'Health systems must accelerate their ability to transform'

Health systems have overcome many challenges in the last three years, and rapid transformation will continue for the next three driven by thinning margins, workforce shortages and technological advancements, according to executives at top health systems.

Becker's asked: What will be different about health systems in 2026?

"The most successful health systems will be able to offer complete care coverage," Amy Perry, president of Banner Health, said. "On the care side, that means having invested in fully integrated care, serving patients beyond acute care settings and filling gaps in care to make healthcare easier, more accessible and more affordable."

Premium-based revenue will allow healthcare to prioritize outcomes and quality of life. Over the last year there has been renewed vigor around value-based care, including more outpatient services and population health initiatives, to drive better quality at a lower cost. Technology supports the overall transformation, but a culture shift is needed too.

"All of this must be fueled and integrated by the smart application of emerging technology," said Ms. Perry. "Health systems must accelerate their ability to transform."

John Couris, president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital, also sees faster growth as the key to a thriving business plan for health systems in the coming years. He champions a platform strategy for health systems focused on care coordination and patient experience to frictionlessly move through the system.

"If health systems are going to continue to thrive and survive in the years to come, they will need to dramatically invest time, resources and people into developing robust ecosystems of care," he said. "By this I mean they will need to build pathways where patients can access the specific type of care they need in an environment that most effectively, efficiently and affordably serves both patient and provider."

By the numbers, more healthcare is already shifting to the outpatient setting. Sg2 forecasts hospital capacity will change in the next decade with outpatient surgical volumes expected to grow 18%, with outpatient total joints and spinal fusions increasing significantly. Health systems are also developing hospital at home programs with growth in mind.

"The hospitals of tomorrow are being planned today, so it's incumbent on hospital leaders to not only consider the healthcare needs of the communities and patients they currently serve, but also to continually look forward to ensure we are transforming care well into the future," said David Verinder, president and CEO of Sarasota (Fla.) Memorial Health Care System.

Sarasota Memorial has invested more than $1 billion in the last three years in new facilities, including a new hospital, multiple cancer centers and a behavioral health hospital. The system is planning additional investments in projects and programs that are expandable and flexible as new technologies evolve the healthcare delivery.

"It's not just about bricks and mortar," said Mr. Verinder. "In the coming years, health systems must integrate not only the latest medical equipment and robust clinical programs for patients; they also must harness the power of AI and innovative digital advances to help predict, diagnose and treat diseases, add greater personalization and precision to medicine, expand patients' access to comprehensive care and improve efficiencies within the workforce."

The C-suites will also evolve with elevated focus on technology and transformation. While some health systems have eliminated the chief operating officer role and combined roles, others are expanding their C-suites to include chief transformation officers, chief data officers and AI executives.

"In the next three years, we'll begin to see a re-imagined C-suite with a wider skill base including additional culture transformation and organization development roles," said Matthew Painter, director of leadership development at UAB Health System and School of Medicine in Birmingham, Ala. "This will catalyze more collaborative leadership as functional executives will partner with others to reduce silos and find operational synergies."

Mr. Painter also sees more internal emphasis on talent development and team-based care with health systems making big investments in building a pipeline of strong internal talent as well as workforce transformation to meet the evolving needs of patients and communities.

"Care will begin to transform to a more decentralized, community-based care, coupled with increased home-based care and telemedicine," he said.

The political and economic environment also has the potential to accelerate change. With 2024 being an election year, health system executives are paying close attention to the candidates' views on healthcare and planning for how the regulatory environment could change.

"Health systems will continue to evolve in the coming years, even more rapidly than in prior years," said Steve Davis, MD, president and CEO of Cincinnati Children's. "Some of this evolution will depend on the results of upcoming elections. A few areas of potential meaningful change include increased use of telemedicine, particularly to address the access to care issues in many rural areas, a greater focus on preventative population health initiatives, and greater incorporation of AI tools into the diagnostic toolset and allowing for better integration of big data approaches with the efforts around more personalized medicine."

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