A record 3,000 U.S. (and beyond) hospital business and strategy leaders, attending the 2017 Becker’s Hospital Review Annual Meeting in Chicago recently, heard recurring themes about how to create opportunities for health systems to thrive. The dual challenge: improve patient care and continue to achieve sustainable financials.
While there was recognition across sessions that multi-faceted, difficult headwinds permeate health care right now, notably escalating regulations, market competition and payer cost pressure, every speaker highlighted the opportunity these challenges yield.
The transition to value-based care was a major topic, with sessions noting how to operate in the current climate and offering a number of ideas on how to raise quality, navigate payer pressures and stay competitive. I thought of the ancient words of Hillel the Elder that have been embraced over the decades by a number of leaders facing major challenges: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
If not us, who? – New ways of stakeholder involvement
In addition to the usual health system and physicians group stakeholders, the conference highlighted the importance of partnering with other providers contributing to the evolution to value-based care in ways that go beyond traditional interactions. Notably mentioned were physician partnerships with professionals in Emergency Medical Services, Behavioral Health and other areas in order to improve costs, quality of care and patient satisfaction. I was personally heartened to see how the current challenging climate pushed folks to focus on new and innovative ways to look at the bigger picture.
For instance, health systems are going beyond their conventional roles to consider how to help address the social determinants of health, partner with community stakeholders and recognize the effects of behavioral health on both overall individual patient health and the health care spend. In focus was the need for teamwork and making strategic connections between hospitals and these other stakeholders to deliver more effective efficient care.
If not now, when? – Timing the transition
Another palpable conference theme was the pressure for health systems and providers to operate successfully within an existing fee-for-service payment model while evolving as quickly as possible to value-based care with its focus on lower cost and higher quality and patient satisfaction. Given the tension between the two goals, and the struggle health systems face with identifying the best time to fully shift gears to value-based care, experienced advisors prescribed focusing on the long term. Across the board, they advised a rapid start in planning and implementing as soon as sufficient planning can be done in order to stay financially competitive long-term, while providing better care. At the same time, speakers acknowledged the need for many systems on the road to a value-based model to evaluate their initial experiences and reorder their priorities as they learn more and the market changes. They also mentioned recognizing the need to partner with knowledgeable experts to gain additional perspective on the evolving landscape.
In the session “Minding the Gap: Managing the Challenging Transition from Fee-for-Service to Value-Based Care,” speakers Gordon Norman and Michelle Waluda of Willis Towers Watson emphasized that the transition between the two business models will be awkward in the short term for everyone, but those who jump in first will win over the long haul. Using a game theory lens, Waluda demonstrated how in an environment with external pressures, health systems that make the transition earlier than their competitors to value-based care end up ahead in the long run. “With external forces, systems are becoming incentivized to move to value-based care, with the first movers able to capture market share and economic advantages,” she said.
The key takeaways from the conference resonated in a tip by Nancy Schlichting, former CEO of Henry Ford Health System, who urged: “Be a disruptor, not disrupted!” After four days of hearing the challenges and opportunities within healthcare, it’s clear that there is plenty for us all to do now.
Jessica Jones Thorne is the Operations Manager for Willis Towers Watson’s Health System Consulting Practice, based in Chicago. Her role includes work across the areas of knowledge management, research, intellectual capital and governance. Previously, she worked for medical professional associations providing governance support and operational management on strategic initiatives. Jessica holds an M.A. in political science with an emphasis in politics and the life sciences.