Iris Plans Announces Partnership with University of Utah Health Plans to Provide Advance Care Planning across the Intermountain West

AUSTIN, Texas, Nov. 15, 2016 -- Iris Plans, an innovator in Advance Care Planning (ACP) for people with serious medical conditions, has teamed with University of Utah Health Plans (UUHP) to improve quality of care and member experience while lowering cost. “Iris Plans is delighted to launch this partnership with such an innovative partner recognized for its leadership in high quality care,” said Steve Wardle, CEO of Iris Plans. University of Utah Health Care, UUHP’s parent, was recently ranked as the number one health system in the nation for Quality and Accountability by Vizient, after seven years in the top 10 of this prestigious ranking.

“We are strong believers in the value of Advance Care Planning, and are delighted to extend this much-needed support to our members who need it most,” stated Dr. Russell Vinik, Chief Medical Officer for UUHP. “Having offered ACP directly to our members around Salt Lake City, we are well-aware of the benefits, but the need is tremendous, and the Iris Plans virtual service will allow us to serve a much larger and more diversified population.”

Iris Plans connects its healthcare professionals with people living with serious medical conditions, along with their family or loved ones through a secure video conference platform. Iris Plans’ specially-trained facilitators provide disease education, resolve conflicts, and help people document what future healthcare decisions are best aligned with their goals and preferences. These documents are then sent to the family and doctors’ offices to ensure people receive the care they want.

“This partnership represents a significant milestone for Iris Plans,” added Wardle, “and we look forward to helping UUHP further enhance their leadership in bringing high quality care to its members.”


Iris Plans is a tech-enabled service that provides Advance Care Planning (ACP), or “healthcare planning,” to people with serious medical conditions. ACP’s proven benefits include a 25% reduction in cost for patients with serious chronic illness, better care, improved health for family members, and higher satisfaction. Iris Plans uses targeted technology and algorithms to help our strategic partners, predominately health insurers and healthcare providers, identify people who will benefit most from ACP, and deliver the service anytime, anywhere.


University of Utah Health Plans (UUHP) began in 1998 and now serves over 155,000 members through the administration of medical, mental health, and pharmacy benefits for both self-funded and fully-insured employer groups as well as government programs including Medicare and Medicaid. Being integrated with University of Utah Health Care, UUHP is uniquely positioned to bring greater value, better cost-efficiency, and an increased patient focus to members and clients.

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For more information, contact:
Phil Ovitt 
[email protected]
(512) 550-4411




Thank You Miss Norma!

Thank you Driving Miss Norma for your inspiration of how a life can be lived and the joy someone can experience at any time! You embraced your life with dignity and it has been a privilege to follow your journey! With great respect and admiration from the entire Iris Plans team!



Heart Failure: The Words We Use, The People That Say Them

Warning: This story has a happy ending, but some rough parts will be found in the middle.

Meet one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. I’ll call her Daphne for the purposes of identity protection. Daphne is in her late 50s, she’s been married for 30 years, has 3 children, and 2 grandchildren. Daphne is tough as nails. I first met her to go through the health care planning (HCP) process with her and her family. She had terrible heart failure and had already survived two cancers. She hunts wild boar and she directs historical battle reenactments. Big ones! Thousands of people participate. And she leads them. Not by speaking gently but by roaring at them. When she roars people listen. I listened. I heard a story of someone who’s already overcome the odds twice with serious cancers and wasn’t going to let heart failure get in her way...




How Do You Fight Cancer?

It’s not easy to drive down a major urban highway and avoid the barrage of ads from the city’s major cancer treatment center describing a new form of promise to patients and families. Here are some real life examples.

