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Last updated on Monday, February 11, 2013, 8:45 am

Catherine Womack

Womack Heeds Hunch, Builds Innovative Health Care Practice

by Rob Keys

It seems safe to say Dr. Catherine Womack had a good idea.

“The thought came to me, ‘Who would pay for high-quality health care?’” Womack said. “And, of course, it’s businesses.”

Specifically, Womack was talking about large, self-funded businesses, entities that pay their employees’ medical bills instead of using an insurer like Arkansas Blue Cross/Blue Shield. She had become familiar with such companies while performing “health coaching” at the request of the Employer Health Coalition, a Fort Smith-based organization of self-funding entities. Before that, Womack had spent several years in private practice. Her area of expertise was — and remains — internal medicine.

Convinced her model — “a way to efficiently and effectively deliver good, quality health care at an effective price” — was viable, Womack launched IMWell with one other full-time employee and a part-timer. That was in 2005.

These days, IMWell operates 6 on-site clinics and half a dozen multi-employer clinics — facilities that serve a group of companies that don’t opt for on-site clinics. Her company serves clients in major markets like Tulsa, Little Rock and Oklahoma City in addition to Northwest Arkansas.

“We’ve tried to hone our model and figure out how we deliver good, quality medicine with a personalized touch that has good outcomes. That is what IMWell Health is all about,” Womack said.

The results are undeniable given IMWell’s growth. Womack said the company’s number of clients has tripled since 2008. So has its revenue, she added, jumping from about $2 million to about $7 million.

A 2008 member of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class, Womack now serves as president and chief medical officer of a company that employs 50.

“We expect this year to be even bigger than the last ones because as the economy has picked up, more companies are willing to invest in [what we offer],” she said.

“Texas is the next market we’re looking to crack, just because Dallas alone has more people than the whole state of Arkansas.”

There is evidence to support Womack’s optimism. A recent report in The Washington Post cited a National Business Group on Health study that showed 46 percent of large employers (1,000 or more employees) offered at least one on-site clinic, up from 37 percent the previous year.

IMWell’s growth has changed Womack’s life, both personally and professionally. She sees fewer patients nowadays, putting much of her emphasis on maintaining quality controls and finding ways to get even better results for IMWell’s clients.

That’s in addition to keeping up with the company’s plans for growth, which largely are overseen by Dan Parker. Parker became a partner about 18 months after Womack launched IMWell, and serves as its CEO.

Still, Womack’s roots for providing one-on-one care aren’t easily pushed below the surface.

“I don’t really feel like I can have a good sense or pulse of my clinic and company unless I’m working in it,” she said. “I still see patients. That’s my passion.”

Womack’s passion for life is equally apparent. Quick with a smile, she said her family moved to Fayetteville from Fort Smith after starting the business there for “lifestyle and business” reasons.

“You gotta live up here to do business up here,” she said with a laugh of Northwest Arkansas.

A native of Bryant, Womack said IMWell’s growth also has caused her to travel more, but she still finds plenty of time to be a mom to her two teenage daughters.

“I feel like I’m just like every other mom,” she said on a recent Monday afternoon. “I’ve got a carpool to pick up at 3 [p.m.], get them to swim practice, and I’ve got to cook dinner tonight.”

When she’s not busy with her business, Womack said she enjoys hiking and is an avid sports fan who will “watch Tiddlywinks, if it’s competitive and it’s on [TV].”

That love of competition has helped her in terms of IMWell, too. When asked what advice she has for young professionals, Womack recounted the story of IMWell getting off to a strong start, only to be faced shortly thereafter with one of the worst recessions in U.S. history.

“Every situation provides an opportunity for growth. … It’s all in how you look at it. It’s how you approach the situation. While it may start off as a problem, it’s always an opportunity.”

It seems safe to say Womack has made the most of her opportunity.

 

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