Na Ya Dessert Cafe in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley is a favorite of mine. They make these incredible Thai-inspired desserts, including mango sticky rice, crepes and shaved ice bingsu.

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