EP66 UniteUs with Rachel McMillan

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I AM GPH EP66 UniteUs with Rachel McMillan
EP66 UniteUs with Rachel McMillan

Alexandra Arriaga: Hello, everyone and welcome back to I AM GPH. My name is Alexandra Arriaga and today we will talk to alumni Rachel McMillan, who earned her MPH here at NYU in 2018. She did the community international health and she currently works at Unite Us as an account manager where she works with communities across the country to establish coordinated care networks that address patients' needs across the social determinants of health. If you'd like to learn more about Unite Us and what they do, how to apply, and what they're looking for in a candidate, please stay tuned.

Alexandra Arriaga: Hello, Rachel. How are you doing today?

Rachel McMillan: I'm well. How are you?

Alexandra Arriaga: I'm doing great, thank you. Can you tell us about Unite Us and what do you do in your role?

Rachel McMillan: Yeah, so Unite Us is a mission-driven healthcare tech company built to reinvent the delivery of health and human services. We do this by closing the gaps in health status and access to care. To put it more simply, we're built to connect people to the services that they need.

Rachel McMillan: We work with communities across the country in 25 states and growing to establish these coordinated care networks that address patient needs across the social determinants of health. And that's something that we talk about all the time in public health, social determinants. That's really at the core of what we think about and do at Unite Us, is how do we connect the different players who are affecting a patient or client or humans' health outcomes, to share information, to close the loop on the care that person is receiving, and ultimately track those outcomes and see what truly happened to that person when they were referred out for another service.

Rachel McMillan: So when partners use our software, they're able to use it to connect with health and human service providers in their community. When a patient presents an unaddressed need, their journey can actually be tracked by everyone who is helping to manage their care. So this is really more of a data-driven approach that ensures that clients are not only connected to the services they need by, say, giving them a phone number to call or a list of resources, but that their outcomes are actually measured and barriers to access are addressed.

Rachel McMillan: So we think of our software as empowering providers to make tangible impacts and to see their results in real time, network by network and community by community.

Alexandra Arriaga: So, question. Does this mean that, for example, if we have a patient, let's say patient X, that lives really far away from any sort of provider, you would help that patient to get to a provider that can assist, and maybe if the person's needs are more complicated than that, you would actually track that person going to a specialist and getting further care. And you basically go through the entire journey.

Rachel McMillan: Yeah. The way that the Unite Us software is used is that it's provider facing. So if that patient presented at their primary care provider for a checkup, and during the course of that appointment it became clear that they were food insecure and lacked access to reliable transportation to get to their appointments and their job, that provider, as it exists today, they might give that patient a list of resources or a phone number to call or tell them where to go where someone might be able to help them.

Rachel McMillan: But when they're able to use Unite Us, they can log into the software, they can actually create this referral in real time, so collecting that patient's consent as well as their basic information, more detailed data points on the services that they're actually needing, and then send that referral electronically directly to the best fit provider. And so then that provider, when they receive that referral, they can take a look, determine based on the information contained within that referral, whether they can serve that patient or not, and then accept that referral, ideally, and see that patient's information for contacting them and reach out and be able to work with them in real time to set up a time to come in to get information about whatever resource that they needed.

Rachel McMillan: So it's taking the onus off of the patient or client themselves. They don't have to navigate what can be a complex space. Oftentimes these individuals have co-occurring needs, so there's a number of different challenges they're trying to address in their lives and this is one more thing layered on top.

Rachel McMillan: But you're empowering the different partner agencies to be able to acknowledge that they received their referral, share the update with the partner that sent the referral, and contact that patient directly so that they're really taking the pressure off of the patient or the client and documenting the services that they're providing for that person.

Alexandra Arriaga: I think that's really amazing. I can think of a case in which something like Unite Us would have been super helpful. I volunteered at a free clinic once, and there was this patient that was given, like you said, a phone number to call and just this pamphlets with instructions and possible resources. This patient had very low literacy and could not understand any of the information that was given. So I think that taking into account social determinants, level of education, literacy. All these things are so important. It seems obvious, but-

Rachel McMillan: Right. It seems obvious, but it's also... We talk about this a lot in this field, but thinking about ways to address these challenges, I think, is where the exciting innovation is happening.

Alexandra Arriaga: And so now that we know about Unite Us, what do you do there? What's your role?

Rachel McMillan: I'm on the customer success team, which is a really key piece of the puzzle here of building out these coordinated care networks. We're responsible for strategizing, planning, and implementing the rollout of these networks and bringing all the key stakeholders to the table to make this successful and get their buy in. That includes health providers, government agencies, community-based organizations. Engaging these community partners is really an essential component of not only standing up, but also sustaining these networks. We work with communities, like I mentioned, across the country and a diverse range of communities. We learn a lot from each network that we build, but we also know that no two communities are exactly the same. And even though we come in with this knowledge and this experience to build these successful networks, we know that at the end of the day, technology is not a silver bullet. And that's something that our co-founders say a lot. The value lies truly in the people that are using it. So as a customer success team, we make it a point to really understand the landscape of service delivery at a local level so that the solutions and workflows and approach that we deliver are not only informed, but also personalized. Essentially, we can't just drop this tech solution, walk away, and it'll solve the problems. We need to work with the people on either end of it. And so we see ourselves as a partner working alongside our communities.

