High Stakes

Top 3 Takeaways from Becker’s Annual Meeting

In Chicago last week, more than 2,000 healthcare leaders gathered for the Becker’s Hospital Review 7th Annual Meeting. The four-day conference engaged top minds from the industry and elsewhere (e.g., former U.S. President George W. Bush) to discuss the top issues and trends facing healthcare. While speakers expressed differing opinions on a wide array of topics, a few key takeaways made an impression on our team in attendance.

The big are getting bigger – and here’s what’s driving it:

The appetite for growth through partnerships was a key theme from a majority of the large health system leaders. Access to care came up a lot.

Before reform, “access” meant whether people had insurance. Today, health system leaders are concerned about access points – do you have the right mix, in terms of covering your region geographically and covering needs across the continuum of care (hospitals, retail clinics, urgent care, PCP offices, post-acute)? Randy Oostra from ProMedica, serving northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, said the shift to outpatient is an old story; what’s new is focusing on how to meet patients out in the community.

Multiple speakers at the conference noted that capital spending is following this shift to access points, a process which tends to compress margins. From a communications standpoint, this presents a challenge when explaining strategic decisions to board members.

Success with partnerships depends on two major post-deal priorities:

  • Culture – Systems have to get this right or the deal simply won’t work. Integration is hard enough, but if the cultures are opposed, it will be impossible for decision makers to gain the level of buy-in they need from employees, physicians and the community to take the next step – true integration.
  • Integration – The real work begins on the day a transaction closes. Leaders have to be willing to make hard decisions to realize the value of merging. More than one speaker, including Barry Arbuckle, CEO of MemorialCare Health System in Southern California, said that too many mergers have resulted in holding companies that merely aggregate hospitals, rather than in truly integrated systems that built something new for patients.

Physician satisfaction is a new frontier. But there are ways to help keep docs happy:

The need to support physicians as business enterprises has always been there. It’s just that before the trend of rising physician employment in the last decade, that need, if it was met at all, was met by group practices or independent practice associations. Now, however, it is increasingly hospitals that are called upon to deliver that support, ProMedica’s Oostra said.

Physicians are critical to redesigning care for this new era of value. No other player within a health system can do so much to impact budgets while maintaining and improving care. So, what’s a system to do? Several speakers and panelists mentioned these themes:

  • Make sure doctors (and all employees, for that matter) are heard, through peer-to-peer visits, mentoring, listening tours, etc. Then, follow up to the concerns raised.
  • Be proactive about physician burnout. Understand the warning signs of burnout and invest in private avenues for physicians to confess burnout, such as a specialized employee assistance program.
  • Find ways not to fall victim to this stat: Inefficient EHR systems add 2.5 hours to a physician’s day.

Despite all the challenges that face healthcare leaders, there was a definite sense that those in the Hyatt Regency Chicago have what they need to fix many of the problems discussed. They are not waiting for government to solve the problems – some, citing the gridlock produced by lack of leadership, just want government to follow or get out of the way. At the same time, the talk was not pie in the sky, either. Attendees recognize it’s going to be hard work, but as Lloyd Dean, president and CEO of Dignity Health put it, if healthcare industry leaders work together like never before, it can be done.