Intermountain's Dan Liljenquist: 'Collaborating disruptively' key to advancing healthcare

Dan Liljenquist combines his passions for public policy and healthcare as chief strategy officer of Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare. 

He oversees Intermountain's strategy, corporate development, government relations, and care transformation and information systems teams. This provides him with the opportunity to lend his expertise to many areas that can spark change at the organization.

"It's kind of fun because from a strategy standpoint, I have most of the levers we can work with within a strategy frame to move the ball," he said. 

Mr. Liljenquist did not always know he would be in healthcare. He joined Intermountain nearly a decade ago after serving in the Utah Senate, where he focused on issues such as Medicaid and public-sector pension reforms. He started at Intermountain as its director of special projects in population health. 

Today, he is not only chief strategy officer of Intermountain but also board chair of Civica Rx, a nonprofit generic drug company that has grown to include 55 health system members. He also helped launch and serves as board chair of Graphite Health, a nonprofit company focused on healthcare data interoperability and the adoption of digital health solutions. 

Mr. Liljenquist visited the Becker's office in Chicago on June 24 for an in-depth interview. He discussed his various roles and shared his priorities for 2022 and offered his perspective on the current healthcare environment. 

5 strategies and priorities

Health systems across the U.S. have faced various challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and Intermountain is no exception. Mr. Liljenquist acknowledged that "everyone's getting thrown on their back" as they try to shore up finances at a difficult time in healthcare. But he sees Intermountain's value-focused strategy — which includes its insurance division, SelectHealth, and other initiatives — as beneficial. He also views collaborating with other health systems as beneficial.

"I think it's a tough job right now for most of my colleagues, and what we're working on is trying to figure out how we can collaborate disruptively outside of particular geographies with efforts like Civica, Graphite," Mr. Liljenquist said. "We (chief strategy officers) will spend some time this fall thinking about ideas like Civica that we can do to advance healthcare."

This idea of advancing healthcare is part of Intermountain's priorities and strategies that have informed the health system's decisions. Here are some of those priorities and strategies, in Mr. Liljenquist's own words, as well as the factors related to them.

1. The move to value. Intermountain is focused on full clinical and financial accountability for patients served at the organization. "We want to keep people well and make sure care when needed is provided at high quality and in the most cost-effective manner," Mr. Liljenquist said. "We take risk from multiple payers. We'll work with any payer that is willing to help us with that goal. You have to focus on fundamentals of care but also we are determined to create the best consumer and caregiver experience in healthcare, and we know [healthcare is] a high-friction environment, high-frustration environment, enormously complex for our own people to navigate let alone someone getting sick for the first time." 

2. Clinical models of the future and boundaryless access. Demand for healthcare services is shifting amid an aging U.S. population. Therefore, Intermountain is focused on digitally-enabled, customer-facing care process models that allow people to self-triage and self-diagnose. Related to that is improving healthcare access with a goal of boundaryless access. "Just like we're changing our expectations of coming into the office, we should have different expectations in how we access healthcare. We've got to be more dynamic. If access is traditionally a one-on-one relationship between doctor and patient … that won't be sufficient," Mr. Liljenquist said. 

3. Merger with SCL Health. Intermountain and SCL Health finalized their merger this year, and April 5 marked the first official workday under the combined organization. The combined system, called Intermountain Healthcare, operates 33 hospitals, including a virtual hospital, and 385 clinics across Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Kansas. The combined entity has about 59,000 employees and 4,700 licensed hospital beds and provides health insurance to about 1 million people. 

"I was there when we began negotiating the deal and am still involved in the integration function, and it's going well," Mr. Liljenquist said. Overall, the integration timeline is two years. "This month, we moved 1,000 people a day from one productivity system [Google] into Microsoft a day," he said. "Our IT worked hard and got it going. There's a lot of complexity in doing that, but we got it all done in the first quarter." 

4. Civica. Aside from the merger, Intermountain has been heavily involved with efforts at Civica, which plans to manufacture and distribute three insulins at discounted prices. The company will produce glargine, lispro and aspart — the generic versions of Lantus, Humalog and Novolog, respectively — at a facility in Petersburg, Va. Mr. Liljenquist said the company intends to limit consumer prices to $30 per vial and $55 for a box of five pen cartridges. The company expects to produce glargine first and make it available in early 2024, pending FDA approval.

"We will sell it to any retailer who will abide by our pricing philosophy, and that is we intend to publish on our packaging a suggested price," Mr. Liljenquist said. "We're saying, 'If you're paying more than $30 a vial, you're being overcharged.'"

5. Graphite. Intermountain, St. Louis-based SSM Health and Albuquerque, N.M.-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services launched Graphite in October. The nonprofit is modeled after Civica but for digital health, and it has focused on healthcare interoperability challenges. Mr. Liljenquist said one of Graphite's goals this year will be to work with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to adopt Graphite's interoperability and data standardization products so health systems across the U.S. can clinically innovate using a common digital language.

Thinking beyond government efforts

But he noted that Civica and Graphite are only some of the ways health system leaders could work to collaborate to address systemic problems in healthcare. 

"I don't think government is going to come up with any brilliant solution that's going to solve all of our healthcare problems," he said. "The tools they're working with are blunt tools. They lack the precision to really change the game."

That is why he said collaboration will be key to fixing systemic healthcare issues such as drug availability. And he remains optimistic. 

"I'm optimistic we can figure out new models that will benefit all of us and not at the expense of each other but to the collective benefit of patients," Mr. Liljenquist said. "There's a dozen other ways we can work together."

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