Ochsner CEO Warner Thomas on healthcare in the 2020 election, price transparency & innovation

Warner Thomas, president and CEO of Ochsner Health System, is embracing a digital future.

He says the 40-hospital, New Orleans-based system is working to increase patient access and convenience through digital, self-service price estimates; online appointment scheduling; and telemedicine.

As part of an executive Q&A series, Becker's caught up with Mr. Thomas to hear his thoughts on the latest price transparency initiatives from the Trump administration, healthcare in the 2020 campaigns and Ochsner's focus for the rest of the year. Here he discusses how Ochsner is using digital tools to improve price transparency and meet the needs of today's patient.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for style.

Question: President Trump signed an executive order this week calling for price transparency in healthcare. What is the biggest effect this will have on healthcare delivery?

Warner Thomas: At the beginning of this year, CMS instituted health transparency requirements that we fully support. The requirements provide patients with a better understanding of their healthcare and insurance benefits in an extremely complex pricing environment. In this new world of consumerism, individuals want to have information available to them quickly, especially as it relates to out-of-pocket healthcare costs.

As a health system, we have a responsibility to deliver the highest quality of care, believe in making our outcomes and patient experience ratings public, and are always working to improve access for our patients. Cost is part of that, but it is more helpful and beneficial for patients to have access to out-of-pocket costs than charge costs. In addition to cost, we know quality, expertise and the ability to quickly see a physician are key factors in the healthcare decision process.

Last year, we created a Central Pricing Office as a resource for new and existing patients who can speak with a consultant and receive information on charges and estimates received or inquire about estimates for unscheduled procedures. Estimates are provided for some common procedures within radiology, labs and office visits, and we are continuing to add more procedures.

Additionally, we launched a pilot program around the same time, which is currently available to Ochsner patients utilizing MyOchsner, Ochsner's patient portal via Epic MyChart. Patients can create self-service estimates via MyOchsner for certain procedures.

By offering these tools, we can invest, inform and educate our patients in real time and answer questions effectively so that we maintain their trust.

Q: What's one healthcare issue you'd like to see candidates address during the 2020 campaign season?

WT: The rising cost of drugs. Earlier this year, the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists released a new report with the conclusion that continued rising drug prices, as well as shortages for many critical medications, are impacting patient care and putting strains on hospital budgets and operations.

Hospitals are experiencing a 1 percent to 2 percent increase in Medicare pricing while pharmacy pricing remains steady with double digit increases. This isn't a sustainable model, and we need more government regulation to help balance that.

Q: What is your health system's core strategic focus for the rest of 2019?

WT: Innovation. Consumerism is playing a major role in innovation as we see more and more lower-acuity care options go digital or go to lower-acuity settings, such as urgent care. Patients want a different approach in the way they interact with their doctors. They are advocates of their own health and feel empowered to make the necessary change to live healthier. As part of our patient-centered culture, we are creating digital relationships that focus on access and convenience through online appointments, our patient portal, telemedicine and digital medicine. Enhanced patient connections through our web and digital marketing presence coupled with investments in integrated technologies has resulted in strong patient portal use and a 16 percent increase in online appointments.

It enables an opportunity to revolutionize healthcare and give patients what they want, when they want it. The digital world is having a major impact on healthcare. We're embracing that, not fighting it by offering personalized, patient-centered solutions to empower people to live their healthiest, best lives.


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