Alexandra Arriaga: That's awesome. And so now I would like to ask you about the intellectual trajectory and the experiences have brought you from one area to the next. First, can you tell us how did you get into this field?

Rachel McMillan: Yeah, so I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and I think that's really formative for me. It's the poorest big city in the country, and communities of low socioeconomic status lack access to a lot of basic resources like affordable healthy food, transportation, safe accessible places to exercise, et cetera. And I grew up noticing that these communities suffered a greater disease burden, although I didn't have the language for it in my youth. But chronic preventable diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes were really prevalent. These obvious disparities really got me thinking a lot about health and how these things were all connected.

Rachel McMillan:I studied abroad in Senegal in undergrad and saw a lot of health challenges actually in Dakar that were similar to what I've seen in the United States and worked in the travel international development space after undergrad, which allowed me to work and travel in Nepal and a few other places, which was very exciting and definitely fit my global perspective, my interest in global health. But that got me thinking, what can we do at the local level, of remembering Memphis, Tennessee, and the communities here in the United States. We haven't gotten this figured out.

Rachel McMillan: So when I came back to get my master's degree here at NYU, I came to NYU with that global thinking. But while studying here really sort of honed in on more of the local community level. And when we think about addressing barriers to social services, that really got me passionate about addressing those social determinants and working within that space.

Rachel McMillan: While I was in school here, I was also working at a tech startup which focused on corporate social responsibility. So, not quite in the health space, but definitely in that social good arena. And I was able to see how technology could really scale services and measure impact. And that got me thinking that maybe the future of public health lies in optimizing technology to improve health outcomes at a community level.

Rachel McMillan: So when I was approaching graduation, I was thinking a lot about that intersection of public health and technology and looking for opportunities in that space. And it felt clear to me that a tech startup would be best positioned to disrupt that space.

Alexandra Arriaga: Absolutely. And so what drew you towards working at Unite Us?

Rachel McMillan: Unite Us really attracted me because we're more than just a resource directory, really empowering providers to follow a patient or client through their full care journey along the continuum.

Rachel McMillan: I liked that we not only have this tech solution, but we also offer our team as a service and that we work alongside these folks on the ground to support the work that they're already doing. I work with networks in Oregon to Virginia. It's across the country, but they have similar pain points that they're trying to address. And there are a lot of great people on the ground doing great work with the clients in front of them. But when they're lacking that visibility into what a partner agency is doing or the co-occurring needs of their client, they're not able to have the full picture.

Rachel McMillan: And so using Unite Us, and my role here, I get to work with them and think through workflows with them and processes with them to empower them to more efficiently do their jobs, the direct service delivery, tracking those outcomes, saving time on those referrals that they're making rather than having to spend time going through a Rolodex or Googling or something like that.

Rachel McMillan: So for me it made sense that this was the right place for me to put my skill set to work to scale up the work that others were already doing.

Alexandra Arriaga: That's really cool. And so I know you mentioned that you did your master's here at NYU.

Rachel McMillan: Yeah.

Alexandra Arriaga: Thinking back to your time here, I'm curious, are there any courses or projects that seem especially relevant to the work that you're doing today?

Rachel McMillan: Yeah, so there's a few courses I think about a lot that really, I think, laid a strong foundation for me here at Unite Us. The Global Issues and Social Behavioral Health, of course, plays a big role. Also Community-based Health Interventions and Health Policy and Management.

Alexandra Arriaga: Classic.

Rachel McMillan: Right. And I actually did an internship at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as my practicum here one summer. I was working in the Bureau of Maternal Infant and Reproductive Health in the Sexual and Reproductive Health Unit, working on a resource directory of providers offering sexual and reproductive health services across the city.

Rachel McMillan: And so this resource directory was being prepared for distribution in print and mobile. I did a lot of technical assistance and follow up and formatting and ensuring that information was as up-to-date as possible. But as soon as I was finished with one provider, they could be out of date, and the time it takes to put everything together and then send it to print and then distribute it, you're missing those pieces.

Rachel McMillan: So that, I think, also really informed the need for something like Unite Us, where partners can update their organizational information in real time and communicate in real time. So it's more than just a resource directory, but it's that active referral process and communication around patient care.

Alexandra Arriaga: Great. Yeah, I can see how that relates. I can see how you translated that into... You saw the problem and you're like, "Okay, what can we do to make it better?"

Alexandra Arriaga: And so for those students that are listening or maybe alums, what types of positions are you hiring for and what are you looking for in an ideal candidate?