•    Introducing Cancer Surgery Without Surgery
•    Fighting Cancer and Winning
•    She Never Gave Up, So Her Cancer Quit
•    This is Cancer’s Cancer (with a picture of a machine that delivers radiation)
•    Cancer, You Don’t Stand a Chance Around Here

These are very clever ads. They sound comforting. I read them and for a moment my own personal concerns about someday being diagnosed with cancer seem to melt. Be assured that hard-working individuals are driving innovation through experimentation with drugs and surgeries, technology, and methods to enhance the patient experience. Those efforts are absolutely vital and the right thing to do. I hope we don’t back down or allow these to come to a halt. But there’s a something critical missing. It’s made up of communication, education, reflection, prayer, community, and other pieces that bring connectedness to the picture. It’s understanding which allows for the creation of plans. People go through cancer with without understanding what’s happened to their body, how the illness changes over time, the burdens and benefits of the available therapies, and the impact of the illness on those they love. How can we ever make good choices without these basic understandings? How can we properly plan?

This might seem too simple or perhaps overblown. So let’s look at a study from one of the most prestigious medical centers in the world in one of the most respected medical journals in published. Doctors at the Weill Cornell Medicine published a study in the Clinical Jounral of Oncology that evaluated cancer patients’ understanding of their situation. They tested 178 patients with the goal of assessing whether or not they knew very knew basic information on their medical condition. They didn’t use medical jargon or big, fancy words. What they found was staggering. Only 9 patients understood what was happening to them. Five percent! Five out of one hundred people could show the doctors that they a grasp on what’s happening with them.

While we have never ending blood tests, scans, and pathology slides to direct doctors, we don’t have nearly enough education, dialogue, and healthy back and forths on what patients want for their care today as well as in the future. Without focusing on this exchange, without emphasizing to patients that they could never make informed decisions without being armed with knowledge, our “war” with cancer will not have the desired outcome.

Education, reflection, and discussion isn’t high tech. It’s planning. While planning helps us prepare for retirement, fund our children’s education, and go on trips, it isn’t part of healthcare. That’s unacceptable because the benefits include higher quality of care, longer life, decreased family distress, and patients staying in control of their care. At Iris Plans we work with patients and families experiencing cancer to plan for their care. This is not a substitute for visits with the oncologist. It doesn’t interfere or replace the care you’re getting now. It enhances it. It empowers you. Don’t wait. The benefits of planning begin at the time of diagnosis. Contact us today through



Cancer and Coping

I practice in a clinic that focuses on supporting cancer patients and their families. We don’t provide treatment for the disease directly. By this I mean we don’t administer chemotherapy or radiation, nor do we perform surgery on tumors. Instead we treat how people are feeling either as a result of their condition or the unwanted effects of the therapies they receive. Our expertise lies in alleviating pain, nausea, shortness of breath, and other distressing symptoms. One aspect of cancer that goes either untended, or under-treated, is mood. This can be patient’s emotions or those of a spouse, the children, or other loved ones. Mood is pervasive in a household. How someone copes with cancer, how they frame what they are experiencing, has an impact on the patient and those they love.

Nothing emphasizes our lack of attention to mood like a recent study published in the prestigious medical journal Cancer. Researchers looked at hundreds of patients with a variety of cancers to understand their perspective on their quality of life, their experience as they journey through their treatment. They then dug deeper to look at how mood and coping mechanisms generate the quality scores reported by the patients.

What they found is alarming. More than half of the patients used negative coping mechanisms (NCM) when thinking about their condition. Examples of NCMs are denial and blame. When denial is at play people tend to not believe they have a serious condition or disbelieve how serious it might be. Denial has been linked to delays in seeking care, developing anxiety, and increased family conflict. Blame is when someone focuses on their role in creating the situation they find themselves in. It is linked with depression, anger, and isolation. These, along with other NCMs, produce situations in medical care, social or family interactions, and even personal finances that hinder people from achieving the best care possible. It is no surprise then that the people displaying NCM had high rates of depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders.

These NCMs don’t need to be the norm. People don’t want to feel this way. Importantly, they don’t need to. There are an equal number of positive coping mechanisms (PCM). I watch patients and families on a daily basis show everyone that they are more than their illness. Cancer doesn’t rule them. They retain control. They inspire those around them. They do so by employing PCMs.

