Narrowing choice to curb rising employer spend

https://gisthealthcare.com/weekly-gist/

When Presbyterian Health System struck a deal with Intel to manage care for the firm’s Albuquerque employees, followed by Providence Health & Service’s ACO-like contract to provide care to Boeing employees in Seattle, we became optimistic about the potential of direct contracting between health systems and large employers.

But five years after those landmark deals, we were still just talking about Boeing and Intel. Few other employers followed suit, instead preferring to control spend by shifting more of the cost of coverage onto their employees in the form of higher deductibles, larger co-pays, and greater co-insurance.

In 2018 the average family deductible in employer-sponsored insurance hit $3,000, and in most markets deductibles of $5,000 or higher are not uncommon. Our recent conversations with employers suggest that they are now questioning the utility of shifting more costs onto employees. As deductibles rise, employers see diminishing returns. In contrast to instituting the first $1,000 deductible, moving an already high deductible from $3,000 to $4,000 does little to change employee behavior. And employers are genuinely worried about the impact of rising cost sharing on their employee’s financial and physical health.

Given the historically strong labor market, employers have been reticent to change benefit design in any way that could be perceived as narrowing choice. But the reluctance to push cost sharing further creates an opening for providers and innovators that offer alternative solutions to encourage employees to choose a “high-performance network”—the new term of art for a narrow network.

Across the past year we’ve seen a range of strategies to create high-performance networks, described in the graphic below. The pace of direct contracting between health systems and employers has quickened. But other solutions challenge the premise that a single health system provides the best solution for every high-cost condition or procedure. Start-up insurer Bind aims to create bespoke networks for high-cost procedures by identifying the best doctors and hospitals regardless of affiliation, essentially “unbundling” the health system. Others, like health benefits solution provider Accolade, create a concierge-like service to support employee decision-making—while preferentially steering them to lower-cost providers.

It remains to be seen which of these solutions will produce the greatest returns, and whether the gains can be sustained over time. However, we wonder whether companies will really have the fortitude to engage employees in conversations about narrower networks. Many will likely prefer to shift the task of narrowing networks onto employees themselves; we still believe that defined contribution health benefits will be the ultimate solution for employers to manage spend. It’s likely employers will require the cover of a recession to make this dramatic switch in benefit design. In the interim, there seems to be a window of opportunity for high-performance network assemblers to demonstrate that they can be an attractive and effective solution to rising costs.

 

 

 

Moving beyond the “best practice” mindset

https://gisthealthcare.com/weekly-gist/

Image result for best practice

Here’s a question we get all the time, and one that I heard again this week from one of our partner health systems: “We’re working on [initiative X]. What have other health systems like us done about that?” We hear it in any number of situations, from hospitals developing clinical protocols to strategic planners putting together business plans for service line growth. Sometimes the question comes in different forms: “Do you have a white paper on [topic X]?”; or “What research do you have on [issue X]?”; or our favorite, “What’s the best practice for [activity X]?”

It’s not surprising, given our past history, that we’d frequently be asked to provide research or best practice information. But as we’ve grown our own business at Gist Healthcare and developed our own independent perspective on where our industry needs to go, we’ve become less and less impressed by “best practice” as a concept. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that “best practice” has become at best a crutch, and in many cases a hindrance, to real progress in healthcare. As we sometimes tell our clients now, healthcare has outgrown “best practice”, at least as we used to understand it.

Don’t get me wrong. Medicine should absolutely be evidence-driven, and clinical care should always be firmly grounded in proven practice. If anything, the actual clinical practice of medicine is one area where our industry must become more, not less, best-practice based.

But as to system strategy, payment innovation, service improvement, and a host of other business and operational issues, simply imitating what other “successful” organizations are doing leads inevitably to reversion to the mean, groupthink, and (most troubling) fad-driven “bubbles” of activity. It’s no surprise, given the pervasive culture of “best practice”, when suddenly every health system’s top priority turns to creating a patient portal, or hiring a chief experience officer, or starting a proton beam center, or opening freestanding EDs.

Healthcare delivery is a highly fragmented, insular business, with little visibility across markets and across institutions. That makes it very susceptible to white paper-driven trend chasing, which tends to outsource innovation to the “wisdom of the crowd”.

It’s pretty rare to find mavericks, following their own innovation instincts without getting caught up in trying to mimic what other “leaders” are doing. That’s why when a delivery organization takes a risk on a truly new strategic innovationGeisinger’s money-back guarantee, Cleveland Clinic’s promise of same-day access, Presbyterian’s direct contract to manage Intel employees’ health—it immediately sends shock waves across the industry.

Those ideas didn’t come from a white paper. We’re often asked whether we’re building a “best-practice research” capability in our new company. While we’re not quite ready to talk about our upcoming service offerings, the answer to that question is a definitive “no”.

