Adapting and competing in the new health economy: Q&A with Gundersen Health System's CFO

Since 2013, Michael Allen has served as CFO of Gundersen Health System, a two-hospital system based in La Crosse, Wis. During that time, he has identified the key challenges facing hospitals across the nation and developed a plan to help his system succeed in the new healthcare environment.

Mr. Allen has extensive experience in healthcare finance. Before joining Gundersen, he served as CFO of Winona (Minn.) Health, a position he held for 12 years. He also previously served as CFO and chief compliance officer of Gibson Area Hospital & Health Services in Gibson City, Ill.

Becker's had the opportunity to catch up with Mr. Allen and get his insight on a number of issues, including some of the challenges facing health systems across the nation.

Question: What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing health systems in Wisconsin today? michael allen

Michael Allen: The challenges facing Wisconsin health systems today are the challenges facing all health systems. The cost of care has become unaffordable for our communities, and as a result a new health economy is emerging. Our greatest challenge isn't risk-based contracts, accountable care organization development or physician recruiting. Our biggest challenge is adapting and competing in the new health economy. Our patients will demand more options, self-service, convenience and lower costs, and if we don't respond other competitors outside the industry will. We all know outside competitors are already lining up because they see revenue and profit opportunities.

Q: What are some of your goals for Gundersen Health System in 2015?

MA: Our goals are organized around the triple aim to continue to improve our results for quality of care, patient experience and cost of care. Being better at all three will ensure we are taking care of our region's healthcare needs today and well into the future. We are also looking ahead to better leveraging our integrated health system resources for population health and the evolution of retail medicine. The organization is a leader in the industry for end-of-life care and our energy programs, and we will continue to advance those and other initiatives that benefit our region.

Q: Gundersen formed a partnership with several other top healthcare systems in Wisconsin last year called abouthealth. What are some of abouthealth's goals for this year?

MA: The abouthealth partnership came together because like-minded, high-performing organizations wanted to get better faster and share resources and specific ideas to do that. The goals of abouthealth and the goals of the participating health system members have a high degree of synergy, by design. Goals have been set to improve quality and efficiency across the participating health systems. There are many elements to that planning that are coming together with a high level of engagement and motivation by all of health system partners.

Q: What has been your greatest accomplishment as CFO in the past year?

MA: The organization continues to achieve and improve for our communities and our patients. We are becoming more focused in an increasingly complex and noisy environment around us. As it gets louder, we are going back to the basics and making sure our financial systems and processes are ready for the new health economy. Internally, we developed standard work to raise the financial literacy of the organization. Our finance team deployed education and tools to help our operational leaders be prepared for what will be required of them as we face heightened challenges to make care affordable and accessible in our communities. We responded this year to our patients' needs, and are re-tooling the revenue cycle to keep pace. We have moved a significant amount of resources to the front-end of our processes to have earlier and better conversations with our patients about their financial responsibilities, and to better assist them through the process. We also deployed tools on the back-end to give patients a better view of their bill and to self-serve. We feel really good about the progress we are making on behalf of our patients.

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