Emily Seitz Pawlak has been drawn to healthcare since she was a little girl. Her family’s commitment to welcoming aging relatives into their home only reinforced her thinking that she might one day become a doctor.
“I was ten years old when we brought my first grandparent, who was dying of cancer, into the home,” she remembers. “I worked alongside the hospice nurse at that time, and it really made me feel like that was what I wanted to do.”
A candid conversation with her family physician ultimately changed Pawlak’s mind about practicing medicine herself, but it didn’t stop her from finding a way to serve. Today, as vice president of revenue cycle at TriHealth, she is proud to make a difference in the experience of patients and colleagues alike as they navigate the Cincinnati-based healthcare system’s complexities—especially since encountering those complexities firsthand amid her own family’s health challenges.
Pawlak first joined TriHealth as a member of a newly formed call center while she was still a full-time student at the University of Cincinnati. When the leader of that call center—Yvonne Focke, whom Pawlak still counts as a mentor to this day—took a chance by promoting her after she graduated, it set her on the path to her current role. That path continued at Catholic Health Partners (now Mercy Health), where she gained in-depth experience in patient access services and revenue cycle, before returning to TriHealth.
“When I came back to TriHealth almost seven years ago, I set out a vision for the revenue cycle team,” she explains. “Revenue cycle may be the only division in healthcare that has the opportunity to touch the patient before, during, and after the service, which makes it really important that we know what our focus is. I want us to be world class and top decile in all that we do, and I want us to do it all with compassion, humility, and kindness.”
Her vision touches each of what Pawlak calls “the three Cs” of revenue cycle—cash, customer service, and compliance—and dovetails with her drive for continuous improvement. At TriHealth, that drive has manifested in two major projects in partnership with consultants from Huron Healthcare. The first entailed an assessment of revenue cycle functions that directly affect cash collections, while the second has sought to increase patient access by standardizing decision trees and appointment types within each specialty.
“Access is foundational to our population health journey,” she says. “It’s about changing the paradigm of healthcare to keep patients healthy and out of the hospital. We want to be on the leading edge of that work to show the healthcare industry what is possible.”
To realize those new possibilities, Pawlak encourages her team members—and all aspiring healthcare professionals—to have both the courage to innovate and the awareness to know when to take time for themselves so they can continue serving others. She recommends prioritizing interpersonal relationships, injecting fun into the workplace, and, perhaps most importantly, staying in touch with the “why” of healthcare.
Pawlak’s own “why” came into startling focus when her mother received a diagnosis of Stage 4 ovarian cancer. “Being part of the patient experience continued to open up my eyes to the challenges that our patients face,” she says. “It reinvigorated my mission to help my teams understand that they really do make a difference, whether they’re on the phone with a patient or they’re delivering bedside care.”
She continues, “Unfortunately, my mom recently lost her battle to cancer after a valiant five-year fight. On top of that, I just learned that my father has prostate cancer, so in the middle of trying to figure out the grief journey, I now have to gear up for another cancer battle to support my dad.”
The support, in turn, of her TriHealth colleagues has meant the world to Pawlak over the recent years. In the months and years to come, she hopes to inspire them to keep rising to the occasion to serve patients and one another in times of need because in healthcare, no gesture is too small to have an impact.
“At TriHealth, we empower everybody to pause and do the right thing,” Pawlak says. “It’s beautiful when all of that comes together because it creates such an amazing, healing environment for our patients and their families and guests who are walking through our halls every single day.”
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