CFO Jon Sohn on Ascension Wisconsin's cost-containment strategies

Jon Sohn is CFO of Glendale-based Ascension Wisconsin.

His experience and expertise is in expense control, budgeting, forecasting, financial analysis, capital planning and other financial management areas.

He is the former CFO of Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, which joined Ascension Wisconsin in 2016.

Mr. Sohn also served as a senior manager with KPMG in Milwaukee.

Here, Mr. Sohn shares his organization's top cost-containment strategies, discusses Ascension Wisconsin's goals and offers advice for other hospital CFOs.

Note: The following responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What is the greatest challenge hospital CFOs face today, and how are you working to address it?

Jon Sohn: The greatest challenge we face is balancing the many factors — some within our control and many outside of our control — that allow us to sustain our mission of improving the health and well-being of individuals and communities while caring for those who are most vulnerable. These factors extend well beyond hospitals and health systems, and we know that we cannot address them singlehandedly. We view our role as leaders, advocates, partners and conveners in the ongoing search to find creative solutions to complex challenges faced by our patients, employers and communities.

Q: What are your top cost-containment strategies?

JS: Our goals are straightforward — ensuring that we have the appropriate resources available to care for patients in the most efficient setting. This requires us to not only understand our costs of providing the services in our various care settings, but also to understand the related claim cost for these services that our patients, insurance companies or employers are paying. It also has required us to make new investments in helping patients navigate healthcare, which includes connecting patients to medical homes and redirecting them away from immediate-care settings. We are investing in scheduling technology and virtual care solutions so that patients can easily connect with our primary care network as an alternative to emergency room services. These efforts have allowed us to provide greater access to patients while keeping them healthier by connecting them to a medical home at a lower overall cost.

Q: What is your top goal for 2019?

JS: Our top goal is continued growth and increasing access to care. We are investing in new technologies to provide care when and where our patients need it. We are building new ambulatory sites, also designed to make care more convenient. This includes new clinics and urgent care sites, neighborhood hospitals, outpatient imaging and ambulatory surgery centers. Most importantly, we’re investing in people by recruiting highly skilled providers and by supporting the next generation of providers through a robust graduate medical education program.

Q: I understand Ascension Wisconsin hospitals were able to reduce prices by 50 percent or more for MRI and CT scans and colonoscopies. Can you explain how this occurred?

JS: We worked collaboratively with our insurance company and employers to understand rational price points for the services we offer. During this review, we identified opportunities to better meet consumers' price expectations. This was most notable in imaging and other diagnostic services. Our approach was simple — reduce the price of these services. We believe this work has given us a competitive advantage, as Ascension Wisconsin now has some of the lowest hospital costs in the community, which is reflective of our commitment to our employers.

Q: How does Ascension Wisconsin plan to work with employers and insurance companies?

JS: We believe that full engagement with employers and insurance companies is necessary to align our resources to ensure the most efficient care possible.  We know that when Ascension Wisconsin is engaged in the design of the plan we are better able to provide individuals with support and ensure continuity across the health continuum. These efforts will improve health by providing necessary, high value services and connecting patients with providers. Additionally, we are working to provide those we serve with a medical home. While we are focused on helping existing patients navigate our system, we realize that some patients are disconnected from any health system but still in need of preventive care. Alignment with employers on a plan design, which has a member/patient pick a health care provider, allows our providers the ability to create a relationship for preventive care before that patient needs services.

Q: If you could pass along a piece of advice to another hospital CFO, what would it be?

JS: Be willing to invest in innovation. As healthcare leaders, we need to ensure that we are focusing our resources on lowering employers’ costs and keeping patients healthy. Shortterm investments in primary care, care management and wellness are essential to ensuring that we are doing our job to make healthcare more affordable with easier access for patients.

 

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