Shweta Patel – Pacific HealthWorks
Shweta Patel’s workdays don’t require her to check patients’ blood pressure, inform them of test results, or consult them on treating a diagnosis.
However, as general counsel for Pacific HealthWorks, which mostly manages hospital-based physician practices in Southern California, Hawaii and New Mexico, Patel constantly takes the organization’s pulse.
Whether Patel is providing expertise in compliance with state and federal laws and regulations, HR practices or managing contracts and agreements, her efforts help Pacific HealthWorks manage practices so providers can compliantly focus on patient care.
As Pacific HealthWorks expands the services it provides participating practices, Patel offers legal advice and counsel to help the company grow efficiently and compliantly.
“Health care is a small legal world, especially in-house,” Patel says. “My in-house role is more than just being a legal counsel. I’m here to support with operational and business decisions as well.”
Caring for the caregivers
Pacific Healthworks was founded in 2008. Headquartered in El Segundo, California, the company manages practices with a focus and expertise in emergency medicine, anesthesia, urgent care, hospitalist-intensivist medicine and other ancillary services. The company currently serves more than 50 practices with 750 providers who see 1 million patients annually.
Among its services, Pacific Healthworks offers proprietary reporting and analytics services with its DART and STATHealth in-house reporting platforms. It also provides physician support services, including recruiting, scheduling and credentialing, revenue cycle services, personnel support and management, accounting services and overall practice management.
The practice management includes payroll and compensation services, contracting efforts, provider management, and HR and legal support. Pacific HealthWorks also facilitates provider education from a clinical standpoint, assisting with CME approved provider resources, risk management and best practices
Patel is the sole in-house attorney, which means she’s also frequently involved with managing legal matters for all participating physician groups.
Over the past several years, Patel has created and updated contract forms including physician contractor services, client services agreements, standardization of administrative policies and procedures, documentation guidelines for personnel.
Collaborating on compliance
Patel says compliance is a crucial area to lead within the practices, she assists in setting up programs for the physician groups. The work can entail collaborating with outside counsel and the designated clinical leadership team.
While helping practice groups address and comply with federal and state regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and emerging data and personal information privacy laws, Patel also led efforts beginning in 2019 to reboot and improve the corporate governance program. That effort included developing a written compliance and education program for annual use and creating the compliance committee.
“It’s imperative to collaborate with client leadership and special counsel to ensure that practice and governance are both practical and accurate,” Patel says. “We need to clearly state what’s there, but there’s also a component on how to implement the policies, educate leaders and create more dialogue as well as online resource tools. Our program is only as good as how people are being educated on it.”
She’s also played an integral role in provider and personnel management within Pacific HealthWorks, and the physician practices the company supports. It’s a collaborative effort with the chief administrative officer.
Patel has been streamlining HR programs as she helps strengthen them by revising all employee-related handbooks and policies and doing the same for independent contractor physician policies and guidelines. She says distinguishing between employees and contractors is crucial in California. She’s also part of the ongoing effort to build a nurse staffing agency as the newest client management area.
As Pacific HealthWorks has added new services, such as supporting a new nurse staffing client, and a professional coding and billing group, Patel finds her skillset expanding, too. The billing and coding for services provided requires understanding state and federal regulations for Medicare and the California Medical Assistance Program, or Medi-Cal, which is the state’s implementation of federal Medicaid.
A career in-house
Born and raised in Southern California by parents who emigrated from India, Patel says her interest in a law career developed because she thought it could grow her interest in English literature, writing and analysis.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in international studies with a concentration on business management from the University of California, Irvine, in 2004, she enrolled at Southwestern University School of Law. She says she appreciates the analytical skills she developed as she earned her J.D. in 2007.
Although she briefly practiced medical malpractice defense privately, Patel’s career has been almost exclusively in-house. From 2010 to 2012, she was a regulatory affairs and compliance team member for Applied Medical, a medical device company.
In 2011, Patel joined Pacific Health Corp., serving as a staff attorney before becoming associate general counsel in 2013 before joining Pacific HealthWorks as corporate counsel in 2014.
Outside her work, Patel tries to visit India every couple of years and says she and her family also have enjoyed seeing Europe, Chile and parts of Asia.
As she approaches a decade at Pacific HealthWorks, Patel says providing business, as well as legal, acumen is one of the most rewarding facets of her work.
“This is a company founded to take the burdens of business off the shoulders of practicing health care professionals so they can focus on helping people,” Patel says. “In the way the legal function is set up, I have the same focus on servicing others.”
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