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Dear Vori,

Founder's Story: Building the Future of Better Care

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Mary O'Connor, MD, Vori Health Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer

I have often been asked why I left the comfort and security of my successful career in academic medicine to co-found Vori Health with my amazing partner, Ryan Grant, MD.  

The answer is simple: I am a doctor committed to helping people lead healthier lives, and I often struggled to do this in our traditional healthcare system.

As an orthopedic surgeon, I like to fix broken things. But repairing such substantial flaws in our traditional system required building something new—something better.

A powerful lesson

In my many years practicing as a Mayo Clinic trained orthopedic surgeon and as Chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Florida, I learned a simple but powerful lesson: For medical care to be successful, the needs of the patient must come first.

For medical care to be successful, the needs of the patient must come first.

I carried this lesson with me up the East Coast to Connecticut, where I later served as director of the Center for Musculoskeletal Care at the Yale School of Medicine and Yale New Haven Health.

Over the years and with exposure to numerous medical centers, my journey taught me that traditional medical systems struggle with this lesson—not for lack of good intention, but, for inadequately understanding the needs of the patient.

What do we need to be healthy?

Experts say that medical care—like seeing your doctor—accounts for only 11 percent of our health (Goinvo, 2018). Yes, just 11 percent!

Certainly, there are times (for example, when a patient has a serious medical illness like cancer, or is having a heart attack) when this care is 100 percent essential. But the rest of the time, medical care only makes up a small part of the puzzle.

As for the other pieces: Genetics contributes 22 percent to our health, our environment—nine percent, and our social circumstances—24 percent—all factors over which health care professionals have little, if any, influence.

The largest contributor to our health? Individual behavior, weighing in at a whopping 36 percent!

The largest contributor to our health? Individual behavior, weighing in at a whopping 36 percent!

Here is where health professionals could make a big difference—in helping patients adopt healthier behaviors—but our current system is not set up to support these efforts. The present epidemics of obesity, immobility, arthritis, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease are absolute proof of this failure.

Treating a person, not a body part

The cure for this problem has been well documented (Jayakumar, 2022). To improve health, patients need the support of a doctor-led care team—a group of health professionals from multiple specialties who work together to support the patient as a whole person, not just as a symptom like low back pain.

The patient must be at the center of that team and the most important member. Creating such multi-disciplinary teams is very challenging in our traditional healthcare system, which is why Ryan and I founded Vori Health, so that we could do things differently (and better).

I have never been more excited to be in health care than I am right now.

What matters to you?

At Vori Health, we embrace a biopsychosocial model of healthcare. Expert physicians lead our Care Teams to provide medical expertise in diagnosing and treating muscle and joint pain. But as we also recognize the psychological and social impact of an individual’s life on their health, each patient’s Care Team also includes a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, physical therapist, registered dietitian nutritionist, and health coach.

Our multi-disciplinary teams focus on not just “What is the matter with you?” but “What matters to you?” to highlight how a musculoskeletal condition impacts a meaningful part of a patient’s life. For some patients, what matters to them is playing with their grandchildren, for others, it might be running a 5K. Our team designs care plans to support each patient’s individual goals.

Making great care accessible for all

Our personalized model also advances health equity, a very important focus for me. As an orthopedic surgeon I have cared for countless women, especially women of color, who felt their voices were not heard by their doctors. I have seen the bias in the system against individuals of low socioeconomic status.

For 13 years, I have chaired Movement is Life, a national non-profit multi-stakeholder coalition committed to health equity. Through Movement is Life’s community-based program, Operation Change, I learned the importance of emotional connection to support behavior change.

The goal of our Care Teams, and in particular, of our health coaches, is to emotionally connect with our patients. We empower patients to take on meaningful behavior change and improve their health.

The goal of our Care Teams, and in particular, of our health coaches, is to emotionally connect with our patients.

We also support health equity by meeting patients where they are. We understand that some individuals want or need in-person care, and some prefer the convenience of virtual visits. By offering both through a hybrid model of care, we stay flexible and provide the personalized support a patient needs.

At Vori Health, we know there is a better approach to health care. We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we know that we are on the right track because of the incredibly positive results our patients are achieving! And we will keep working to do even better, guided by the collective wisdom of our patients, team members, and partners.

I have never been more excited to be in health care than I am right now.

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