 

The noble aim of being a great subcontractor

https://gisthealthcare.com/weekly-gist/

Image result for subcontractor

Earlier this month I was at a health system board meeting in which we were discussing the transition from volume to value, and the shift to a population health model. One board member had the courage to ask a tough question: “What if we never get there?” Covering just a small slice of a large metropolitan area, this system has consistently ranked third in market share behind two larger competitors—and now they feel they are lagging those systems in moving toward risk. The most recent challenge: a large—and until recently, loyal—independent primary care group had just been acquired by one of their competitors. Yet the system prides itself, justifiably, on delivering low-cost hospital care and outstanding quality.

I raised a heretical notion: suppose the system pursued a strategy focused solely on being the highest-performing inpatient and specialty care provider in the market, and abandoned the goal of bearing population risk? Could the system shift their focus to simply being the best “subcontractor” to other risk-bearing networks in the market?

The ensuing conversation was uncomfortable, to say the least. The notion challenged the system’s assumptions of the role they wanted to play in the market, and whether they could be a leader in population health. I encouraged them to think of being a “subcontractor” to other risk-bearing organizations not as a defeat, but as fulfillment of a vital role—healthcare in their community would be better if more hospital care were delivered at their level of cost and quality.

Our view: for many smaller systems who are driven by a desire to remain independent, becoming a high-performing care subcontractor may be the best path forward, and the most realistic. (It will be interesting to watch the successful investor-owned chains on this front—organizations whose strategic advantage lies in running highly-efficient, low-cost hospitals.) It’s not as sexy as “population health”, but as any builder will tell you, there’s no substitute for a great subcontractor.

Top Six Healthcare Executive Challenges in 2019

http://www.managedhealthcareexecutive.com/executive-express/top-six-healthcare-executive-challenges-2019

The pace of change in healthcare is not slowing down; in fact, it is accelerating. Healthcare organizations that are most successful in 2019 will know what challenges and changes are coming down the pipeline, and they will prepare accordingly.

To help ensure you don’t get left behind, we’ve assembled the top six challenges the industry will face in 2019.

1. Shifting the focus from payment reform to delivery reform. For the past few years, C-suite leaders at healthcare organizations have been focused on navigating healthcare payment reform—attempting to preserve, improve, and maintain revenue. Amidst those efforts, delivery reform has sometimes taken a back seat.

That will need to change in 2019. Organizations that are the most successful will focus more on patient care than revenue, and they will see improved outcomes and reduced costs as a result.

Many organizations are already exploring delivery reform with initiatives that focus on:

  • Remote health monitoring and telemedicine;
  • Population health management;
  • Patient engagement;
  • Social determinants of health; and
  • Primary care.

In 2019, however, they will need to bring all of these initiatives together to implement sustainable improvements in how healthcare is delivered.

An added bonus? Organizations that accomplish this will see enhanced revenue streams as value-based reimbursement accelerates.

2. Wrestling with the evolving healthcare consumer. Healthcare consumers are demanding more convenient and more affordable care options. They expect the same level of customer service they receive from other retailers—from cost-estimation tools and online appointment booking to personalized interactions and fast and easy communication options such as text messaging and live chats.

Organizations that don’t deliver on these expectations will have a difficult time retaining patients and attracting new ones.

That’s not the only consumer-related challenge healthcare organizations will face. In 2019, millennials (between the ages of 23 and 38), will make up nearly a quarter of the U.S. population.

This generation doesn’t value physician-patient relationships as highly as previous generations. In fact, nearly half of them  do not have a personal relationship with their physician, according to a 2015 report by Salesforce.

Finding ways to maintain or increase the level of humanity and interaction with millennials will be a key challenge in 2019. Patient navigator solutions and other engagement tools will be critical to an organization’s success.

3. Clinician shortages. Physician and nurse shortages will continue to intensify in 2019, creating significant operational and financial challenges for healthcare organizations.

The most recent numbers from the Association of American Medical Colleges predict a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030. On the nursing side, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a need for 649,100 replacement nurses by 2024.

The implications of the shortages, combined with the fact that healthcare organizations face a number of new challenges in the coming years, are many. Fewer clinicians can lead to burnout, medical errors, poorer quality, and lower patient satisfaction.

Healthcare organizations that thrive amidst the shortages will find new ways to scale and leverage technology to streamline work flows and improve efficiencies.

4. Living with EHR choices. Despite the hype and hopes surrounding EHRs, many organizations have found that they are failing to deliver on their expectations.

recent Sage Growth Partners survey found that 64 percent of healthcare executives say EHRs have failed to deliver better population health management tools, and a large majority of providers are seeking third-party solutions outside their EHR for value-based care.

The survey of 100 executives also found that less than 25% believe their EHRs can deliver on core KLAS criteria for value.

As we recently told Managed Healthcare Executive, that statistic is striking, considering how important value-based care is and will continue to be to the industry.

