Having spent my week at SHSMD schmoozing with the biggest gathering of healthcare strategy, planning, communications, marketing and PR professionals that the Society has ever had, the current state of our industry can be summed up in a single word:
We’ve been on the cusp of major industry shifts for a few years now, but for all of the discussions and debate, no one is really sure what our industry is going to look like three years from now.
This week saw the biggest step to date in terms of actual implementation of the ACA (AKA Obamacare) and we’re still playing a guessing game to determine what its real meaning to our service mix and financial picture will really be. Obamacare applies leverage to the edges of the healthcare system, but doesn’t dictate what the care delivery system will look like or how it will work.
There are many experiments out there, but they’re all based on assumptions – how many people will actually get insured versus just paying the nominal penalty, for example. We’re at the point now where we’re rebuilding the airplane while it’s in flight. All we need to do is keep the whole thing from crashing before we get the new working models in place.
HDR’s David Grandy provided an elegant summary of the possibilities and potential for the future of our industry in his closing keynote. Grandy argued that innovation comes, by and large, from vulnerability and healthcare is very, very vulnerable right now. Nobody likes to change when things are good. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, which is why rule number one for engineering major organization or industry change is to have a good crisis. Ladies and gentlemen, I do believe we have our crisis!
This uncertainty played out in a host of different ways at the conference. For example, this was the biggest crowd at a SHSMD Annual Conference ever boasting nearly 1,400 attendees and more than 400 exhibitors. But more than a third of those attendees registered in the past few weeks with an unprecedented number of attendees registering on-site. I suspect that means many people had questions about budget availability and travel restrictions lifted just in time to make their way to Chicago.
Many of the sessions explored both the opportunities and threats facing the healthcare system in general and hospitals and health systems in particular. Health futurist Joe Flowers looked at the ways that technology brings healthcare closer to the consumer and has the potential to move more services out of the hospital and into the doctor’s office or the home. Walgreens talked about how they’ve used their infrastructure to create a new model for primary care delivery. Other sessions took other approaches to the future: “Moving from volume to value”; “Avoiding capacity shortage today and excess tomorrow”; “Healthcare 2014: The tipping point year to transformation”; “Direct to employer strategy” and “Maximizing profitable growth in the brave new world of exchanges”.
What we know is that things are changing. We’re all going to need to help create that future for our organizations. What should we do to help steer our organizations?
- Spend more time working with other departments in your organization. Our organizations can be deeply siloed by discipline. Spend time with the other strategy disciplines along with your finance staff, clinical staff and administrators to understand how the organization overall is impacted by these new industry shifts.
- Get out and talk to patients. I think there may be some real need to help the health consumers that you serve understand the changes that affect them. Moreover, we need to help ensure that patients see the value in these new models for them. Organizations that do this well can wield that as a real differentiator in the market.
- Experience healthcare the way your patients are. I’m not just talking about mystery shopping your clinics. Patients are receiving care in new settings, many of which aren’t connected to your organization. Have you been to a walk-in clinic run by an organization that’s never been a care provider before? Who on your staff has toured the outpatient surgical facility launched by the doctors who also staff some of your services?
- Get comfortable working with data. This is a transition that’s going to force you to get your hands dirty. In the past, we could get tidy summaries of information because the past looked like the future, but no longer. Markets that were clear losers are hidden gems as payment models evolve. If you don’t have data and the expertise to work with it, you risk steering the organization into an iceberg!
- Take time every day to step out of the everyday. We have too much work on our plates. That’s no excuse for senior leaders to not step back and work on understanding and evaluating strategic issues each and every day!
The coming years promise to be very interesting. There will be very challenging times for many of us, but there will also be opportunities on the table for our organizations to thrive. Grandy and others pointed out that health systems have not been known for innovation. We lack the specialized research and development and corporate intrapreneurship investments of corporate America. Therefore, it falls to you to help make changes happen. Maintaining the status quo is not an option.