Innovative Fellows Program Brings Payers, Providers Together

The entire healthcare industry is in the process of undergoing major change, leaving many leaders throughout the industry — both providers and payers — unsure of how to move forward successfully under reform.

In Tennessee, the Nashville Health Care Council, an association of healthcare industry leaders founded as an initiative of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce in 1995, is helping the city's healthcare companies and their leaders address these changes. Health care is Nashville's number one industry, generating 400,000 jobs and $70 billion in revenue globally. The city is home to more than 250 health care companies, 15 of which are publicly traded.

To that end, the NHCC created the Nashville Health Care Council Fellows initiative to get leaders from all over the healthcare industry together to talk candidly about the issues in healthcare today. The program graduated its first class of 33 fellows June 28.

The Fellows initiative is co-chaired by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, MD, and Larry Van Horn, PhD, professor and executive of health affairs at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

"After 20 years practicing medicine, in the most innovative fields including heart and lung transplants, and after 12 years in the United States Senate involved in healthcare policy at the national level, I concluded that what is most in need is a well-educated, strategically smart healthcare leadership approach to the gaps that exist in the healthcare sector today," Sen. Frist says.

Preparing healthcare leaders for the future

One of the NHCC Fellows program's main goals is to prepare the leaders of healthcare for the changes ahead stemming from healthcare reform and other economic pressures. The program aims to do this in two main ways: bringing together leaders from all walks of the industry and putting them through an intense curriculum.

In order to educate the class of healthcare leaders, the program includes eight day-long sessions involving lectures from national thought leaders, roundtables, immersion experiences and discussion periods. Topics include industry trends, strategic opportunities, leadership skill development, change management, innovation, entrepreneurship and globalization.

The first class of fellows included leaders from healthcare organizations in the Nashville area and beyond like DaVita, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, LifePoint Hospitals, HCA, Healthways and Community Health Systems. This mix of participants, from provider, payer, finance, HIT, life sciences and policy sectors, meant the fellows benefited from getting perspectives from all sides of the industry during discussions.

"It was absolutely beneficial," says Laura Beth Brown, vice president of Vanderbilt Health Services at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "What it did was brought us all together in a dynamic learning environment," she explains, saying it helped create "momentum for more collaboration."

From the payer side, Clay Phillips, director of provider relations and communications with BCBS of Tennessee, agrees. "If you can get payers and providers in a room to talk about…the way we pay and how we provide services to our members…it's the only way to legitimately get to a better place in the market," he says.

After completing the program, both Mr. Phillips and Ms. Brown say they feel better prepared to charge ahead as leaders in the changing industry.

"I gained relationships with people that I wouldn't necessarily cross paths with," Ms. Brown says. "Most of all, I gained knowledge on how to meet challenges, explore solutions and collaborate."

"I think any program like this kind of opens your eyes to the fact that other people are struggling too [with change], and you feel more equipped because you realize others are facing the same issues that aren't easily solved," Mr. Phillips says. "Having an open line of communication is a better way to go about it."

The NHCC Fellows program will be accepting applications for its 2014 class beginning Sept. 3.

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