The ambitious agenda of Allina Health COO Lisa Shannon

Lisa Shannon serves as executive vice president and COO of Allina Health, a 12-hospital system headquartered in Minneapolis. She assumed her position in July 2017.

Prior to joining Allina, Ms. Shannon worked as president of health system delivery and COO at Catholic Health Initiatives sponsored KentuckyOne Health, where she was responsible for care delivery and operations across the health network. She also held leadership positions at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Mich. and OhioHealth in Columbus.

Ms. Shannon has spent her career driving change in the healthcare industry. She warns that without faster transformation and adoption, the healthcare industry will be disrupted.

"If we don't disrupt and change how we deliver care, we will be left with only the parts of the health system that others aren't interested in. That will hurt our community. It will hurt our patients. It will hurt our industry and ability to serve the most vulnerable in our country," Ms. Shannon explained.

Here, Ms. Shannon discusses more about the biggest issue she thinks the healthcare industry faces, explains her proudest moment at Allina Health and divulges the traits emerging healthcare leaders need to possess.

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

Question: What has been one of your proudest moments at Allina Health?

Lisa Shannon: There are so many things I'm proud of, but the things that I will always be most proud of are going to involve our people and what they've accomplished.

When I think about the way our team is advancing across several areas that are vital to patient care, that's what stands out. When I think the way staff or executives evolve from having intercompany competition to intercompany collaboration, I am proud. When I see staff lift others to make sure we are growing together, getting better together, spreading learning versus holding that knowledge in — those are the things I'm most proud of.

If you want a specific recent example, I would talk about how we have built out tiered escalation huddles that focus on ensuring patient safety, employee safety and improving access to care. Within just a few short months we were able to spread these huddles across every one of our sites of care and business units. We went live across all sites in October 2018. All together we brought them to life in under six months. The daily site huddle, which rolls into a daily 10 a.m. system huddle, is a method that allows us to transparently share patient and employee safety lessons and access issues. Because of these huddles, we are now solving problems collaboratively and faster than ever.

Q: Can you describe the greatest challenge you think the healthcare industry faces?

LS:
I think the industry faces a lot of challenges. Broadly, our care isn't safe enough. It is far too inconsistent, and it's at a price point our patients can't afford. Because the healthcare industry hasn't been able to quickly transform, others are entering healthcare to solve problems that healthcare hasn't solved for itself.

I believe our inability to evolve quickly is going to result in the more margin-producing, less-complex care being taken out of our ecosystem. Instead, the more margin-producing procedures will be placed in niche programs and facilities outside of traditional healthcare. It will leave our hospitals and health systems caring for the most vulnerable and complex in our community. While this has always been one of our great privileges and important jobs, we will struggle to ensure profitable services that enables us to take care of the entire ecosystem of patients.  As we move toward value, integration of care to prevent duplication, delays and other wasteful processes for patients will be essential.  Health systems are uniquely positioned to enable value.

I'm very concerned for us as an industry. If we don't disrupt and change ourselves, we will be disrupted. We will be disrupted in a way that prevents us from doing what we've been known for, which is serving all — regardless of their ability to pay. Our communities rely on us to take care of patients at all levels of income, means, capabilities and complexities.

Q: What strategic initiative will demand most of your time and energy this year?

LS: Right now, we are focusing on how to become more consumer focused, how to find strategic partners to enable that, and how to create a more seamless integrated system of care at a better price point. When I think about my role, the initiative that will demand the most of my time in 2019 is accelerating the integration of our system including finding ways to partner with our physician stakeholders, including independent medical staff, employed physicians, and physicians interested in research and teaching, to drive change. I am also working to empower our clinicians and broader team members to bring the cost of care down, improve the reliability of our care and create better, more meaningful roles and work for all. In other words, the initiative focuses on how we create the most value for the consumer patient at a higher rate of reliability while also at a lower cost. The initiative around high reliability is important for us.

Q: Do you have specific concrete steps in place to improve reliability of care?

LS: Within our top clinical service lines, whether it be orthopedics, cardiovascular care or oncology, we are looking at how we create the most convenient, accessible care in the least wasteful way possible. When patients go from ambulatory to inpatient to post-acute settings, they often traverse a system that has a lot of fragmentation. When fragmentation occurs, unnecessary repeat procedures or missteps with communication can happen. We are really working hard to tighten that so we have fewer, or no, unnecessary care steps for a patient's journey and as tight a communication system so we produce the safest, highest quality, best outcomes at the most affordable rate possible.

Q: What traits do you think emerging healthcare leaders need most?

LS: Healthcare leaders today need to understand how to work across a very complex system and in a highly matrixed environment. They must have very strong influence and change-agent skills. I think they also need to be less afraid to fail and make mistakes. I'm not talking about patient mistakes, but administrative missteps by the virtue of trying and innovating. These days consumers compare their healthcare experience not just to healthcare, but to every other part of their lives. They are now comparing how we do against Amazon and every other convenience they have grown to expect. Healthcare leaders have got to be able to broaden the thinking of our clinicians and our teams to be able to adapt to the changing consumer expectations.

Q: If you could pass along one piece of advice to another health system COO, what would it be?

LS: Start with your team. Make sure you have the right leaders in the right roles. You must have the right people in the right team to be able to deliver any change. I believe that having a strong team starts with a mindset of collaboration and integration. I also say that I'd rather have the right people than the right structure at times.

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