Despite the dissatisfaction surrounding EHRs, switching EHRs may be a big mistake for healthcare organizations. A recent Black Book survey found 47% of all health systems who replaced their EHRs are in the red over their replacements. A whopping 95% said they regret the decision to change systems.

Hospitals and physician may not be entirely happy with their EHR choices, but the best course may be to stick with their system. Highly successful hospitals and health systems will find ways to optimize workflow and patient care which may involve additional IT investments and best of breed investment approaches, rather than keeping all of the proverbial eggs in the EHR basket.

5. Dealing with nontraditional entrants and disruptors. In 2018, several new entrants entered and/or broadened their reach into healthcare.

Amazon acquired online pharmacy retailer PillPack, and partnered with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to create a new healthcare partnership for their employees. Early in 2018, Apple announced it was integrating EHRs onto the iPhone and Apple watch, and recently, Google hired Geisinger Health CEO David Feinberg for a newly created role, head of the company’s many healthcare initiatives.

New partnerships have also arisen between traditional healthcare entities that could result in significant healthcare delivery changes. Cigna and Express Scripts received the go-ahead from the DOJ for their merger in September, and CVS and Aetna formally announced the completion of their $70 billion merger November 28.

Read more about the top two ways the CVS-Aetna merger could change healthcare.

All of these new industry disruptors and mergers will impact healthcare organizations, likely creating new competition, disrupting traditional healthcare delivery mechanisms, creating price transparency and pressures, and fostering higher expectations from consumers in 2019. Keeping an eye on these potential disrupters will be important to ensuring sustained success in the long term.

6. Turning innovation into an opportunity. From new diagnostic tests and machines to new devices and drug therapies—the past few years in healthcare have seen exciting and lifesaving developments for many patients. But these new devices and treatment approaches come with a cost.

One of biggest 2018 developments that best exemplifies the challenge between innovation and cost is CAR T-cell therapy. This new cancer treatment is already saving lives, but it racks up to between $373,000 and $475,000 per treatment. When potential side effects and adverse events are accounted for, costs can reach more than $1 million per patient.

Finding the best way to incorporate new treatments like this one, while balancing outcomes, cost, and healthcare consumer demands, will be a top challenge for healthcare organizations in 2019.

 

 

 

Healthcare M&A now more about strategy than opportunity, Kaufman Hall says

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/healthcare-ma-now-more-about-strategy-than-opportunity-kaufman-hall-says/545909/

Dive Brief:

  • The size of the companies involved in healthcare M&A continues to grow. The average size in revenue of sellers was $409 million last year, nearly 14% higher than a decade ago, Kaufman Hall said in a new report.
  • Kaufman Hall found that seven transactions in 2018 involved sellers with net revenues of at least $1 billion.
  • Healthcare M&A today is more of a strategic decision than one about opportunistic growth. Fewer deals last year involved financially distressed sellers, according to the report.

Dive Insight:

Healthcare M&A isn’t so much about saving a struggling hospital now. Instead, these deals often involve strong health systems looking to expand into new areas.

Nearly one-third of healthcare transactions last year involved companies with revenues of between $100 million and $500 million. About one-fifth of deals were at least $500 million.

Nearly half involved not-for-profit companies acquiring other nonprofits and about one-quarter were not-for-profits buying for-profits. Another nearly 25% involved a for-profit acquiring either another for-profit or nonprofit.

Kaufman Hall said M&A activity isn’t about taking advantage of a struggling competitor. A mere 20% of deals involved a distressed company. Instead, health systems want strategic advantages.

“Health system leaders are seeking to acquire organizations that bring embedded expertise and resources to the deal, making these transactions more of a strategic partnership than an asset acquisition,” according to the report.

Kaufman Hall said it has found that health systems with “strong operational or clinical capabilities” are looking beyond their local markets.

New competitors in the market are offering larger scale and resources, including annual revenues as much as nearly 10 times the levels of the biggest not-for-profit systems. The CVS Health-Aetna deal kicked off a trend that continued with Humana-Kindred Healthcare and Optum-DaVita Medical Group and goes on with Amazon’s efforts to enter healthcare.

“New combinations across healthcare verticals and new market entrants are creating competitors that dwarf the scale of even the largest health systems,” according to the analysis. “The forces that are reshaping the industry affect not-for-profit and for-profit health systems alike and are causing not-for-profit and for-profit strategies to converge.”

Kaufman Hall found that consolidation is happening faster in some states than others. Not surprisingly, Texas led with eight deals in 2018. Florida (seven), Pennsylvania (six) and Louisiana and Tennessee (five each) ranked next.

Texas ($6.8 billion) and Florida ($3.6 billion) led in terms of revenue of announced deals. Kaufman Hall said 16 states didn’t have any healthcare transactions. However, some of those states, such as Kentucky and Massachusetts, have seen a high volume or large deals in recent years.

