CMO Sit Down with VyncaCare's Dr. Angela Poppe Ries

Last  month, VyncaCare announced the appointment of Dr. Angela Poppe Ries as Chief Medical Officer. In this Q&A, we take a deeper dive into her plans for ushering the organization into this new phase of supportive services delivery to address even more clinical and SDoH resource gaps at scale.

Well, first, congrats on your recent appointment to CMO. The company is certainly at an inflection point in expanding its services, so this must be an exciting time from a clinical and business strategy perspective.

Thanks, it’s been an exciting transition, but it’s helpful that I didn’t step into this role cold turkey. I’ve been a medical director at VyncaCare for a while now, where I am responsible for implementing a strategy for how we as an organization could become more innovative and impactful around how we deliver care to our patients. So this new role is a natural evolution of the work I’ve already been doing.

While palliative care will always be focused on helping someone with a progressive, potentially terminal illness and coaching them on how to make better-informed healthcare decisions, I think there was a recognition by our team that our value extended far beyond what is seen as traditional palliative care. We were offering much more in terms of supportive care and helping them navigate the problems around social determinants of health. As a result, we could improve their lives in ways that more traditional palliative care could not.

So, talk to us about the VyncaCare supportive care model. What does it entail, and how has it elevated your approach to serious illness management?

At its heart, the VyncaCare supportive care model offers a comprehensive, whole-person approach to delivering care to vulnerable and underserved individuals battling serious illnesses. This includes offering palliative care when and where it is needed most, thinking about the care gaps in rural areas where such special treatment might not even be offered, and connecting patients to essential social services and resources that are important to maintaining good health. Some SDoH elements include access to healthy food or transportation to necessary follow-up appointments that might otherwise be missed.

Regarding VyncaCare’s primary offering today, would you consider this model a pivot?

Historically, VyncaCare has been an advance care planning organization arming individuals with the technology resources to capture their end-of-life care treatment preferences digitally so they were accessible everywhere. Over time and via the acquisition of ResolutionCare, our team extended our offering to include virtual palliative care with an emphasis on treatment in the California region, particularly in remote and underserved areas of the state. During this experience, our teams realized that these individuals often needed not only supportive treatments to help them manage their serious illnesses, but also, lacked the basic social necessities to help remain as healthy as possible. As a result, and in response to this growing need, we evolved our model to support all of these resource gaps in a streamlined way. We’ve been doing this for a while but more recently put it under a more formal framework of our care.

So how does this supportive care service offering differ from how cancer centers use the term?

The term supportive services isn’t entirely new but, in our experience, it now means something much more comprehensive today than say 5 years ago. Originally it was a term used by big cancer centers like MD Anderson, like Stanford, to quell negative connotations related to the term palliative care. People confused it with hospice and made assumptions that it was essentially terminal support and not an effort to help people live their best lives possible while managing a serious illness. Supportive services today is much broader involving a team of board-certified physicians, nurses, social workers, care managers, and chaplains that can act as an extension of your existing healthcare team and address every aspect of a patient’s health in a holistic way intended to put them on the best path forward health-wise.

Can you also explain how VyncaCare plays into Enhanced Care Management?

We believe that VyncaCare’s supportive services model is organically well suited to support  enhanced care management service delivery in California right now (and possibly other states in the future). We were already working with this Medicaid population in Northern California. We already knew the community resources available. Furthermore, we already knew how to talk to them about housing and food insecurity because we were having these conversations with our palliative care patients who had high social determinant of health needs.

Today under the enhanced care management umbrella, we can now support an even larger Medicaid population (both palliative care and non-palliative care patients) and help them address a combination of physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs to improve their quality of life.

So, what’s next for VynaCare and its supportive care offering?

I think what we are doing at VyncaCare aligns with the trajectory of where healthcare in general is headed. Health systems are recognizing, and I think what we all are recognizing as a society, that some of these traditional approaches to care delivery have actually held us back from achieving true wellness. It’s only when you look at what poverty looks like, what systemic racism looks like, what food insecurity looks like and then realize the detrimental impact these factors have on health, that the need for a more holistic approach to care becomes abundantly clear. Moving ahead, we remain committed to finding new and innovative ways to use our supportive care model to impact both health and quality of life in a positive way.