Simplification is how healthcare can get out of crisis mode, says Intermountain CEO

Rob Allen began serving as president and CEO of Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Health Dec. 1, and he brought his previous experience with the 33-hospital organization to the role.

Before becoming president and CEO, Mr. Allen served as COO of Intermountain for nearly six years. He also previously held roles with Intermountain including region operating officer, CEO of Park City (Utah) Medical Center and region vice president. 

Mr. Allen told Becker's Hospital Review he's excited about opportunities he has in his new role. He shared his top priorities for her first year on the job, discussed Intermountain's recent merger and name change, and offered some advice for his peers.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What has you most excited about your new role as CEO of Intermountain?

Rob Allen: I'm excited with the future opportunities in healthcare. I think we're at a point in time where a crisis demands certain actions. And we've seen a lot of that, since the pandemic, where we've been in crisis mode a lot and had to move quickly. And we've done a lot of things that would have taken us a long time. And we've done them in short periods of time. Telehealth is a key example as we had to shift the way care was delivered. And we shifted the way people did their work in a pretty dramatic way as well, for lots of folks who moved off site, and those were interesting moves that I think have opened new doors for us. And now we're in this crisis where health systems have struggled, and we're going to need to look for new ways to approach things. Frankly, I think we're in a bit of a crisis around how we relate to those we're here to serve as the world is changing. You have all of these easy access, easy service connectors that are out there. We're at a point in time in healthcare that I'm excited about the opportunities we have to partner with our caregivers and to change the way care is delivered. 

For us, one of the things that I've focused on as I'm getting into this role is looking around and recognizing we have a huge opportunity to simplify healthcare. On my first day on the job, the focus areas were really around ensuring we deliver on our mission and that we do that through focusing on our caregivers and focusing on our patients and how we simplify their journeys and their work. We truly become the partners of health and healing for our caregivers and our patients by making the process more doable, and therefore ensuring more survivability or sustainability of people in the healthcare arena and patients getting all the care that they need. Unfortunately, now, I think [patients] often avoid the health system because it can be complex and challenging and frustrating. They don't even know where to go with it. So, I'm excited with the opportunity to start to move the needle on change and rebuilding healthcare. I think, historically, we add things to healthcare all the time. We rarely take things away. And we've gotten to the point that doctors spend tremendous amounts of time after their day is done completing charting. 

Q: What are a few of your top priorities for your first year as CEO?

RA: As a new CEO, it's important that we stabilize. Right now the world's been in turmoil, and healthcare has been in turmoil for a number of years. How do we settle the ground from shaking for people, and work with them along the way? That's a really important part of our work, as we look to the future, and I think this first year is a critical part of what we do. Our caregivers and our patients will be a key focus. And we want to make sure that our caregivers have good footing and that the job is evolving. When you think about the job market in healthcare, we can't hire everybody we need. That's not just one area or a couple of areas, it's everywhere. And when you think about those needs, that also requires simplification. What do we do so your job is doable? Because, in many cases, people feel stretched a bit beyond their comfort level. Let's make that job doable. Simplification work is around that as we go forward. Then for Intermountain, of course, our focus on value-based care continues to run deep, and we continue to do our work on that front. But that value-based care piece requires us to integrate well. We had the merger with Broomfield, Colo.-based SCL Health that came together in April last year, and we're in the integration process. We need to complete that work here over the coming year. So, priorities for me fall into those categories, and all around making sure we continue to deliver well on our mission of helping people live the healthiest lives possible.

Q: What is the greatest challenge facing hospital CEOs today? 

RA: I view it as a challenge for sustainability. You look at the financial challenges that folks have, the staffing challenges, you can roll a number of things into that. How do we sustain the health system to serve the people we're here to serve? I think we're at a point in time where there are more pressures on sustainability than I've ever seen in my several decades of leadership in healthcare. For leaders, CEOs, I think that a critical part of our job is to figure out how to move the next wave of activity in a way that meets the community needs. You think about delivering care today to the communities, and we talk a lot about vulnerable communities as part of that under our mission. But we need to make sure we're here tomorrow as well. And I think the health system of the country is being challenged deeply around those things. 