An example of a PCM is acceptance. This does not mean that someone rolls over and allows themselves to be steamrolled by cancer. Instead it gets the patient and family into a “take action” mode. Denial holds us back. Acceptance puts us on the runway and launches us towards staying in control, planning rather than reacting, and brings people together on shared goals. When we deal with problems, challenges, and barriers in a head-on fashion, the results are better. Healthcare is no different. Indeed, the stakes are rarely as high.

At Iris Plans we work with people experiencing cancer and their loved ones through health care planning. Included in these sessions are tips and techniques that assist people in creating resilience and finding ways to live better regardless of your situation. Our expertise, born from our clinical experience and the thousands of scientific studies completed in this area, will help you practice positive coping mechanisms. The benefits are significant and don’t stop with you, there is a ripple effect on those you care about. When is the best time to start health care planning when facing cancer? The answer is the same every time I’m asked. Now.





When it comes to serious illness, even a doctor can make the wrong choice


My wife is a pretty outspoken person. Like me, she is a doctor and I can’t imagine her not expressing her opinion in a medical situation related to her own care.  She has the background to make good choices most of the time but not all of the time.

In the face of serious illness, even someone like my wife can make the wrong choice about her care especially when faced with conflicting advice from multiple doctors in multiple specialties.

Now just imagine a seriously ill person faced with similar choices who doesn’t have a medical background (and no one within their family does either) and yet they will have to make a number of decisions about their own care. And more often than not, they don’t. They fall silent and their doctors do the best they can to make sure their care aligns with their wishes.  

Healthcare planning ahead of this moment of crisis can make all of the difference in the world. It leads to increased satisfaction for all involved and reduces stress.  It is proven to improve quality of life and in some cases help people live longer.   Your doctor or team of doctors will appreciate clearly knowing what your wishes are and this planning will help to reduce the financial burden that unwanted care often causes.

If you are seriously ill or someone you know is, I want to help you/them setup a healthcare plan specific to their illness. This type of care is not expensive and can paid for upfront for $299.90 or in ten monthly payments of $29.90 each.

I am including my personal email below. Please email me your phone number and I or someone from our medical team will call you back to discuss your options for care.

Email me at: [email protected]

Iris Plans is committed to helping you.


Dr. Stephen Bekanich





Tom Brokaw shares a secret with his daughter...

This video is incredibly relevant to what we do at Iris Plans.  Watch it below:

The benefits of healthcare planning are significant, including living better & longer, staying in control, and less physical and emotional distress for your loved ones. Studies have shown that these benefits increase when healthcare planning is done earlier. Start living better today by taking your first steps with Iris Plans. Signup below for an introductory email from Iris Plans.



Healthcare Planning While On The Serious Illness Roller Coaster

Sixty years old Mrs. G was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery to attempt to remove tumor at time of diagnosis. Her doctors informed her she would need to reach an independent level of function in order to be considered a chemotherapy candidate. 

She felt hopeless causing her to be deeply depressed which complicated her chances of recovery.  Her pain was poorly controlled, she developed a poor appetite, she lacked the motivation to get out of bed, and she avoided conversation with her doctors, friends and family. She was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital as a trial to see if she could get stronger.

In rehab she struggled to work to reach independence with her husband’s assistance at her bedside around the clock. She wanted to have chemotherapy to improve her chances for long term survival. Advance care planning (ACP) was recommended by her doctors and she was encouraged to have a “goals of care” conversation with her family.

This “goals of care” discussion with Mrs G and her family identified four goals: 
improved pain management,  improved depression management,  strengthening so she could be independent again, hoping to live long enough to see her first grandchild due in 6 months. 
Mrs. G wanted resuscitation in the face of an emergency but with some limitations

Mrs. G and her husband completed their advanced directives together. During that discussion, Mrs. G and her family were coached on how to clarify her rehabilitation goals with her oncology and her rehab teams. The teams outlined concrete targets including weight, percent of meals consumed, and distance she had to be able to walk in order to be considered a chemotherapy candidate. Symptom management was initiated for pain and depression. With clear goals and symptom control she started to work hard to meet her rehabilitation targets and was able to discharge home with family.