One downside of M&A is consolidation that can limit competition. The Center for American Progress recently reported that provider consolidation has led to higher healthcare prices. That report also found that consolidation isn’t lowering costs and improving care coordination, which is a common argument in favor of M&A activity.

 

 

 

 

Top 12 takeaways from the 2018 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference — while the destination is uncertain, the direction is clear

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/12-things-you-need-to-know-from-the-2018-jp-morgan-healthcare-conference-while-the-destination-is-uncertain-the-direction-is-clear.html

The recent breathtaking flurry of mega-mergers coupled with increasingly challenging market forces and an ever shifting political landscape has cast a cloud of confusion regarding where the U.S. healthcare delivery system is heading.  

So, where do you go to find the map?

Every year, the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference provides an incredibly efficient snapshot of the strategies for large healthcare delivery systems, the hub for healthcare in the U.S. Most of these organizations are also the largest employers in their respective states. The conference took place this week in San Francisco with over 20 healthcare systems presenting, including Advocate Health Care, Aurora Health Care, Baylor Scott & White Health, Catholic Health Initiatives, Geisinger Health System, Hospital for Special Surgery, Intermountain Healthcare, Mercy Health in Ohio, Northwell Health, Northwestern Medicine, Partners HealthCare System, WakeMed Health & Hospitals and many of the other big name brands in the market. Each provided their strategic roadmap in a series of 25-minute presentations from their “C” suite. If you’re looking for the GPS on strategy and a gauge on the health of healthcare, this is it.  

How do their strategies differ? What direction are they heading in? There is a great line from Alice in Wonderland that goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” You would think that line applies perfectly to the U.S healthcare system, but the good news is it actually doesn’t.

While the exact destination for everyone is TBD, the direction they are heading in is actually pretty clear and consistent. It turns out that they are all using a very similar compass, which is sending them down a similar path.

So, what are the roadside stops health systems consider absolutely necessary to be part of their journey to creating a more viable and sustainable value-based business model?

Based on the travel plans for over 20 of the largest and most prestigious healthcare delivery systems in the country, here’s your GPS and list of 12 things you “must do” on your journey.

1. You Must Scale

Clearly the headline at #JPM18 was the flurry of major announcements regarding major mergers. With that said, two of the mergers were front and center: teams were there to present from Downers Grove, Ill.-based Advocate and Milwaukee-based Aurora, which will be a $10 billion organization with 70,000 employees, as well as San Francisco-based Dignity Health and Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives, which will be a $28 billion organization with 160,000 employees. The size and scale of these mergers is pretty stunning. While the announcement of these and the other recent mega-mergers has forced many into their board room to determine what the deals mean to them, the consensus at the conference was this: There are a number of different paths forward to achieve scale. Some, like Baylor Scott & White in Texas, have aggressive regional expansion plans. Others are betting on partnerships to provide the same or even more value. Taking a pulse of the room, two things were clear. The first is there is no definition of scale any more in this market. The second is that, despite this flurry of mergers, “getting really big” is not the only destination.  

2. You Must Pursue “Smart Growth” and Find New Revenue Streams

Running counter to the merger narrative in the market, Salt Lake City-based Intermountain provided a good overview of the movement to what is called an “asset light” strategy of “smart growth.” This is a radically contrarian approach to the industry norm, which is the capital intensive bricks and mortar playbook of buying and building. As part of their strategy, Intermountain will open a “virtual hospital” delivering provider consultations and remote patient monitoring via telehealth. The system will also launch a number of healthcare companies every year, leveraging their considerable resources in a manner they believe will produce a higher yield. Other health systems outlined a similar stream of initiatives they have in motion to diversify their revenue streams and expand their business model into higher margin, higher growth businesses. One example is Cincinnati-based Mercy Health, which achieved strong growth and leverage via their investment in a revenue cycle management company. Advocate in Illinois formed a partnership with Walgreens. Together, they now operating 56 retail clinics and Advocate has seen a significant impact on driving new patients and downstream revenue to their system. The bottom line is all now recognize that they must think and act differently to be able to continue to fund their clinical mission and serve their community.

3. You Must Measure and Manage Cost and Margins

While some are moving aggressively to get scale, everyone is looking to more effectively use the resources they have and get more operating leverage. Margin compression was a consistent theme, with many systems now moving into consistent, stable operating models around managing margins versus launching reactionary initiatives when they find a budget gap. What is emerging is a new discipline and continuous process around managing cost and margins that is starting to look similar to the level of sophistication we have seen in the past for revenue cycle management. To that end, there has been major movement in the market to implement advanced cost accounting systems, often referred to as financial decision support, which provide accurate and actionable information on cost and help organizations understand their true margins as they take on risk-based, capitated contracts. Some during the conference referred to it as the “killer app” for the financial side of driving value. Regardless of what you call it, all are moving aggressively to understand the denominator of their value equation.