Rachel McMillan: We are hiring a lot right now. This is a really good time to join Unite Us. We're growing a lot. We have partnerships across the country with huge health systems. And so we're hiring across our product team, tech teams, but also people operations, network development, marketing, data analytics, and, of course, my team, customer success, is growing a lot. And we're expanding across the country, too, so we're not just growing here in New York City, but we're hiring up in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Louisville, Kentucky, New Orleans.

Alexandra Arriaga: How about Tennessee?

Rachel McMillan: Not in Tennessee yet, but I've got my eye on it for sure. Hopefully one day.

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah, hopefully. And so what are you looking for in the ideal candidate?

Rachel McMillan: We're always looking for people who are smart, hardworking, but also humble and mission driven. And I think that's something that we've done really well so far, is brought on people who are empathetic, innovative, and really energized by the challenges that we're addressing. It's also important to be comfortable with some degree of ambiguity, as collectively, we're doing something that really hasn't been done before. And we're learning a lot with each new partnership we establish and each new office we build out. So I think just having that "go get her" attitude and also that passion for public health goes a long way.

Alexandra Arriaga: Absolutely. But I think in this case that ambiguity is the best thing to have because it means the possibilities are endless.

Rachel McMillan: It's so true.

Alexandra Arriaga: I think that's exciting, actually. I would sell that as a positive point. And in your opinion, what skills or attributes, maybe even type of experiences, will be most important in the next three to five years for professionals in your industry?

Rachel McMillan: I think increasing comfort with technology is going to be key and also the ability to adapt and change quickly. A big part of our role is change management and working with people who have been doing things one way for a while and helping them transition to something new and see the benefits of that.

Rachel McMillan: And for us, we also have to change quickly. We're constantly thinking about how our solution can be... What can it do next for the people that are using it. Also, of course, that passion for policy and systems change and public health. And also I think strong communication skills since we have so many players in this space and we're all coming at this from different backgrounds, but having the ability to communicate really well to different stakeholders and also have that continued empathy.

Rachel McMillan: We're all working really hard. This isn't something that's going to be revolutionized in a short period of time. We're going to all have to work hard together. And so just keeping that in mind as we work together.

Alexandra Arriaga: Absolutely. I think some of the older public health professionals that I've interviewed have all told me that change takes time. What everyone has advice is be patient. In this career you have to be patient because if you want to observe change, it will take time. So, I agree.

Alexandra Arriaga: What is your number one piece of advice for graduate students who are beginning their job search?

Rachel McMillan: Yeah. I always say talk to people, ask someone out for coffee, network. I mean, "network." That word is kind of cringe worthy, I think, "networking." But I like to think of it as just meeting people and relationship building because looking for jobs online can get soul crushing at some point.

Alexandra Arriaga: Yes, absolutely.

Rachel McMillan: And it's hard to know what a company or organization is like or what the job itself is truly like just by reading about it online. So I found a lot of success in just reaching out to people on LinkedIn if I had some kind of connection to them somehow. And sometimes even if I didn't, if they were at an organization that I was really excited about and they were around the level that I would be, I just reached out, expressed that I was interested in hearing more about them and their work, and I found a decent amount of success in people agreeing to get lunch or coffee with me and talk about their industry and the space and their role. I think that helped me understand that company, what that role might look like, and also gave me ideas for other places to search and to learn about. And I think with public health, there are so many things we can do in this space. It's so broad and there's probably a lot of different things that excite a lot of us. So I found that that was a useful way to hone in a little bit more on specific areas and also just build up that community of public health professionals, which I think is so important.

Alexandra Arriaga: Absolutely. That's actually great advice. I would have not thought of that. So, thank you. That's innovative. I haven't heard anyone saying, "Oh yeah, you should just look up people on LinkedIn and reach out." It seems so obvious, but-

Rachel McMillan: Right. And it can be hard, but at the same time I think you can get a lot more out of it than just submitting things online and hoping for the best.

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah, no, I agree. And what motivates you to put in the long hours and continue moving forward even when things get difficult in this line of work? Where does that motivation come from for you?

Rachel McMillan: Yeah. So I was excited to find Unite Us initially because I'm able to utilize my background in public health and also in the tech startup world. But more importantly, it aligns with my passion to leverage technology to address upstream causes of health. So it's more than just working at a company that is in the right realm, but also having a role here that I feel really moves the needle in terms of what's happening on the ground and contributing to that.

Rachel McMillan: So working here, I mean, it energizes me daily. I have great colleagues and, like I mentioned, we're constantly growing, so there's constantly new people joining our team. And they all have a singular drive that really informs their passion for health equity and what we're working towards each day. I also really value being able to keep learning every day. This is, again, constantly evolving and learning in this space, and I'm excited to see what we can achieve as we continue to grow our networks and scale our impact.

Alexandra Arriaga: Thank you so much, Rachel. I think that it's very clear that Unite Us is a great place, and I'm sure some students will probably reach out after listening. Yeah, so thank you so much for your time today.

Rachel McMillan: Yeah, thank you.