As health care organizations contend with the ongoing pandemic and adapt operations to fulfill other aspects of their mission, they must also prepare for the future of care amid uncertainties. On Thursday, the Nashville Health Care Council hosted a virtual member discussion with health systems leaders from around the country to explore what is in store for the industry in the years ahead.
Panelists included Rob Allen, COO and senior vice president, Intermountain Healthcare; Dr. Mike Schlosser, senior vice president, care transformation and innovation, HCA Healthcare; and Rasu B. Shrestha, executive vice president, chief strategy and transformation officer, Atrium Health. The conversation was moderated by Julie Murchinson, partner, Transformation Capital.
“What must be done can be done”
Though the panelists work for very different health systems in various areas of the country, they had similar pandemic takeaways. They all agreed that a renewed focus on supporting their workforce of caregivers was essential in making it through the pandemic, and this will continue to be a priority as the pandemic wanes. Realizing that they couldn’t do it alone, all of the organizations partnered with others in their communities to achieve goals with regard to COVID testing and public health education.
“It’s been a year of resiliency. There is a saying, ‘what must be done can be done.’ As the world around us changed, we learned that if we lock arms in partnership, we can accomplish what is needed,” said Allen. “We’ve come out stronger and better prepared for serving our patients.”
Addressing Health Disparities
The pandemic brought to light the social, economic and racial disparities that are pervasive throughout the country. While most health systems were already aware of these issues and were addressing them to varying degrees, events of 2020 brought the problem to the forefront of business strategies. The speakers framed DEI from several perspectives – as a priority for employees, for patients and for their communities.
“The pandemic accentuated the inherent biases and cracks within the health care system. At Atrium, our mission statement is, ‘hope, health and healing for all,’ and we continue to push that forward in amazing ways,” said Shrestha. “From using data to understand health disparities to partnering within the communities to take rapid action, we are working deliberately on DEI issues throughout the community.”
Incorporating New Models
Virtual care and home health technologies were slowly being piloted before COVID-19. But these tools became prevalent and necessary for treating patients during the pandemic.
“We all saw a massive spike in telehealth usage during the shutdown. We’ve seen this wane a bit, and it remains to be seen how prevalent these visits will be moving forward. We’re investing in virtual for specific areas, such as acute care and some specialties, where it makes the most sense to incorporate telehealth in the long term,” said Schlosser. “I think about this more broadly as in meeting patients wherever they are and serving them appropriately throughout the continuum of care.”
Notably, Intermountain expanded their existing “hospital at home” solutions during the pandemic.
“We consider two drivers regarding this model. First, thinking differently about at-risk lives. Who really needs to see me today, and who would be better cared for at home? Second, how do we ensure capacity, particularly in a crisis?” said Allen. “During the pandemic, we had success in caring for certain patients remotely to ensure our hospitals had capacity for COVID-19 patients. Moving forward, we need to make sure acute care hospitals are there when we need them, but that we’re using them appropriately.”
Focus on Data and Education
Last month, HCA Healthcare and Google cloud announced a multi-year strategic partnership that plans to accelerate HCA’s digital transformation through innovative use of data and technology. Schlosser was quick to point out that the company is not sharing any private patient data with Google. But Google is helping HCA Healthcare enhance its IT structure into a nimble architecture that can make data connections in a seamless way.
“We are laying the groundwork to improve our decision support capabilities. By converting our data to the cloud and adding a deeper analytics layer, we’ll be able to deploy this information to create a digitally enabled care team,” said Schlosser. “Our vision is to integrate data science as a partner for the care team, allowing the patients and the caregivers to have an optimized experience.”
Looking to the future, panelists identified personalized medicine, genomics and medical education as areas of focus.
“We are thinking about the workforce of the future and how we can prepare students for careers in caregiving. Many of the jobs that today’s middle schoolers will have when they graduate do not yet exist. Arming college, graduate and medical school students with the tools they need to be productive is top-of-mind,” said Allen.