Where 11 leaders want more collaboration in healthcare

Collaboration is a common buzzword in healthcare, and some leaders worry it can be merely a vague concept. But collaboration can yield results when combined with focus.

"Any initiative should have a clear goal, whether it's improving patient outcomes, advancing research, or something else that can bring real benefits," Ferran Prat, PhD, senior vice president for research administration and industry relations at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, told Becker's.

Becker's asked leaders to identify areas where healthcare needs more collaboration. Eleven leaders identified patient relationships, providers, emerging technologies and private equity as places for collaborative growth.

Steve Bello. Senior Vice President and Executive Director for Northwell Health's Eastern Region (New Hyde Park, N.Y.): From an internal perspective, as the headwinds facing the traditional healthcare delivery model become stronger and are fueled by broader macroeconomic issues, we need to continue to break down the barriers which have existed for too long. Collaboration between all care providers, not only physicians and nurses, but all care providers including nutritionists, social workers, case managers, therapists and many others, continues to be a goal which we have not yet reached. This collaboration has to extend across the entire continuum of care as the models for healthcare delivery continue to evolve from inpatient to outpatient, and ultimately, to other settings, including the home. Short of creating a seamless model of frictionless care and communication, we will never achieve the goals we have all been focused on for decades. 

Looking from an external or nontraditional perspective, redefining "healthcare" has to be the priority. Early education, social programs, private/public partnerships and family-based care models are a few examples of collaborative efforts which have continuously fallen short but are evolving over time. Providing lifelong access to care in an effort to keep our communities as healthy as possible goes far beyond the walls of our clinical practices or hospitals. We need a societal commitment to wellness. We would need partnerships rather than competition. Co-innovation across all business and social sectors and perhaps, and most importantly, a leveling of the playing field regarding the incentives to providing health, rather than transactional medicine.

Wesley Burks, MD. CEO of UNC Health and Dean of the UNC School of Medicine (Chapel Hill, N.C.): Medical research is a key area that would benefit from more collaboration. At UNC Heath, we are working to foster research collaboration with our academic medical center, all of our community hospitals and clinics across North Carolina, and various other partners. Our collective goal is to bring clinical trials and cutting-edge therapies to our patients whether they live close to a major research center or in a more rural area of our state.

Stephen Ferrara, DNP. President of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners: We have reached a pivotal moment, with nearly 1 out of 3 patients in the United States lacking adequate access to basic primary care. As a nation we need to look across the entirety of the healthcare system to all healthcare professionals and ensure our state and federal policies are focused on providing greater access to care. Currently, 27 states and D.C. grant patients full and direct access to NP care. States with full practice authority are associated with higher quality healthcare outcomes, lower healthcare costs and improved patient choice. Adopting full practice authority for nurse practitioners nationwide is one of the most important steps we can take to address health disparities as well as meet patient care needs. We look forward to the continued cooperation of legislators and other stakeholders on moving our nation's healthcare system forward. Addressing healthcare disparities and meeting healthcare needs will require that we all work together. 

Scott Jessie, MSN, RN. Chief Nursing Officer at SUNY Upstate University Hospital (Syracuse, N.Y.): Threats from workforce and physician shortages, challenging fiscal environments, regulatory burdens, supply chain issues and the impending shifts in payment models have all made collaboration in healthcare more crucial than ever. Inside our healthcare systems, we must improve collaboration to become more efficient with our space, staff, supplies and schedules. Between organizations and professions, we must improve collaboration to better understand one another's roles, contributions and challenges and use that information to design better systems and workflows where we can all maximally contribute to support the needs of our patients. 

On a larger scale, we have to improve and have more meaningful collaboration between healthcare organizations, providers, industry and government regulators. We need to embrace and be the drivers of change and innovation at all levels and in all aspects of care delivery. Those who collaborate extensively, use data strategically and embrace new technology such as generative AI will lead the way to a new era in healthcare. 