4. You Must Become a Brand

Investing in and better leveraging their brand has become a strategic must for health systems. The level of sophistication is growing here as providers shift their mental model to viewing patients as “consumers.” Aurora in Wisconsin cited their dedicated Consumer Insights Group and outlined their “best people, best brand, best value” approach that has been incredibly effective both internally and externally. At the same time, the bigger investments for many health systems relative to brand are more on brand experience than brand image, with a focus on understanding and radically rethinking the consumer experience. As an example, at Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger, close to 50 percent of ambulatory appointments are scheduled and seen on the same day. And every health system is making meaningful investments in their “digital handshake” with consumers, creating and leveraging it via telehealth as well as mobile applications to enhance the customer experience.

5. You Must Operate as a System, Not Just Call Yourself One

One clear theme at #JPM18 is different organizations were at different points along the continuum of truly operating as a system vs. merely sharing a name and a logo. There are a number of reasons for this, but you are increasingly seeing tough decisions actually being made vs. just kicking the can down the road. There has been a great deal of acquisitions over the last few years coupled with a new wave of thinking relative to integration that is more aggressive and more forward-looking. This mental shift is actually a very big deal and perhaps the most important new trend. Many health systems are heavily investing in leadership development deep into their organization to drive changes much faster.   

6. You Must Act Small

The word “agile” is quickly becoming part of everyone’s narrative with health systems looking to adopt the principles and processes leveraged in high tech. Chicago-based Northwestern Medicine is an example of an organization that has grown dramatically in the last five years, now approaching $5 billion in revenue. At the same time, they have still found a way to operate small, leveraging daily huddles across the organization to drive their results. The team at Raleigh, N.C.-based WakeMed has achieved a dramatic financial turnaround over the last few years, applying a similar level of rigor yielding major operational improvements in surgical, pharmacy and emergency services that have translated into better bottom line results.

7. You Must Engage Your Physicians

Employee engagement was a major theme in many of the presentations. With the level of change required both now and in the future, a true focus on culture is now clearly top of mind and a strategic must for high-performing health systems. That said, only a handful articulated a focus on monitoring and measuring physician engagement. This appears to be a major miss, given that physicians make roughly 80 percent of the decisions on care that take place and, therefore, control 80 percent of the spend. One data point that stood out was a 117 percent improvement in physician engagement at Northwestern. Major improvements will require clinical leadership and a true partnership with physicians.

8. You Must Leverage Analytics

Many have reached their initial destination of deploying a single clinical record, only to find that their journey isn’t over. While health systems have made major investments big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence, there was a consistent theme regarding the need to bring clinical and financial data together to truly understand value. Part of this path is the consolidation of systems that is now needed on the financial side of the house with a focus on deploying a single platform for financial planning, analytics and performance. The primary focus is to translate analytics not just into insights, but action.

9. You Must Protect Yourself

As organizations move deeper into data, there is increased recognition that cybersecurity is a major risk. Over 40 percent of all data breaches that occur happen in healthcare. During the keynote, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon shared that his organization will spend $700 million protecting itself and their customers this year. Investments in cybersecurity will continue to ramp up due to both the operational and reputational risk involved. Cybersecurity has become a board room issue and a top-of-mind initiative for executive teams at every health delivery system.

10. You Must Manage Social Determinants of Health in the Communities You Serve

Perhaps the most encouraging theme for healthcare provider organizations was the need to engage the community they serve and focus on social determinants of health. As Intermountain shared: “Zip code is more important than genetic code.” To that end, Geisinger refers to their focus on “ZNA.” They have deployed community health assistants, non-licensed workers who work on social determinants of health and have implemented a “Fresh Food Farmacy,” yielding a 20 percent decrease in hemoglobin A1c levels along with a 78 percent decrease in cost. Organizations like ProMedica Health System in Ohio have seen similar results with their focus on hunger in Toledo. WakeMed has an initiative focused on vulnerable populations in underserved communities that has resulted in a significant decrease in ER visits and admissions and over $6 million in savings.

11. You Must Help Solve the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid issue is one that healthcare professionals take very personally and feel responsible for solving. It came up in virtually in every presentation, and it’s an emotional issue for the leaders of each organization. This is good news, but the better news is that they are taking action. As an example, Geisinger invested in a CleanState Medicaid member pilot that resulted in a 23 percent decrease in ER visits and 35 percent decrease in medical spending, breaking even on their investment in less than 10 months. While many would rightly argue that the economic rationalization isn’t needed for something this important, the fact that it’s there should eliminate any excuse for anyone not taking action.

