Dr. Julie Watson, Chief Medical Officer at Integris Health
Dr. Julie Watson, chief medical officer at Integris Health – Oklahoma’s largest health care system — has been, quite simply, the commanding general in Oklahoma’s war against COVID.
She’s seen the ravages of the virus firsthand, and she’s led the city through it.
“COVID has been the thing we confronted every day from the moment our eyes opened, and we remembered that the nightmare was still our reality,” she said. “It was brutal. It was harrowing. But we quickly knew that if we were going to do it well, we were going to band together with other health care leaders in the metro. And we did. We banded together to outline the state’s surge planning. We were writing our own textbooks as we went.”
That brutality broke way to hope when the vaccine rolled out.
“This vaccine was the single-most important scientific discovery of our lifetime,” she said. “It was hope in a bottle that then got into your body.”
The lessons from COVID will transform medicine in Oklahoma in the future, Watson said. For instance, Integris will roll out a full ‘hospital at home’ in the first quarter of 2022 to push forward telemedicine in Oklahoma.
“Reliable telemedicine services were very clearly a need during the pandemic,” she said. “For me, this is going to be a really phenomenal evolution of health care delivery during the next 10 years. Health care needs to be convenient. We are too low down on the lists as Oklahomans to not be looking squarely in the face of why we can’t pull out better health outcomes.”
Watson also said the pandemic underlined the need for Oklahoma’s health care systems to focus on mental health needs and health care disparity.
“I am increasingly concerned about the toll this pandemic has placed on our mental health,” she said. “Forty percent of patients have a primary or secondary behavioral or mental health diagnosis. You cannot simply address the medical condition.”
But more than all these changes, Watson wants to see the return to people going to their doctors for medical advice – not their politicians, friends, family and internet sources.
“For me, my agony comes from having watched this dialogue frankly ripped from where it belonged – which was between a heath care provider and his or her patient,” she said. “We don’t ask that of politicians. We trust our healthcare professionals to walk us through our medical decisions. The heartbreak for me is watching the devastation and how this conversation has gotten so derailed and so politized.”