Dr. Timothy Ferris: One Doctor’s Journey from Nepal to Boston

timothy-ferrisTimothy G. Ferris, MD, MPH, Senior Vice President for Population Health Management at Partners Healthcare has always been interested in understanding how to reduce suffering by optimizing scarce resources. A year spent studying the public healthcare systems in Nepal and Indonesia, and seeing those patients suffer, firsthand, deeply touched Dr. Ferris.

Prioritizing Resources to Reduce Suffering

In Nepal, a country with one hospital bed for every 5,000 patients, nearly 1 in 10 children die before their first birthday; in remote mountain areas that number rises to nearly 2 in 10. A “city doctor” in Nepal cares for an average of 18,000 patients and rarely visits the rural areas where 90 percent of Nepal’s population lives.

Health outcomes in Indonesia have improved significantly since 1980 when life expectancy was only 52 years compared to almost 70 today, and some 100 infants out of every 1000 died before their first birthday. Today, virtually all Indonesians have access to basic care through a network of 30,200 health centers and some 5,800 mobile health clinics. However, Indonesia’s health workforce overall is small relative to other similar income countries. Physicians and specialists are in very short supply that is troubling given the proposal to provide universal healthcare to all Indonesians.

“Collectively we’re investing lots of resources to reduce suffering,” Dr. Ferris says. “The question is are we allocating those resources effectively. I was amazed at how Nepal and Indonesia prioritized the scarce resources they had to deliver care to rural patients.”

The Journey From Nepal to Boston

Formally trained in both internal medicine and pediatrics, Dr. Ferris is now a practicing primary care physician and Senior Vice President for Population Health at Mass General Hospital and Partners HealthCare in Boston. He leads the Partners Healthcare Pioneer ACO and is responsible for design and implementation of system-wide care delivery changes that will improve patient health, improve patient experience of healthcare, and reduce the healthcare cost burden.

From being a researcher in the 1990s to his time spent on the administrative side of healthcare during the 2000s, Dr. Ferris believes his greatest accomplishment so far is being part of a team carefully designing healthcare programs that deliver superior patient care and achieve cost savings in the process.

The New Triple Threat

“I’ve been part of a developing community of highly skilled, dedicated people who are committed to improving healthcare delivery,” he said. “This growing community must understand caring for patients, the systems that support care delivery, and the data that informs the assessment of opportunities, care redesign, and evaluation. This is the new triple threat.”

Dr. Ferris believes all nascent movements go through a predictable set of phases. The last several years have seen growing excitement for Population Health Management. However, Dr. Ferris predicts that over the next few years the process will be one of one-step forward, two-steps back.

“People will see the approach takes longer to implement than they expected and it’s much harder in practice than in theory,” he said. “A deep commitment is a necessity to weather the inevitable setbacks that will arise.”

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