Chuck Lauer: The Future of Healthcare Demands Proactive Leaders

Chuck Lauer was once told that "anyone who thinks they can predict the future of healthcare is either a fool or a liar."

At the Becker's Hospital Review Annual CEO Strategy Roundtable on Nov. 14 in Chicago, Mr. Lauer — an author, consultant, speaker and former publisher of Modern Healthcare — delivered a keynote address about the future of healthcare, ironically enough. But he said he wasn't there to predict what was happen. Rather, he wanted to give healthcare executives in attendance an idea of where the system was headed, based on his several decades of experience in the industry.

From a healthcare policy standpoint, Mr. Lauer said he has never seen a period of change like what the industry is undergoing right now. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, health insurance exchange, massive investments in health information technology, rising out-of-pocket expenses as consumers take on more of their health costs, bundled payments, accountable care organizations, patient-centered medical homes, value-based purchasing — these changes are all massive, simultaneous and only the tip of the iceberg.

"Indeed, there is so much change and uncertainty that I don't know whether we are on the precipice of an abyss or the first step of a great journey to a better health system," Mr. Lauer said. "Smarter people than I have said they don't know either. The only course of action for you is to think it is [a great journey]."

Despite the rash of changes healthcare executives have to deal with, Mr. Lauer said the transition itself isn't surprising on its face. The previous way of doing business has been unsustainable, as evidenced by the growing proportion of healthcare costs relative to the nation's gross domestic product.

The one element that should remain static, Mr. Lauer said, is a focus on patients. Based on his own experiences within the walls of a hospital, he said hospitals have generally practiced "bad customer service" and, in many cases, poor best practices that lead to numerous medical errors and 400,000 hospital-related deaths every year. Amidst all the disruptions to hospital business models, leaders have to ensure their patients receive good care and are treated as if they are respected customers instead of a head in a bed.

"Patient experience is something to ignore at your own peril. Please believe me," Mr. Lauer said. "Find ways to connect immediately with patients to build relationships, and treat them like valued customers. We're a business. My god, if any business treated customers like we have over the years, they'd be out of business. Treat them like…precious human beings who need guidance."

Effort put into patient relations should be matched on the physician side, Mr. Lauer said. Recruiting physicians as employees is the wave of the now, but executives need to truly understand why physicians are approaching hospitals. "Physicians have enormous debt, and they want stable income to help pay it off," Mr. Lauer said. "This is all called quality of life…and who can blame them?"

Mr. Lauer said the "health systems that are going to succeed are those that can provide coordinated care throughout the continuum of care," and this will come from several avenues. ACOs, outpatient facilities, home health agencies, telemedicine sites and other strategies that reach patients closer to home are musts — some, he said, will likely lead to the demise of standalone hospitals and solo practitioners.

Leaders can't delay on adopting these strategies. "Executives are paid handsomely to lead, and they need to pick some strategies," Mr. Lauer said.

Ultimately, "this is the greatest time to be in the healthcare industry if you're a leader," Mr. Lauer said. But the executives who will make the biggest differences have to be actively involved, engaged and morally focused. As Mr. Lauer was once told: "Spectators will kindly remove themselves from the playing field."

More Articles on the Becker's Hospital Review Annual CEO Strategy Roundtable:
The Do's and Don'ts of Hospital-Physician Integration
3 Key Insights From Plan Providers on ACOs, PHOs and Shared Savings Arrangements
The Future of Community Hospitals: To Sell or Remain Independent

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