Q: Intermountain Healthcare officially shortened its name to Intermountain Health on Jan. 23. What does the name change mean for the organization? 

RA: I think it's an exciting time. When you think about Intermountain Healthcare, it's certainly a legacy name with great strength behind it for what Intermountain delivers from a mission perspective, and the charge to be a model system. We've always tried to be that, and we want to learn from others along the journey that we all can get better. But the main shift to Intermountain Health really is a recognition that more of the work that's needed and that we're focused on is outside the traditional acute care setting. We'll always provide that care to folks who are sick or injured. We think that's a core part of our mission. But you think about what value-based care is all about. How do you actually impact the health and well-being of those you're charged to serve or who trust their care to you? It's about going upstream. It's about being that partner in health and healing, and not just being there when someone is sick or in crisis. We want to make sure that we're focused on the health side of things. I think it's a really important move for us to declare that, and to make sure how we present ourselves to the community reflects who we aspire to be, and where our energy and focus is going forward. And that's around keeping people healthy as well as caring for them in those times of crisis.

Q: If you could pass along a piece of advice to other hospital leaders, what would it be?

RA: It's easy to get fully focused on the crisis. That's natural. We're all tempted there as leaders, and we're all drawn into that as leaders because we need to address and solve for the crisis realities of the moment. But if I were giving advice to healthcare leaders, to those getting into the field, I would say, "I can't think of a more exciting time to be in healthcare to make a difference for the future of those that we're here to serve." And to those who've been in the field, I would say, "It's good for all of us to be reminded of the importance of the mission and the purpose of why we're here." In the midst of dealing with the crisis and the challenge, we keep focused on the higher goals and the higher purpose, which is that long-term sustainability, around the reason that we exist. And that's to serve others. With that in mind, I think we solve the crisis issues with a view to the future and position our organizations for that success, and to ensure that we're here to take care of those who need us in the future.

Q: Any other thoughts you'd like to share in closing? 

RA: At Intermountain, we really focus around how we engage our caregivers. Over the last five years, we've actually had our caregivers generate and implement over 260,000 improvement ideas. We have a platform, and we have an engagement that we can turn to now and rely on to generate simplicity approaches to our care. Now, we've got to get better at sharing the ideas across the whole enterprise and making sure that something that's improved in one area has legs and gets improved in other areas so that everybody benefits from those improvements. We're focused on that as we engage our caregivers, hearts and minds in this work. As I'm out rounding — which I'm doing a lot, as you might imagine, as a new CEO — it's a message that resonates well with our caregivers. They are anxious to simplify their work process, because they want to spend more time with patients, and they want to make sure they're delivering on the mission and the reason that they're here. Simplifying the work process gives them hope that they're going to have those opportunities ahead. 

The second part of the caregiver side is as health systems, we've got to look at tech-enabling the work in different and unique ways. We're at a window of time in history where technology is advancing to a place where it can dramatically impact the workflow. They're not all ready to deploy in healthcare, but how do we start to draw them into healthcare? How do we use them to simplify the work, to shorten the day for doctors who are spending extra hours charting at the end of the day? To give nurses more time with their patients? 

On the patient side, our healthcare experiences are so episodic that we built our systems around episodes. Though the community experiences the health journey longitudinally, it is a journey. It's not built in silos. We've got to, from the simplification side, start thinking about the healthcare experience from that longitudinal view of the community. Patients spend most of their health journey outside the walls of our institutions. We need to think about all that time out there and how we're a partner that they can turn to. Our surveys tell us that our communities are looking for a trusted health partner that they can turn to through their journey. And we want to be that by taking a holistic view and, in essence, stitching together all these individual episodes in a way that flows for those who are counting on us.That's an area we're thinking a lot about, as we look ahead on this simplification work.

Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars