Last Updated: Nov 7, 2018
Kathleen Osten, MD is a family medicine physician practicing in Cranberry, Pa. She also serves as medical director of Heritage Valley Health Network’s Clinical Integration Network and Accountable Care Organization. Dr. Osten is the recipient of the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s Everyday Hero Award for November 2018.
“I love the continuity of family medicine,” says Kathleen Osten, MD. For her, spending time with patients isn’t solely about providing medical care. It means the opportunity to interact with patients over time – often, many years or even decades – observing family dynamics and getting a chance to understand each person’s specific challenges.
Dr. Osten earned a scholarship to attend Jefferson Medical College through the U.S. Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. She was gravitating toward a primary care specialty, and Jefferson offered a strong family medicine program.
Following medical school, she completed a civilian residency and then went on to serve in the Air Force as a physician at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, TX. Her work there included sick calls for the newly enlisted, the treatment of active duty service members and their families, and care for retired military members. While most of her time in the Air Force was spent in Texas, she was deployed twice, including a four-month deployment in Cuba where she provided care for Cuban and Haitian refugees.
A few years after her military service concluded, she and her husband weighed their options and chose the Pittsburgh area, where she grew up, as their new home. She’s been taking care of patients in the region since 1999.
Dr. Osten has the privilege of sharing in her patients’ milestones – the joys and sorrows. She enjoys taking time to hear their latest news or to see photos of their children and grandchildren. It’s all part of developing a strong relationship and ensuring patients begin to feel comfortable discussing health issues that are not always easy to talk about.
When she was first starting out in medicine, one of her mentors told her “Talk to your patients and listen.” It was a simple piece of advice that resonated with her and is the foundation of her approach to every patient encounter.
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The art of listening has proven to be critical in Dr. Osten’s work with patients who are managing chronic conditions like diabetes. She is certified through the National Committee for Quality Assurance’s National Diabetes Recognition Program.
“More and more people are getting diabetes and getting it at a younger age,” Dr. Osten says. Her role, as she sees it, is to help patients manage this lifelong disease so that it doesn’t control their lives.
She works with diabetes patients to make medication adherence as simple as possible and encourages maintenance care like eye doctor visits. She also pays close attention to issues like drug costs and what the patient’s insurance will cover that could be potential roadblocks for a patient.
Dr. Osten recalls one male patient who was reluctant to seek treatment for his diabetes – He made his appointment only at the urging of his wife. Dr. Osten has learned from experience that you have to meet patients where they are, so she was careful to bring him along slowly. “You can’t fix everything at once,” she says. It took several years and some trial and error but he was successful in getting his symptoms under control.
Dr. Osten’s experience with chronic care management has given her a unique perspective that she brings to her other role with her organization – as medical director of HVHN’s Clinical Integration Network and Accountable Care Organization.
“As I get older, I work more hours,” she laughs. When her children were younger, she practiced part time. Now that two of her children, Natalie and Jeremy, are both college students studying engineering and Matthew, her youngest, is a high school senior, Dr. Osten has chosen to take on additional leadership responsibilities with HVHN. She credits her husband Sam for his support and encouragement as she pursued these new roles.
She typically spends two days each workweek assisting her organization with meeting its quality goals. Dr. Osten frequently visits her group’s other physician offices to discuss things like workflow and pharmaceutical use.
“I work with a population health team to develop processes that are the most efficient and the least cumbersome for physicians,” Dr. Osten says. She emphasizes that they’re not looking for cookbook medicine – she knows one strategy or process may work better for one practice than another, and there are different ways to achieve quality patient care.
Seeing a patient make progress is one of Dr. Osten’s favorite things about family medicine. Dr. Osten says she doesn’t really believe that there are “difficult” patients. She understands that her patients are individuals with unique experiences that shape their perception of health care.
Through her interactions with patients and her work to improve the community’s overall health through quality initiatives, she has dedicated her career to helping patients achieve their goals.