Froedtert CEO Cathy Jacobson: We need to make the health system work for our patients — not the other way around

In this special Speaker Series, Becker's Healthcare caught up with Cathy Jacobson, president and CEO of Milwaukee-based Froedtert Health.  

Ms. Jacobson will speak on a panel at Becker's Hospital Review 7th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable titled, "The Digital Imperative: The Open & Shut Case for Innovation," at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 12. Learn more about the event and register to attend in Chicago.

Question: What keeps you excited and motivated to come to work each day?

Cathy Jacobson: My office and those of several key executives remain on the academic medical center campus of Froedtert Hospital, our health network's largest hospital.  That enables me to see patients every day who are impacted by the work we do.  There is no better reminder at the start of every day to ground you in your work and remember our organization's culture which is always about putting the patient first.

Q: What is one of the most interesting healthcare industry changes you've observed in recent years?

CJ: I have been in healthcare for more than 30 years, and over the last decade or so, I have seen a real change in leadership mindset that the system has to change.  That doesn't mean there aren't pockets still wedded to holding onto fee-for-service reimbursement and maximizing it to the end, but the overwhelming majority of leaders I meet with across healthcare are truly trying to develop their system's capabilities to succeed in a value-driven economy.  If anything, I sense a frustration that it isn't moving fast enough.  There is a real motivation for change, which makes it easier to lead an organization to change and makes my job exciting and interesting.

Q: What do you see as the most vulnerable part of a hospital's business?

CJ: Individual hospitals, but more so large healthcare systems, are held together financially by a very complex system that relies on pieces and parts to make the whole work.  Whether it is certain service lines that are more profitable than others, balancing payer mix or utilizing Medicare reimbursement mechanisms to maximize revenue, we need all of these to fund the parts of the system that have to be there for our communities 24/7, regardless of whether their use is being maximized that day.  This includes services like trauma centers, burn units, "excess beds" that were too limited when the community was challenged by a flu epidemic, etc.  With new entrants into the market such as low cost convenient access models, digital services, narrow networks, etc., the system is being disaggregated.  The parts that keep the whole afloat are in danger of being picked off, which threatens the overall system.  We all want to reduce costs and create a more consumer driven experience, but we have to preserve a way to keep the system there for when it is needed.

Q: What's one conviction in healthcare that needs to be challenged?

CJ: That every patient needs a primary care physician.  As we start stratifying our patients into distinct populations based on their health needs and develop that insight further into consumer driven wants, we are finding that a substantial sector of the population does not want or need a primary care physician relationship.  People need primary care but not necessarily a physician relationship. We need to stop trying to fit patients into our health system-driven model and develop the means to serve their health needs on their terms.  If we don't, someone else will.

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