Providence St. Joseph CEO offers deeper analysis of 2018 predictions: Talks tech, genomics, policy and more

Rod Hochman, MD, president and CEO of for Renton, Wash.-based Providence St. Joseph Health, recently shared his top predictions for healthcare in 2018. Dr. Hochman took the time to speak with Becker's Hospital Review and dive deeper into the specifics of some of his forecasts, including the continued market entrance of technology startups, the increased importance of genomics and what roles executives must take in influencing public policy.

Note: Responses have been edited lightly for length and style.

Question: You say the entrance of startups into healthcare is good for patients, but how do you view it as a provider? Do you feel threatened?

RH: If you don't believe technology startups are the future of healthcare, you're blind. It's the same process that's happened in other industries. A lot of folks in retail were in absolute denial about technology, and now consumer empowerment has taken hold and completely shaken them up. Today, we think nothing of purchasing clothing or even food online, but somehow in healthcare there's always the mentality of, "We're too complicated, we won't be affected by this." This digital revolution is an inevitable force we're seeing everywhere, and healthcare isn't immune to that.

For us, the question becomes who do you partner with? You partner with people on the technology side that understand how to interact with consumers and understand the technology that makes it easier to help consumers connect with your services. We have partnered with Amazon, and our CFO came to us from Microsoft. It's important to partner with people who understand how to create a consumer interface and how consumers want to act in a digital environment. A key with the digital side is expanding from being just involved in acute healthcare to encompass the whole health portfolio. We've struggled on the provider side with how we will get ourselves into the health portfolio, so an increased technological presence is not only a defensive maneuver but also gets us more involved with the consumer.

If you look at Nordstrom, they want to be your retailer for life. We want to be people's health partner for life. So if you consider that concept, how many different ways can we touch a patient and their family? You want to be their go-to source that gets things done, and one of the areas we've missed is the retail side of healthcare.

Q: What are some of the technological capabilities you are most excited about?

RH: We think we can really expand the base by which we take care of primary care patients. Whether that's telehealth visits or home visits, we want to explore the whole spectrum of how we think about primary care. I've been a physician for 40 years, and the traditional model is not going to cut it in the future. The more ways people can access primary care beyond the traditional model, the more revenue streams you have other than a doctor in an office. These technologies not only expand the revenue stream, but also really improve consumer satisfaction.

Q: What steps have you taken to leverage DNA and genomics?

RH: Lee Hood, MD, PhD, our chief scientific officer, has won a National Medal of Science and could honestly be in the running for a Nobel Prize based on the work he's done around gene sequencing. At our Institute for Systems Biology, we look at scientific wellness, which is about how you unlock the secrets of the genome and biome not only to prevent sickness, but to keep ourselves well. That's a really interesting and different way to approach the issue.

What Dr. Hood represents is a conversation between genomics, biologic data and computing power, and those three things together are changing healthcare. In the past, we couldn't crunch data at the rate we had to, but machine learning and increased computing power is what's really going to unlocks the power of DNA. If you think about genomics in terms of silos, you're going to miss something. You always have to consider how it fits in with population health and consumerism.

Q: You emphasize the importance of workforce development. How does Providence St. Joseph's tackle that issue?

RH: One thing that's unique about us is our partner university, Providence College in Great Falls, Mont. We've used it as a learning laboratory to produce the workforce we need for healthcare 2.0, including data scientists, nurse practitioners and other non-traditional clinicians. We've created a virtual university for our whole health system and integrated it with our needs for today and the future. To pipeline your workforce needs with a degree-granting institution is pretty special, especially because we value these non-physician roles so highly and need them just as much as any physician.

Q: You say one of the most important tasks for healthcare leaders in 2018 is to reaffirm the importance of Medicare and Medicaid for providers and patients alike. What steps can executives take to do this?

RH: I think as a leader you have to get your head in there and get engaged. You have to do whatever you can to get the message out. Congress respects hearing from CEOs, but they really like hearing from their constituents. We were able to stir up momentum among our patients and frontline workers, and had really great grassroots efforts in Montana and Alaska that helped influence policy. We are getting a little smarter about how we mobilize grassroots efforts, and actually created an online tool that helps communities send letters to their members of Congress.

Personally, I was up at 4 a.m. speaking on NPR, just doing whatever it takes to reach the public. You can't underestimate how important that is, and you need to make sure you're communicating every day.

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