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The Big Story: HCA Healthcare CEO Sam Hazen talks future of Nashville’s health care industry

“Fundamentally health care in our space will be people taking care of people. That being said there are tremendous opportunities with the evolving platform of artificial intelligence” he said. “We see a lot of opportunities for much better care because physicians can get information in a more effective way.”

Iron Sharpens Iron

By Anne Hancock Toomey
3-minute read

Nashville. Home to honkytonks. Hot chicken. And healthcare.

Last week, leaders from many of the 900 healthcare companies based here in Nashville and from others across the country converged on our fair city’s Country Music Hall of Fame for the inaugural Nashville Healthcare Sessions Conference, orchestrated by the Nashville Health Care Council.

I had the privilege of helping to host the many discussions about how – collectively – we address the myriad of challenges in this $4T industry and design a care system that is worthy of every American who depends on it.

The word “collectively” played a huge role in the proceedings. The ballroom (and sometimes, even the stage) was filled with people representing corporate rivals and different segments of the healthcare industry who often come to the table with, let’s say, differing perspectives.

Yet the spirit of collaboration saturated the building, which is a very Nashville sort of vibe. (It’s actually the very Nashville vibe that inspired us to launch Jarrard Inc. at a Nashville Health Care Council event 18 years ago.) With that as a backdrop, here are some high notes that rang out clearly during the two-day conference.

There’s room – and need – for all comers. Where else would you see chief medical officers of Walgreens and Kroger Health sitting side by side, complimenting the other’s organization for the work they did during the pandemic with testing and vaccines? The message delivered by Drs. Kevin Ban and Marc Watkins, respectively, was one that many panelists and speakers underlined over the course of two days. Simply put, it’s that there is simply too much work for any one company or sector to go it alone. It was a good reminder that it’s valuable to spend time with competitors and partners alike. Iron sharpens iron, and patients need us to be as sharp as possible to give them a better care journey.

This is data’s moment. After decades of talking about and collecting healthcare data, the reality is beginning to accelerate towards the promise. Executives from big tech (Google Cloud), investing (a16z), providers (HCA, Lifepoint Health) and health tech and services (CareJourney, Abridge) brushed away the hype to explain how generative AI is being used today and how healthcare leaders should prepare for the future. A highlight of Day 2 included Lifepoint CEO David Dill interviewing Alex Karp, the founder and CEO of global tech enigma Palantir, about how their companies are partnering to leverage data to better understand the needs of specific populations. Used well, it’s clear that data can offer signposts that guide frontline caregivers and help them better understand the person standing in front of them. But it will require trust and transparency to take us forward.

Momentum is (finally!) building for population health and value-based care. The move to value has been long discussed and slow to be realized. But credit to the many industry players who have continued to drive value-based models forward despite the challenges. In another show of creative collaboration, Brad Smith, Chairman and CEO, was on stage to discuss how hometown darling Main Street Health has partnered with Optum (also on stage) to spread value-based care capabilities to aging, rural physician practices across Texas. In conversations public and private – and, notably, among investors like Welsh Carson and Deerfield – the ratio of talk to real-world examples of risk-bearing and value-based models seemed to have shifted towards the latter. These are surely signs of progress.

Quality and compassion require careful listening. Numbers tell a vital story, but an incomplete one. Throughout the conference, we heard about the power of sitting down with different stakeholders to understand challenges and opportunities. Speakers talked about the importance of working closely with local groups and community agencies to understand the details of each area they’re moving into. Kroger Health is leveraging 25+ years of data to understand what customers want and need to tailor solutions. Palantir is helping Lifepoint use data to give clinicians more detailed insight into individual patients so they can tailor care. Beyond data, leaders from retail, payvider and traditional provider organizations talked about how they spend time meeting with people in communities where they’re considering expanding. The message was clear: You can’t show up claiming a solution. Instead, you must come in as a willing partner, ready to listen and learn and only then bring your solutions to bear. The results can be profound.

Those who can specialize AND integrate will come out ahead. We heard great enthusiasm for ongoing innovation across healthcare. Also, words of warning. Specifically, that any innovator must know and be able to clearly define the problem they’re solving. Healthcare is complex enough that we need people who can hyper-specialize in narrow areas to solve specific problems. But they can’t remain siloed. Those point solutions must be interoperable and compatible with other tools, products and ideas. Though they didn’t offer specific examples, leaders from Deerfield and Humana made it clear that they have little appetite for narrow-point solutions. They implored innovators and entrepreneurs to come to the table with a clear path to profitability and a clear path for seamlessly fitting it into the existing ecosystem.

Being in Nashville, the hope among all is that this circle of trust, of ambition, of collaboration among healthcare leaders, will remain unbroken. Sessions provided a call for highly specialized experts from every corner of healthcare, technology and beyond, ready and willing to bring their piece of the puzzle to the table. Let’s listen to that call, that sound. Let’s dream big while being realistic. As I said in my closing comments on Day 2, we can’t be Pollyanna about the work ahead for our industry. It’ll continue to be tough, and it won’t be fast. But, collectively, we can get it done.

Contributors: Ellis Metz, Emme Nelson Baxter, David Shifrin

Photo: Anne Hancock Toomey with Apryl Childs-Potter, President, Nashville Health Care Council
Photo Credit: Donn Jones Photography
Image Credit: Shannon Threadgill