A Career Dedicated to Patient- Centered Care

April 15, 2017
VOL 19 NO 1

Ask John Drawbert, MD ’80, what accounts for OakLeaf Surgical Hospital’s extraordinary patient satisfaction rankings, and he’ll tell you it’s about being present.

John Drawbert
John Drawbert

“Each patient expects that when a doctor is spending time with him or her, that’s the doctor’s only priority at that moment,” says Drawbert, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist who helped found the Altoona, Wisconsin, specialty facility. “It comes from the top. Our CEO, our CFO, our head nurse, they all translate to those who work for them that the most important thing is the experience each patient has here.”

That formula put OakLeaf on the map. Since the hospital opened in 2001, Consumer Reports has named it “Best in the Nation” for patient experience, and in federal surveys, OakLeaf received a “highest overall” patient satisfaction ranking. In 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services listed OakLeaf among 251 hospitals — from more than 3,500 — with a five-star rating.

OakLeaf’s services are competitively priced. Drawbert says total knee and hip replacements there average several thousand dollars less than at competing places.

“You can do very well if you minimize the bottom line and maximize the quality of the patient experience,” Drawbert maintains. “The rest will follow.”

In an industry that seeks healthy patients and healthy profits, charging less for better care may seem counterintuitive. But OakLeaf’s founders never felt that way.

“Our philosophy has been that if we made a great product and charged less than others, we’d be successful,” says Drawbert, who has been a hospital leader and the chair of the OakLeaf Board of Directors since 2006.

The hospital and its philosophy have roots in the 1990s, when large health clinics were entering the area. Under the leadership of general surgeon Steve Immerman, MD, Drawbert and a few colleagues began to look for a way to continue to practice independently. They opened a small ambulatory surgery center in 1997.

“From the start, our mantra was excellent care at a reasonable rate,” recalls Drawbert. “We felt we could do that because we didn’t have the kind of overhead some of the larger groups had.”

Today, the 30-bed facility includes seven surgical suites, two GI suites and a pain management center. Its 54 affiliated surgeons span 15 specialties and offer overnight and outpatient procedures. While OakLeaf merged its operations with National Surgical Healthcare in 2004, its determination to provide patients with affordable, quality care has not wavered.

After all, Drawbert reasons, “Patients are paying big bucks for medicine nowadays. It should be a great experience and it should be a personal experience.”

The Roots of Innovation

Drawbert is no stranger to innovative medicine. As a high school and college athlete who endured sports-related injuries, the fledgling sports medicine specialty intrigued him when he was a medical student at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

“In my M4 year, sports medicine was barely heard of,” he remembers. “But UW–Madison had Dr. Bill Clancy, an orthopedic surgeon, and spending time with him piqued my interest.”

William Clancy, Jr., MD, was a pioneer in anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstructive surgery and an avid athlete. He founded the UW Health Sports Medicine Program in 1974, a few years before Drawbert entered the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

During Drawbert’s orthopedic surgery residency at the University of Kentucky, he was on the team that treated the Kentucky Wildcats. His next move was to Salt Lake City, where he pursued a sports medicine fellowship in knee and shoulder surgery.

Wisconsin Ties

During medical school, Drawbert dated a fellow Madison native, Helen (Sivertson), whose  father — the late Sigurd Sivertson, MD ’47 — was an UW School of Medicine and Public Health assistant dean at the time and retired as an emeritus professor of medicine. Soon after Drawbert earned his medical degree, the couple wed — with UW School of Medicine and Public Health classmate Patrick McBride, MD ’80, MPH, serving as a groomsman, as Drawbert did in return when McBride got married. The two couples have remained fast friends.

John Drawbert and his wife
Helen Drawbert and John Drawbert

Drawbert and his wife returned in 1986 to their home state’s Chippewa Valley, where they planned to live for a few years before moving to Madison.

“But we loved Eau Claire and decided to stay,” Drawbert notes.

Three children and 31 years later, they are committed community members. Both have served on boards for UW-Eau Claire and its foundation. Helen Drawbert has been a member of the Altoona School Board for 15 years, including four years as its president.

Drawbert and his colleagues also have participated in several orthopedic surgery medical missions in Vietnam.

Most significantly, the community benefits from Drawbert’s passion for sports medicine. As the team physician for UW-Eau Claire’s Blugolds since 1987, Drawbert also is the medical director of the university’s Athletic Training Education Program, which prepares students to serve as certified trainers and athletic health care providers. Over the past 30 years, Drawbert and his partners have provided more than $3 million to support the training program and shared their guidance and expertise. Its trainees gain valuable hands-on experience as they care for student athletes at the area’s 14 high schools.

But in the end, Drawbert says, “Our goal is to provide good care here for athletes.”