Friday, January 16, 2009

You're Fired.

A friend recently asserted that 1-in-5 hospital CEO’s turnover every year. Truth is, it’s consistently been about 15% or 1-in-6.7, according to ACHE. My bold prediction for the new decade: That number jumps closer to my friend’s 20% figure, perhaps even higher. Why? Failure to anticipate the meteor.

I’m talking about the dinosaurs. They couldn’t have seen it coming, but man, when it hit, they were done. Like hospital CEO’s, even if TRex saw the meteor days, weeks, heck months before it hit, they were ill-equipped (short arms being what they are) to change their fate.

I’ve gotten back to IBM’s “Healthcare 2015: Win-win or lose-lose?” and the opening pages of “A portrait and a path to successful transformation” are sobering. IBM identifies three channels of transformation; 1. Transforming Value, 2. Transforming Consumer Responsibility, and 3. Transforming Care Delivery.

There are a myriad of ways to go from that jumping-off point, but a few consistent threads kept bringing me back to the structural centerpiece of the current US health system, the acute care, general hospital. Through this lense I perceive so much opportunity for failure that the demise of the hospital CEO appears nearly assured.

Inability to Transform Value. The cornerstone of this argument is that, by 2015, consumers will “assume much greater financial oversight and responsibility for their healthcare, which, in turn, will drive the demand for value data that is readily accessible, reliable and understandable. Payers will take a more holistic view of value…and [societies] will demand that payment for and quality of healthcare services be aligned to the value those services return both to the individual and to the country or region as a whole.”

My same friend correctly points out that hospitals are the last great bulwarks of information hoarding. Interoperability is something to which we award gold stars because it largely can’t be done. Hospitals have resisted all pressures for transparency that is “readily accessible, reliable and understandable.” They’ve even paid others to obfuscate the issue, such as HealthGrades, US News and World Report, Thompson-Reuters and Healthcare Compare. Once you’ve ceded ground it’s hard to get it back.

Prediction: Hospitals will wrestle this back, with the help of, perhaps, organizations like the Joint Commission (frankly, their biggest potential ally in the quest, because they have more useful information than anyone else), but I suspect the current leadership of hospitals won’t be the ones with the fortitude to do it.

Inability to Transform Consumer Responsibility. Well, this won’t really be the hospital CEO’s fault, but it will happen on the current batch’s watch. Personally, I think this will be the last thing to piece of the puzzle to fall into place, unless the financing mechanism becomes amazingly punitive for preventable, chronic conditions. How it gets hospital CEO’s is this: 1. Financing structures finally change to the point that bad behavior becomes really expensive for Joe Sixpack to maintain. 2. The financial pressure on patients changes their healthcare shopping habits – bearing more of the financial burden, they look to new (retail and other) delivery sites to get their act together. 3. Hospitals realize they are losing connections to customers and those formerly loyal patients begin heeding the advice of new mid-level providers (with no loyalty to the general hospital) in these new care settings. Desperate, they try to close the proverbial barn door after the horse is out. 4. Hospitals begin a scramble to re-engage with people with whom they should have never lost touch. 5. The turnover of hospital marketing directors begins, not because of this failure, but their likely inability to do anything about it. The tide of continued failure drags hospital CEO’s along.

Inability to Transform Care Delivery. Here’s the big one; the “fundamental shift in the nature, mode and means of care delivery.” I’ve gone on in the past about the issue of chronic care, and the current edition of Health Affairs redoubles the call for meaningful change in the US approach to 75%+ of the $2 trillion spent annually on chronic diseases. “Today, preventative care…is a concept without a champion…consumers ignore it, payers do not incentivize it, and providers do not profit from it.”

They go on, “by 2015, we believe chronic patients will be empowered to take control of their diseases through IT-enabled disease management programs that improve outcomes and lower costs. Their treatment will center on their location, thanks to home monitoring devices, which will automatically evaluate data and when needed generate alerts and action recommendations to patients and providers. Patients and their families, assisted by health infomediaries, will replace doctors as the leaders in chronic care management, a shift that will eliminate a major contributor to its cost and, because of doctor time constraints, its brevity.” Only a small, confident slice of visionary hospital leaders will involve themselves here.

This suggests a further decentralization of medical decision-making and authority, away from acute care hospitals. Economy and effectiveness will be described in terms that have less and less to do with general hospitals. IBM proposes this is an opportunity, “encourag[ing] the transformation of today’s massive, general purpose hospitals into centers of excellence devoted to specific conditions and combination triage centers.”

We can debate the pace and likelihood of such a massive transformation, but where I become most skeptical is the defensive mentality of most acute care organizations. “If I can just continue to steal enough heart surgeries from my competitor, I don’t have to do this integration, decentralization thing.” That sounds to me like Big Detroit Auto Thinking, and I believe those three bosses should be shown the door.

I think about the many ways hospital CEO’s will have to transform if the hospital is to remain a key player in the process (which their unique cash and debt position gives them power and influence), and question their track record. Regardless of the pace or ultimate magnitude of the shift, it surely seems hospitals will need to become:

  • More physically decentralized
  • More specialized
  • More integrated with physicians and a new class of mid-level providers
  • More non-acute focused and successful
  • More data integrated
  • More data transparent

And that seems like an unreasonably tall order. Necessary, but beyond many CEO’s grasps.

Oh, and you can follow me on Twitter. I’m dmiers!


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