12. You Must Deliver Value

The Hospital for Special Surgery in New York is the largest orthopedics shop in the U.S. and a great example of how value-based care delivery is taking shape. Perhaps the most revealing stat they shared is that 36 percent of the time patients receive a non-surgical recommendation when they are referred to one of their providers for a second opinion. This is exactly the type of value-based counseling and decision-making that will help flip the model of healthcare. Some systems are farther along than others. Northwestern currently has 25 percent of its patients in value-based agreements, but other systems have less. As the team from Intermountain re-stated to this audience this year, “You can’t time the market on value, you should always do the right thing, right now.” Well said.  

 

 

 

The No. 1 takeaway from the 2019 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference: It’s the platform, stupid

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/the-no-1-takeaway-from-the-2019-jp-morgan-healthcare-conference-it-s-the-platform-stupid.html

If you want to understand the shifting sands of healthcare, you’ll find no better place than the nonprofit provider track during the infamous JP Morgan Healthcare Conference that took place this week in San Francisco.

Over 40,000 players were in town from every corner of the healthcare ecosystem. However, if you want to hear the heartbeat of what’s happening at ground level, you needed to literally squeeze into the standing room only nonprofit provider track where the CEOs and CFOs of 25 of the most prominent hospitals and healthcare delivery systems in the country shared their perspectives in rapid-fire 25 minute presentations.

This year those presenters represented over $300 billion, or close to 10 percent of the annual healthcare spend in U.S. healthcare. These organizations play a truly unique role in this country as they are integrated into the very fabric of the communities that they serve and are often the single largest employer in their respective regions. In other words, if you work in or care about healthcare, understanding their perspective is a must.

Every year I take a shot at condensing all of these presentations into a set of takeaways so healthcare providers who aren’t in the room can share something with their teams to help inform their strategy. So what do you need to know? Glad you asked, here you go.

Shift Happens — Moving from Being a Healthcare Provider to Creating a Platform for Health and Healthcare in Your Community

Trying to synthesize 25 presentations into a single punch line is pretty stressful. I listened to every presentation, debriefed with other healthcare providers in the audience afterwards and then spent the next 48 hours trying to process what I heard. I was stumped.

But then, finally, it hit me. To take a new spin on an old phrase, “It’s the platform, stupid.” To be clear, even though I’ve been in healthcare for close to 30 years, “stupid” in that sentence is absolutely referring to me.

So the No. 1 takeaway from the 2019 JP Healthcare Conference is this — for healthcare providers, there is a major shift taking place. They are moving from a traditional strategy of buying and building hospitals and simply providing care into a new and more dynamic strategy that focuses on leveraging the platform they have in place to create more value and growth via new and often more profitable streams of revenue. Simply stated, the healthcare delivery systems of today will increasingly leverage the platform and resources that they have in place to become a hub for both health and healthcare in the future. There is a level of urgency to move quickly. Many feel that if they don’t expand the role that they play in both health and healthcare in their community, someone else will step in.

Folks in tech would think of this as the difference between a “product” strategy (old school) and a “platform” strategy (new school). Think of this as the difference from cell phones (Blackberry) to smartphones (iPhone and Android devices). One was a product, the other was a platform. Common platforms that we’re all familiar with such as Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple and even Starbucks have always 1) started with a very small niche, 2) built an audience, 3) built trust and 4) then added other offerings on top of that platform. By now there is no need for a “spoiler alert.” We all know that this strategy works and these companies have created a breathtaking amount of value. The comforting news for hospitals and healthcare delivery systems is that many have already completed the first three steps and have many of the building blocks they need to leverage a “platform” as a business strategy. The presentations at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference made it clear that most are now actually taking that fourth step to separate themselves from the pack.

There is enormous upside to those who understand this pivot and take advantage of this change in the market. Dennis Dahlen, CFO of Mayo Clinic, shared his perspective on this: “Thinking differently in the future is essential. In many ways, at Mayo, we are already operating as a platform today, but we have to continue to leverage this approach to uncover additional ways that we can be a hub for both health and healthcare in our community.” Mayo’s platform includes leveraging research, big data, expert clinic insights and artificial intelligence to create new value for Mayo’s clinical practice as well as new opportunities for Mayo’s partners.

To be clear, the mental shift here is massive. It’s the difference of being on defense (where most healthcare providers are) to be being on offense (which is where they know they need to be). Executive teams have focused their time, energy and resources on driving and supporting inpatient admissions via a traditional bricks and mortar presence coupled with the acquisition of physician practices. The difficulty of thinking through what it means to truly be “asset light” and taking a different approach shouldn’t be underestimated. The good news is that the recent financial results of many health systems have improved, providing a little breathing room for investments to enable this shift in strategy. Those who don’t may fall way behind.

A New Way of Thinking — What it Means to be a Hub

Being a hub is essentially bringing together people with common interests to spark innovation and facilitate work getting done more efficiently. Examples include Silicon Valley as a “tech hub,” Los Angeles as an “entertainment hub,” New York as a “financial hub,” Washington, D.C. as a “hub for politics” and how essentially every college town is or can become a “research hub.”

