As the year is now half over, I’m taking time to reflect on the first six months while sitting in the airport and waiting for my next flight home. Since January, I’ve visited at least 17 states, more than 45 health systems, and countless health technology company discussions and health conferences. Safe to say I wasn’t bored.
Throughout my travels, I have the luxury of meeting with the most senior level leaders at health systems as well as the people that work in the trenches to discuss the biggest healthcare industry challenges they’re facing. It is an interesting time to be in healthcare, to say the least. I meet with administration and I meet with those that deliver care. Big places and small ones, urban, rural, and suburban. I have learned that size and shape or physical location have no bearing on their ability to succeed or fail and their appetite or lack thereof for technology to meet the transitions of the new healthcare economy. I am no longer surprised to see anyone having great success or great failure and no longer judge this book by the cover.
I wanted to share two major industry challenges and a revelation for success that reverberate in every meeting. They are consistent at every provider—and if they are hidden at first, they reveal themselves over time. The goal is to understand these healthcare industry challenges and opportunities to utilize this knowledge in shaping our solutions for our provider clients to succeed in the midst of the current turbulence. Sure, that’s cliché, but in the small world of healthcare, having success will only lead to further success – everyone is connected.
#1: Uncertainty Around Healthcare Reform
The first resounding theme I take away from every single discussion, every single day, is that every healthcare institution is struggling right now to figure out their business. Everyone is a work in progress, even those who are leading the way. Costs are up for everyone in ways they have to control. The future of the ACA is a very big unknown to healthcare – but take it out of the equation and you still have the move to value based care, the interest and concern around bundled payments, and the need for population health in almost every care setting. These are massive industry changes running parallel to one another and the pressures are taking a toll throughout organizations. Many are just plain scared while simply trying to maintain their existence and many have paralysis through analysis.
#2: Protecting Data Security When Adapting To New Technology
The second theme is ironically exactly the opposite notion – an exuberance toward the opportunities technology can deliver to organizations who are starving for it. This is a high that started once the iPhone began to really penetrate the healthcare industry and has become a feeding frenzy of all types of technologies now. The ability to add new, inexpensive, and lightweight technology in the blink of an eye has never been easier or more accessible to leaders throughout every Institution. Physicians, administrators, and others throughout healthcare are incredibly motivated, see the potential, and are starting to realize it. Their passion and mission is a motivator and with new tools and technologies to support them they are moving quickly for change as they have been on an island alone far too long. With analytics and business intelligence these leaders are delivering ROI and technology is empowering them as never before.
However, with any new technology, it’s important to keep data security top-of-mind. 2016 proved to be one of the worst years for breaches, with more than 16 million medical record exposed. Therefore, healthcare providers must develop more protections to safeguard this data as new tools and technologies emerge.
How is it possible to be at both ends of the spectrum at the very same moment in time? It is an overused analogy, but it really is the wild west. Throughout departments, you find different attitudes and mindsets within these often very decentralized organizations with some Type A personality Physician Leaders who won’t be told no. Some are doing well and still searching, others know they need to find their rhythm fast or their days are numbered and they intend to figure it out. Remember that a health system is a collection of very different businesses under one roof with the only constant being that they provide care to patients and bill someone for it. Where their patients come from, who gets billed, who is employed by whom, who provides care, and how and where they do it is different from service line to service line. These factors lead to an independence understood people trying to get the job done, often to a flaw.
What is my revelation? What is the secret sauce of those winning? It’s the people. Sometimes, it might just be one person. Strong and capable leadership and working together to ensure the business processes are operationalized into change is driven from people who understand their organization, their business, and understand the direction they want to go. Success is driven from the person carrying the flag in leading the group, department, or organization in a positive direction. Success is happening in many different ways – there isn’t one way it has to be done other than it does have a requirement for leadership. To evolve is not easy and it requires someone willing to stand in the board room and take on the challengers – to turn them to their team and make them believers. It requires someone to make hard decisions that frustrate people in the short term to reach a better place in the end. It is someone willing to take the criticism from their peers while implementing a strong game plan and then executing on that plan (you have to do both).
I seek out these leaders in every institution and it should be stated that some places just lack these people (best of luck to them). These leaders can have many different titles, and it’s typically not CEO. They need the support of the CEO but this Leader is more effective as someone who will actually drive the execution of change. They are not hard to find because they will have their share of people who believe in them and many who do not. I know they are the ones who will ultimately endorse or kill the ideas we are bringing to their organization. I try to get to know them as soon as possible so I can understand their goals and the drivers behind them and then I can understand where we fit on their list of priorities.
Healthcare thinks it is unique, and in many ways it is. But when it comes down to it, the healthcare industry and the retail industry are in identical places today: (1) how they are paid is changing, (2) how they interact with their customer is changing, and (3) we are witnessing closings or at least layoffs from those who cannot make money. Both are incredibly volatile spaces moving very quickly into a new position. Technology is creating a new economy and there will be losers in big brands you never thought possible.
Healthcare isn’t going away, it’s just going through a painful evolution. This evolution might just be a revolution and it is going to take years and years to figure out where it should land. I am a sucker…I actually enjoy the healthcare industry challenges of today’s chaos. I am still motivated every single day to help great doctors aid those patients they feel so passionate about. I serve them with reverence. I still get a tingle when I walk through a hospital and feel empowered in the belief we can help families with tools that make their situations better.
See you in the airport or the halls of your healthcare system sometime soon!