Politics, physicians, patients and IT payments: 3 health system experts reveal their 5-year strategy and outlook

As the healthcare industry weathers the turbulent waters of change, hospital and health system leaders are tasked to set their ship's course before the clouds clear. With this seemingly unassailable task, leaders must craft strategy from tried-and-true concepts and make adjustments as needed.

In a panel at the Becker's Hospital Review 7th Annual Meeting in Chicagotwo health system CEOs and a healthcare consultant discussed their strategies to navigate the various changes impacting the healthcare industry over the next five years.

Panelists included:

  • Thomas "Tim" Stover, MD, president and CEO of Akron (Ohio) General Health System
  • Anthony Armada, CEO of Swedish Health Services (Seattle), affiliated with Providence Health & Services
  • Don Barbo, managing director of VMG Health (Dallas)
  • Moderated by Chuck Lauer, author, consultant, speaker and former publisher of Modern Healthcare

Here are the top soundbites from their discussion, lightly edited for clarity.

On strategic planning for the next five to 10 years:

Dr. Stover said, "Having become part of an organization like Cleveland Clinic, our strategic thinking as changed. There is no question about that…In our market at one time, one doctor could make a difference whether we lose or gain revenue. That's not the case now…We now have the ability to think bigger."

Mr. Armada said, "First and foremost we can't lose sight of the basics of healthcare. We call that strengthening the core. It's improving operations, developing and recruiting great people…and the last thing is the importance of cash flow." He named three top things on the horizon for Swedish Health: a focus on the total customer experience, the use of big data and establishing market power though partnerships and alliances.

Mr. Barbo said VMG tries to make it simple for clients by recommending a strategic focus on cash flow, growth of cash flows and risk of those cash flows. "When we are looking ahead, whether its next month, or three, five, even 10 years out, we want clients focused on those three things."

On customer service in the healthcare industry:

Dr. Stover said, "It's not what we do for our patients and our potential patients, it's how we do the what. Customer service is important not only because we need to be competitive, but because every one of us in this room will eventually be a patient, including me. The expectation of quality care in this country is a given…But how you deliver care is as important or potentially more important [than quality] because that is what the patient remembers. It's not where you went to medical school, it's how many times they were stuck with an IV or if the ceiling tiles were dirty."

Mr. Armada said, "At Providence we have a promise to folks we serve, 'Know me, care for me, ease my way.' This guides us in our overall consumerism platform and experience."

Mr. Barbo said, "In terms of customer service, I would say we are getting there and making improvements." With more high deductible health plans and consumers paying out of pocket, the industry has been forced to pay more attention to customer service, and as a result, transparency has increased, according to Mr. Barbo.

On IT budgets:

Dr. Stover said IT is "No. 2 on our spend list and I'm sure it is everywhere else…The main reason [hospitals are closing] is they can't afford these systems we all have to buy. Frankly, if we weren't part of Cleveland Clinic, we couldn't afford Epic. It's a major expenditure."

Mr. Armada said, "Our Epic platform is a key strategic imperative for us. Everything we get into we try to understand how the connectivity of it will work. We have a partnership with Walgreens and the IT platform is Epic there. The Epic platform is also a key foundation for us as we look at big data."

On the Affordable Care Act and physician responses to change:

Dr. Stover said, "We have been talking about health and wellness for 20 years and keeping people out of the hospital. The problem is the only entity that doesn't benefit from that is us. If it had gone a couple steps further, the ACA could have dealt with that, but it does not."

Mr. Armada said, "The physician response is very mixed. We do think there is a lot on physicians' plates right now in terms of the types of performance required of them. The patient experience has to be great, they have to hit scorecards relative to accountable care and stay engaged, and at the end of the day, they still have to connect with the patient…We try to partner with them to create the avenues and resources they need."


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