She returned to see her oncologist for an outpatient appointment and she surprised the team with how well she looked and how independent she had become. The plan was for chemotherapy, however, before she could begin therapy she developed new symptoms. Her cancer had worsened.

When she was informed of her of the progression, her goals of care did not change allowing her to continue to live as well as she could despite her condition. She was able to be home with her family, go out to dinner with her husband and continues to anticipate the birth of her new grandchild. Mrs. G and her family agree that she wouldn’t be living as well as she is without having gone through ACP.

Learn more about how Iris Plans can help you here ==>


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Teaching Future Doctors to Talk to Have Crucial Conversations

I read a short piece by Maria Castelluci in Modern Healthcare this month. She highlights the stress felt by residents (those who have graduated medical school but have yet to complete their full medical training) when they face thinking about talking to patients with advance illness about their goals. No doubt that talking about health care planning makes most providers uneasy. When I was a resident, how to have these discussions was not addressed formally as a regular part of my training or curriculum. If one of your supervising physicians happened to do this well you could try to get into a family meeting they were conducting to use them as a model. I remember the way Dr. Mike Strong, now the Chief Medical Informatics Officer at the University of Utah Hospital and Clinics, would approach these situations. I remember the way he would use body language and phrases that put people at ease. It was a superpower. I wanted to be like Mike. After the conversations were over I would step out into the hall, sit at the nurses’ station, and write down what I had observed him accomplish. But a doc like Mike is a swan in a flock of seagulls. A rare find. By the end of my training and into my early career I avoided talking about goals and planning because I felt like I didn’t have the skills, the family dynamics seemed tense and unpredictable, it took too much time, and it didn’t seem like a priority to the health system and my peers. I was wrong.

A few years later, after dealing with chronic illness within my own family, my focus changed such that healthcare planning became my passion. After in depth course work, practicing techniques and talking points with patients, and formal mentorship I felt prepared to have these goals of care discussions with anyone. I was wrong again. In some of these family meetings I fumbled, most were ok, a few were just awful. But a few were incredible. I could feel that they helped the patients and their loved ones. They became my fuel. I hadn’t felt anything as meaningful in medicine as I did these handful of special encounters. Slowly, and with many more patient interactions, talking about sensitive choices families faced became less stressful, more efficient, and clearly valuable for everyone involved.

When you think about how many heart attacks a training cardiologist takes care of in the cardiac catheterization lab or how many trauma patients a resident surgeon needs to operate on before they are allowed to see patients without supervision it’s a big number. Its 1000s of hours. So when I consider resident training in crucial conversations with patients facing difficult decisions I am thrilled that they are getting early exposure and instruction. Without the same practice and dedication to the art of conducting valuable family meetings, should those with just a modicum of training be the ones to ultimately have these discussions? Or should they be delegated to those who spend the majority of time making these meetings our “procedure”? At Iris Plans it’s not an “either/or” choice. We have found a way to take the bulk of the family meetings conducted by healthcare professionals whose expertise is conversation and facilitation. But, critically, we get buy-in from the primary care provider and specialist to do so and loop them in on clinical questions as well as the ultimate decisions. It’s a patient-centered model that supports the clinicians plan and relationship with the patient. We believe it’s the future of healthcare planning.


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We can reduce the stress from caring for your loved one

Studies have demonstrated Personalized Healthcare Planning reduces stress on caregivers, including family or other loved ones. One of these studies published by the Annals of the American Thoracic Society found caregivers who had engaged in prior ACP conversations were significantly more likely to know the patient’s treatment goals resulting in lower levels of conflict compared to those who had not. It also helps loved ones and caregivers avoid feeling depressed, nervous, and other physical ailments.

As Iris Plans’ Dr. Stephen Bekanich mentions in his video below, by talking about your healthcare goals, we can help not only you but your family:

At Iris Plans, we are committed to helping you with the stress that often comes with caring for one’s loved one.   Call us today at (800) 845-2081 for a free assessment of how we can help you reduce this stress for you and your family.