Doug Lawson, PhD. CEO of St. Luke's Health (Houston, Texas): By collaborating with our academic medical partners, physicians and caregivers, we improve problem solving and shared learning and advance innovative ideas to improve care delivery. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare leaders rapidly pulled together to collaborate and innovate to reduce barriers to accessing healthcare. Our health systems across the country must continue the transition to a more collaborative model to improve care delivery and provide cohesive solutions to access, equity and high-value care for all of the people we serve, especially those who are most vulnerable. 

Mark Nantz. President and CEO of Valley Health System (Winchester, Va.): Collaboration must be about caring for people holistically, going beyond an office visit or a lab test to serve the entire continuum of care. We must continue working with physicians and providers, hospitals and practices, insurance companies and community leaders to address the physical, social, environmental and economic drivers that contribute to the health of an individual and a community.

Only by working together can we make healthcare more accessible, improve health education awareness and prevention, and continue seeking innovative and advanced solutions to serve our communities by improving health.

Ferran Prat, PhD. Senior Vice President for Research Administration and Industry Relations at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston): Collaboration shouldn't be just a buzzword, but it should be embraced as an approach to drive meaningful impact. We've got to be careful not to just collaborate for the sake of it; there are too many examples of that. Any initiative should have a clear goal, whether it's improving patient outcomes, advancing research or something else that can bring real benefits.

We need to foster more direct links between academic institutions and the pharmaceutical industry. Contract research organizations often have served as middlemen, which can sometimes introduce inefficiencies. At MD Anderson, we've seen firsthand how direct collaborations can streamline research and bring therapies to patients more quickly.

We can also consider collaborations with private equity firms, which bring a fresh perspective to healthcare. They think big and aren't bogged down by a "this is how it's always been done" mentality. Establishing collaborations with these firms can open up new horizons and accelerate change.

Lorie Rhine, MSN, RN. Chief Nursing Officer at UNC Rex Health (Raleigh, N.C.): I think we need more collaboration in advancing technologies. Sometimes we're a little bit slow in advancing what works best. We are looking to the future, and truly collaborating on what care models are most effective to obtain the best patient outcomes.

Kirsten Riggs, BSN, RN. COO at UNC Health Rex (Raleigh, N.C.): It's important to recognize that collaboration in healthcare is paramount to improving outcomes on many levels:

  • Between healthcare providers: Collaboration between different healthcare providers, such as physicians, nurses and pharmacists, can improve patient outcomes and reduce errors.
  • Between healthcare organizations: Collaboration between different healthcare organizations, such as hospitals, clinics, and community health centers and payers, can improve access to care and reduce costs.
  • Between healthcare and tech: Collaboration between healthcare and technology companies can lead to the development of innovative solutions to healthcare challenges.
  • Between healthcare and community organizations: Collaboration between healthcare organizations and community organizations, such as schools, churches, and social service agencies, can help address social determinants of health and improve overall health outcomes.

Michael Thompson. Vice President of Data Intelligence at Cedars-Sinai (Los Angeles): Incredible capabilities have emerged in applying AI to healthcare. Given the highly disruptive potential of these technologies, clinicians cannot afford to be on the sidelines, and AI engineers and data scientists cannot be siloed in back offices. A collaboration between front-line medical community and data scientists is an opportunity to actively shape the creation and application of AI in medicine. Bringing together participants from diverse backgrounds and expertise to discuss potential solutions that AI can solve is something we need more of in healthcare. 

Sara Vaezy. Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Digital Officer at Providence (Renton, Wash.): Competition is increasing for health systems — especially for high-margin services — and purchasing patterns are changing to reflect a new and broader view of consumer health than what health systems have traditionally provided. Given this distributed and decentralized market shift, a sustainable future for health systems now requires partnerships that extend across organizations and support the clinical encounter, even outside of the "walled garden" of the health system. Here at Providence, we're actively working on partnerships and technology that reflect this new reality and embrace the entire health ecosystem of consumers.

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