Given that hospitals and health systems are the largest employers in their community, they are already set up to become a hub. In the past, they leveraged that position to simply care for the sick. Increasingly in the future, these organizations will be health and healthcare hubs for innovation and building new companies, for bringing the community together to tackle issues like hunger and homelessness, for education and training, for research and development partnerships, for coordinated, compassionate and longitudinal care delivery for treatment, for support groups for specific chronic conditions, for digital and virtual care, and for thoughtful and effective support for mental and behavioral health. Changes in the care delivery market over the last 10 years have put the right building blocks in place to make this happen.

Hiding in Plain Sight — The Single Biggest Change in Healthcare We May Ever See Has Already Happened

Taking advantage of becoming a hub and leveraging the strategic concept of being a platform requires new thinking, new structures and new skill sets. The great news for healthcare providers is they have already made the toughest move of all in order to set this in motion.

Over the last decade, there has been a massive level of consolidation with hundreds of hospitals and thousands of physician practices being acquired every year. While more mergers and acquisitions will still happen, this stunning and fundamental restructuring of healthcare delivery has taken place and there is no turning back. This is likely the single biggest shift relative to how healthcare is structured in this country that will take place during our lifetime, and it barely gets mentioned. The strategy many were chasing was primarily being driven by a “heads in beds” pay-off that was both based on offense (“an easier way to grow”) and defense (“we better buy them before someone else does”). That said, as this consolidation happened most healthcare delivery systems were really just an amalgamation of stand-alone hospitals set up as a holding company that provided no real leverage other than more top-line revenue.

During the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, it was clear that most have made the shift from a holding company into a single operating entity. Chicago-based Northwestern Medicine shared a very refined playbook for quickly bringing acquisitions onto their “platform,” and the results are pretty stunning as they have transformed from a $1 billion academic medical center into a $5 billion regional healthcare hub in a handful of years.

And over the last few years, these organizations have gotten super serious about making the toughest decisions right away. The mega-merger of Advocate Health and Aurora Health, the largest healthcare delivery systems in Illinois and Wisconsin respectively, was accompanied by a gutsy decision to fast-track the implementation of Epic at Advocate to get the leverage of a single EHR platform across the system. While many focus on the cost of the transition and the shortcomings of some of the applications, what gets missed is the enormous long-term leverage this provides regarding communication, integration, continuity of care and, of course, access to data and the potential to improve clinical and financial performance. This creates a “platform-like” experience for both employees and customers. 

So, the twist in the story is that the pay-off for consolidation will likely be very different and perhaps much better than many had originally intended. They have the building blocks in place to be a health and healthcare platform for their community. But now they need to figure out how to truly take advantage of it.

Your Action Plan — 6 Ideas from 25 Healthcare Delivery Systems on How to Leverage Your “Platform”

During their presentations the 25 non-profit provider organizations opened up their playbooks on how others can leverage their platforms and the idea of becoming the hub for health and healthcare in their respective communities. Here is what they shared.

1. Create the Digital Front Door — or Someone Else Will

The big shift in play right now is the moving away from traditional reliance on transactional face-to-face interactions with individual providers. Building relationships and trust is something that has been a core competency and core strategic asset for hospitals in the past. In the future, this simply won’t be possible without leveraging digital platforms as we do in every other aspect of our lives today. As Stephen Klasko, MD, CEO of Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health, shared, the real strategy will be to deliver “health and healthcare with no address.”

Many provider organizations are moving aggressively to create digital front doors. Kaiser Permanente delivered 77 million virtual visits last year. Intermountain introduced a virtual hospital that provides over 40 services and has delivered over 500,000 interactions. Nearly every health system leverages MyChart or a similar personal health record platform. There is an enormous amount of risk for hospitals and health systems that don’t take action here, as traditional healthcare providers will be competing with more mainstream and polished consumer brands for the relationships and trust of the folks in their community.

As the team from Spectrum Health shared, “87 percent of Americans measure all brands against a select few — think Amazon, Netflix and Starbucks.” Google, Apple and Facebook as well as Walgreens or CVS are all going after this “digital handshake,” and are big threats to healthcare providers. There is no question that some of these organizations will be “frenemies,” where they are both competing and collaborating. Healthcare organizations will need to approach any partnerships mindful of that risk.

2. Drive Affordability and Reduce Cost — or Risk Being the Problem

As the burden of the cost of care increasingly shifts to the patient’s wallet, healthcare providers will need to play in driving affordability. Coupled with the recent federal requirement to post prices online, there is a great deal of visibility around the price of care, even if the numbers are way off the mark. Understanding and reducing the total cost of care is now viewed as a requirement. As legacy cost accounting applications relied on charges as a proxy for cost and were limited to the acute care setting, most provider organizations have or are now in the process of deploying advanced cost accounting applications with time-driven and activity-based costing capabilities including a number that presented during the conference, such as Advocate Aurora Health, Bon Secours Mercy, Boston Children’s Hospital, Hospital for Special Surgery, Intermountain Healthcare, Northwestern Medicine, Novant Health, Spectrum Health and Wellforce.

