Dr. Doug Whitehead has been a primary care physician with over 30 years in medicine.
After medical school at MUSC in Charleston and a residency in the Greenville Hospital System (now Prisma Health), he was a founding partner of Greer Family Medicine. In 2019, after nearly 25 years in the practice, he joined Simpsonville-based Proactive MD.
At Proactive MD, Whitehead cared for patients at the company’s Spartanburg Health Center and is currently at the company’s new Greenville Health Center, which opened in January on Villa Street.
John Collier, CEO of Proactive MD, founded the company in 2016 to be a catalyst for change in the way health care is delivered – to return the focus to advanced primary care and the patient.
Proactive MD partners with both public and private sector employers to provide their employees with high quality care in a dedicated, conveniently located health center – often on-site to large companies. The result is better patient outcomes, healthier and more productive workers at a lower cost than traditional healthcare plans.
The company is growing rapidly and operates in 17 states and has more than 70 healthcare centers, including 11 in South Carolina.
It’s a model that Whitehead says is the culmination of what he’s spent his career trying to deliver.
“We’re just and always about the patient,” he says. “We promise to fight for their greater good.”
Whitehead lives in Greenville with his wife and family.
Grenfell spoke:Thanks for taking the time. Talk a little about your journey to becoming a doctor. Why did you want to be a doctor?
Doctor. Doug Whitehead: I have always been fascinated by people and science. Not only do I find joy in improving people’s well-being, but I also enjoy hearing people’s stories – what makes them tick, what limits them, where they come from, how they got to where they are, etc., especially when they meet their health needs.
Tg:What gives you the greatest job satisfaction?
DW: Communication with my patients. It is rewarding to see patients enlightened when we discover the source of their health problems and to be able to provide them with the solution that will get them back on the path to health.
Tg:Is this what you expected when you first graduated from medical school?
DW: not nessacary. Medicine has transformed dramatically over the years, becoming more sophisticated and complex. When I graduated from medical school, medicine was like a one-way street, where the provider came up with the right solution for the patient, period. Now, medicine is a two-way street, where you can practice medicine while connecting with patients on a deeper level to find the right answers to their health problems together. Now it’s interesting to see how people’s stories, and where they come from, can influence their health issues today.
Tg: I have spent a significant amount of time working in a more traditional healthcare delivery model. What are some of the limitations and challenges posed?
DW: Traditional models drive volume, often at the expense of value. Volume-based models can lead to providers losing sight of the patient’s greatest good and focusing instead on the health system, insurance plan, or hospital bottom line. This makes the patient feel like a cog in a referral machine without a real medical home.
Tg:In an interview with The Greenville News, CEO John Collier said directly that the current healthcare system is broken. What is the most broken part?
DW: referral engine. When there is no healthcare provider to take ownership of a patient’s entire health journey, the patient often faces long waiting times to see a referred specialist, who may or may not be able to resolve the issue. They pass him or her on to the next specialist, creating a frustrating cycle—and more expenses for employer-sponsored health plans.
Tg:How does Proactive MD’s advanced primary care concept address these issues?
DW: We put the patient first. We offer employers a personalized approach to caring for their patients, with an emphasis on quality and cost reduction. We are able to address certain systemic healthcare issues as well as employer’s unique healthcare concerns. We do this by prioritizing the provider-patient relationship with longer appointment times and more accessible appointments.
We create a medical home for patients that provides broad-spectrum care and actively maintains communications with patients throughout their care journey. We also have patient advocates on our staff, to meet patients where they are and provide resources, communication and support.
Tg:What is the biggest advantage of this model?
DW: patient experience. We are always looking for ways to improve each individual care touchpoint. For example, our patients do not have waiting times. We bring our patients directly to the provider. We schedule longer appointments to allow the patient plenty of time to ask questions. Our patient advocates lead the referral process – what we call the continuum of care – which takes the burden off the patient and streamlines the process. This also reduces costs for the business owner.
Tg: Are there lessons that traditional service providers can or should draw from this concept? In other words, it’s great if you work for a Proactive MD corporation or municipality, but what about people who don’t?
DW: The key takeaways I’d like to share, whether you’re a traditional provider, business owner, or individual: There is an alternative model of care that puts the patient first. Yes, the healthcare system is complex and there are many players, but at Proactive MD we have found that when we lead with the goal of achieving the highest possible patient outcomes, the rest falls into place. This is usually the most cost effective path.
Tg: What is one thing you wish everyone cared about about their health – what would make your job easier?
DW: There are a lot of myths out there about how to improve your well-being, and I wish everyone would pay more attention to what actually works. It sounds simple, but good health lies within you. There are three basic things that can greatly improve your health: eating, sleeping, and moving. If we all ate a more balanced diet, exercised more, slept more, and paid more attention to how our daily routine affected our well-being in the future, I think people would be surprised at how much it affects our health.
From a January talk:15 minutes with Dr. Marjorie Jenkins, dean of the University of Southern California School of Medicine in Greenville
Tg: What is the biggest lesson you learned from the pandemic as a doctor?
DW: During the pandemic, we’ve seen more distrust of the medical community than ever before. I think the way people have received communications throughout the pandemic has caused a lot of suspicion and division in our communities. As providers, I believe we need to recognize the importance of clear communication with our patients to maintain people’s trust.
Tg:What are you hoping for as Proactive MD grows?
DW: I hope more and more people and companies realize that there is a different approach to care that solves some of our biggest healthcare problems. I would like to see a widespread paradigm shift across the country, and of course I would like to see the proactive manager at the helm. As we continue to grow and provide care across the country, I hope we will continue to focus on influencing care throughout our home base here in South Carolina. We now have four direct primary care sites in the Northern region alone, so I’m excited to see what the future holds as we continue to expand to better serve more lives.
From Greenville Market:MD’s proactive approach to health care promises higher quality and lower cost
Tg:I’ve been working in the Greenville area for a long time. Are you from this area? What do you think of the region’s growth?
DW: I’m originally from Murrells Inlet. However, I have lived and worked all over South Carolina. I’ve been in Greenville for 33 years now and watched it grow from a small textile town into a beautiful thriving community where people can live, work and raise a family. I find the growth in Greenville exciting, and I look forward to seeing how it continues to transform for years to come.
Tg:What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?
DW: You can find me traveling or hiking all the amazing places around Greenville and western North Carolina. I also enjoy playing golf in my spare time and spending time with my two year old granddaughter.
Tg:The region has developed a rich and diverse dining scene and food culture. Does this make your job easier or harder?
DW: I’m not sure if this will necessarily make work easier or harder, but it definitely makes my life better! I really enjoyed trying new restaurants in Greenville and believe our city’s diverse culinary scene can be healthy in general. Exploring different restaurants and cuisines is a great way to inspire people to go home and discover their own recipes.