Northwestern Medicine partnership provides a shot in the arm for campus healthcare

Eighteen months after its launch, the partnership with Northwestern Medicine to manage the NIU Student Health Center has proven to be just what the doctor ordered.

For decades, the center has provided basic outpatient health care to students. However, the ever-increasing complexity and cost of health care prompted the university to look for a partner with specialized expertise to operate the facility. They found an ideal partner in Northwestern Medicine: a nationally respected healthcare system with two hospitals and multiple specialized clinics in DeKalb County.

As the partnership was forged, the university had four goals, said Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Stang: to enhance the student experience; increase student satisfaction, improve affordability for both students and the university; and to leverage access to the Northwestern Medicine network. All of those goals have been met or exceeded, he said.

“From the outset, our most important goal was to ensure that the excellent level of care that our students had always received at the health center was maintained,” Stang said. “Based upon student feedback, if anything they are even happier with the new arrangement.”

Among the new features students have enjoyed is the availability of same day “walk-in” appointments. Previously, that level of convenience was not available. However, in calendar year 2019, 41 percent of the nearly 7,000 visits to the clinic, were conducted the same day a student requested services.

Access to telepsychiatry services and a continued emphasis on access to women’s health services (both priorities for the university) also have proven popular, Stang said. Visitors to the clinic have also benefited from Northwestern’s investment of about $215,000 in improvements to the facility, including upgraded waiting areas and new medical equipment.

Thanks in part to those changes, a survey found that 81 percent of respondents rated the Student Health Center as an 8 or better on a scale of 10, 89 percent felt the staff were helpful (up 5 percent from surveys under university management); and 74 percent felt they were able to get an appointment as soon as necessary (an improvement of 5 percent).

In Intercollegiate Athletics, where Northwestern Medicine has overseen medical operations since July of 2018, the reviews have been similarly positive. Student athletes’ perception of their quality of care rose to 4.27 (on a scale of 5), up from 3.8 previously and satisfaction with the knowledge demonstrated by medical professionals rose to 4.26 (up from 3.25). As they did at the clinic, Northwestern has invested in improvements to athletic training facilities – about $125,000, much of that in new radiology equipment.

Those gains in satisfaction have come as the cost of providing health services has gone down – for both students and the university. In Fiscal Year 2019, students paid $9.37 per credit hours in health and wellness fees. That cost decreased to $8.98 in FY20 and is scheduled to drop to $7.90 in FY21. At the same time, the university has seen reductions in costs for personnel, pharmacy and lab operations, insurance, replacement of equipment and other costs.

The fourth goal established at the outset of the partnership, leveraging access to the Northwestern Medicine network is also coming to fruition. This fall, students will be able to visit Northwestern Immediate Care in Aurora and receive services at the same price they would pay at the campus clinic – which is often nothing out of pocket.

“We think that will prove to be a very popular aspect of our Northwestern Medicine partnership,” said Stang, adding that other clinical options may be added in the future.

Going forward, Stang said, goals for the partnership include increasing utilization of the facility by students.

“We really believe this is a great asset for students, and we want them to get the most out of it,” Stang said.

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