SSM Health president, CEO: Optum partnership 'leans in together' on innovation

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On the heels of a wave-making partnership with Optum, Laura Kaiser, president and CEO of St. Louis-based SSM Health, is looking to leverage the newfound support to transform healthcare.

But largely, bandwidth has been an issue for the $8.5 billion health system, which employs nearly 40,000 staff and 11,000 physicians. 

"What I've come to realize is even at $8.5 billion, we don't have the capability to do everything — no one does," Ms. Kaiser told Becker's. "And so we started, as part of our strategy, to look for partners and how do we not duplicate, but rather collect and lean in together to get farther down the road. Because this transformation of healthcare that will benefit the whole country — everybody that is seeking healthcare in the country — is going to take a whole lot of us to lean in together."

SSM Health has partnered with companies like Costco, Navvis and Medica on initiatives in the past, but when it comes to digital platforms, no one has figured it out like Optum, Ms. Kaiser said. The partnership will be rooted in collaboration, allowing SSM Health to "go farther, faster."

Ms. Kaiser said the newfound partnership will formally begin work early 2022, with different aspects of the agreement taking place at different times.

For example, Ms. Kaiser expects the transition into Optum's revenue cycle to be "seamless" but may not have a set timeline as crucial infrastructure is transformed. The results of other elements, like new investments in community health, will be easier to see. 

"I think what you'll see is a deepening of the community health work that will be tangible and measurable and likely in the space of behavioral health," Ms. Kaiser said. 

Through the partnership, Ms. Kaiser hopes to expand SSM Health's behavioral health urgent care clinic from one market to several. With Optum's support, other community health initiatives are able to now be deepened as well, she said. 

While other elements of the collaboration — including revenue cycles and care transformation — may take more time to transform, Ms. Kaiser said aligning with Optum has opened the door for innovation. 

"We're really excited about this opportunity, and I look forward to leaning in with United, with Optum and our other partners," Ms. Kaiser said. "Healthcare for everyone is something that we all need to work on — to continue to do that ongoing evolution and improvement. And so this is a story that is building on what has been and will continue to unfold."

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