5 Lessons Learned From a Clinical Integration Expert

Many hospitals and health systems have begun to establish either clinically integrated organizations or accountable care organizations, and most are attempting the process for the first time. Phil Polakoff, MD, MPH, on the other hand, has years of integration experience. He is the chief medical executive in the health solutions practice of FTI Consulting and has been in healthcare for more than 35 years.

Dr. Polakoff says that change is becoming necessary in today's healthcare environment. With the new Medicare penalty system beginning to roll out, hospitals and health systems need to redesign care around the patient and engage physicians in their new goals.

Here, Dr. Polakoff shares some of the key lessons he has learned about how to be successful in integration.

1. Start at the top. Hospital executives need to be ready to deal with health transformation and lead the process. "It doesn't come easy," says Dr. Polakoff. He recommends that C-suite executives come up with a vision or “flight plan” to share with the organization, so everyone involved in the transformation can get on the same page from the start.

2. Develop hospital board sponsorship. All of the hospital's leaders need to be engaged in the future and be a part of the visioning process of integration, including the board members. The C-suite executives need the oversight and input of the hospital's board to make integration a success. Dr. Polakoff recommends holding a retreat for the board members so they can get a feeling for the future of healthcare transformation and why integration is necessary. "After the board retreat, the board members are then in a better position to hold everyone accountable," he says.

3. Facilitate targeted communication. "Targeted communication is critical to success," says Dr. Polakoff. Different groups involved in integration need customized types of communication in order to get them on board. Communication should come from that group's perspective and should be in the form of how they traditionally communicate, he says. For example, some of the younger people in the organization may be responsive to social media as part of the communication plan, but older members may not check social media sites as often and would be more comfortable with written or verbal communication.

Physicians especially need targeted communication, says Dr. Polakoff. They must feel as though they own the process of moving to integrated care. The process may take months, but it is important to allow that time for physicians to buy in to the process. "This is more important than moving quickly," Dr. Polakoff says. "You need to get them engaged."

4. Develop trust between the players. There needs to be trust between physicians, hospitals and payors. "They have a history of being suspect of each other," Dr. Polakoff says, and notes that each group traditionally has been looking out for themselves. "Break down the barriers," he says. "Building relationships is the surest way to get things done." He also notes that transparency is key in developing trust during integration.

5. Don't mistake activity for results. There will be a lot of things going on during integration, but at the end of the day, hospitals need to determine if any of it is making a difference. "Hospitals need to analyze their transformation closely," Dr. Polakoff says. In order to do that, hospitals will need the right infrastructure and informatics to analyze progress. The data collected should be timely and relevant in order to determine the results.

More Articles on Integration:

The 7 Components of a Clinical Integration Network
Strategies for Facing the Accelerating Transformation of U.S. Healthcare
5 Tips for Implementing an Alignment Strategy With Independent Physicians

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