This was one of the hottest topics during the conference, and there was significant buzz regarding having a single source of truth for the cost of care across the continuum. Vinny Tammaro, CFO of Yale New Haven Health, commented, “We need to align with the evolution of consumerism and help drive affordability in healthcare. How we leverage data is mission critical to making this concept a reality. Bringing clinical and financial data together provides us with a source of truth to help both reduce the cost of care as well as reallocate our finite resources to high impact initiatives in our community.” Organizations like Intermountain Healthcare, which implemented a 2.7 percent price reduction in exchange pricing, are taking the next step in translating cost reduction into lower prices for consumers. And now healthcare systems are starting to work together to create additional leverage via Civica Rx, which now includes 750 hospitals joining forces to help lower the cost of generic drugs.

3. Tackle Social Determinants of Health — or You Won’t Be the Hub for Health in Your Community

It is always less expensive to prevent a problem than it is to fix it. The good news is that the economic incentives for hospitals and healthcare delivery systems to both think and act that way are beginning to line up. They are certainly there already for providers that are also health plans such Intermountain, Kaiser Permanente, Providence St. Joseph Health, Spectrum Health and UPMC. They are also in place for providers that have aggressively taken on population-based risk contracts such as Advocate Aurora Health. With that said, it feels like every health system is starting to lean in here — and they should.

Being the central community hub for these issues makes a ton of sense. The way that Kaiser framed it is that while they have 12 million members, there are 68 million people in the communities they serve. Taking that broader lens both allows them to make a bigger impact but also broaden their market. Many organizations, such as Henry Ford Health System, are taking on hunger via fresh food pharmacies. Geisinger shared how a 2.0 reduction in Hemoglobin A1c reduction leads to a $24,000 cost reduction per participant in their fresh food “farmacy.” So while hospitals are perfectly positioned, have the resources and know it’s the right thing to do, they are now also beginning to understand the business model tied to targeting the social determinants of health. There is also strong strategic rationale associated with taking on a broader role of driving health versus only providing healthcare.

4. Create Partnerships for Healthcare Innovation — or Lose the Upside

Spectrum Health has a $100 million venture fund. Providence St. Joseph’s Health announced a second $150 million venture capital and growth equity fund. Mayo Clinic Ventures has returned over $700 million to their organization. Jefferson Health has a 120-person innovation team focused on digital innovation and the consumer experience, partnering with companies to build solutions. These are all variations on a theme as virtually every organization that presented is leveraging their resources to make a bigger impact and drive additional upside from their platform. “We have close to 900 agreements with over 500 partners,” stated Sanda Fenwick, CEO of Boston Children’s Hospital. “Our strategy is to be a hub for research, innovation and education in order to help evolve how care is delivered. This can only be done by collaborating with others.”

5. Become the Hub for Targeted Services and Chronic Conditions — or They Will Go Elsewhere

Perhaps the best example here is the work of Hospital for Special Surgery, the largest orthopedics shop in the world. It is has become a destination for good reason — fewer complications, fewer infections, a higher discharge rate to home and fewer readmissions. The most compelling data point is that when patients come to HSS for a second opinion, one-third of the time they receive a non-surgical recommendation. The same type of shopping is increasingly going to happen for chronic conditions.

Healthcare delivery systems that take a more holistic yet targeted approach have significant potential. They will need to think more deeply about the end-to-end experience and become immersed within the community outside of the four walls of the hospital. Other players in the community, such as CVS Health and Walgreens, would say they have a platform — and they would be right. The platform that healthcare providers have built and are building will absolutely be competing against other care delivery platforms.

6. Leverage Applied Analytics — or You’ll Lose Your Way

In order to enable everything listed above, the lifeline for every health and healthcare hub will be actionable data. Applied analytics is a boring term that is actually gaining traction and starting to dislodge buzzwords like big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence relative to its importance to healthcare providers.

Similar to how analytics are being used in a practical way in baseball to determine where to throw a pitch to a batter or position players in the field, healthcare providers are pushing for practical data sets presented in a simple, actionable framework. That may seem obvious, but it is simply not present in many healthcare organizations that have been focused on building data warehouse empires without doors to let anyone in. Many organizations, such as Advocate Aurora Health, Bon Secours Mercy and Spectrum Health, have deployed more dynamic business decision support solutions to access better insight into performance and care variation. This allows them to assess opportunities to reallocate resources to invest in more productive ways to leverage their platform.

While leveraging a platform as a business strategy is new to healthcare providers, the good news is that building blocks are already in place. It’s time to leverage that platform to drive better outcomes and more affordable care in the community. And now is the time to get started.