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Perspectives on Working with Healthcare Systems for Digital Start Up Companies | Part 2

Brian Van Winkle
Shahid Shah

By SHAHID SHAH, MSc and BRIAN VAN WINKLE, MBA

In this two-part series, we examine several common misconceptions made by health tech start-up companies in working with Health Systems and offers advice on how to recognize and address each. From approaching systems with a solution-first mentality to not understanding the context in which health systems work, we look to provide constructive criticisms meant to support more effective partnerships between health systems and digital tech solutions.

Perspectives and Reactions from the Industry

Understand the Current System Environment We Are Working In: In some cases, technology solutions are barricading healthcare systems inside.  In other cases, they are allowing us to seamlessly interact with other systems.  Typically, large healthcare systems have a combination of both. For outside solutions to be effective, start-ups need to be intimately familiar with the existing (and on-the-horizon) systems that healthcare organizations are using or contemplating.  Rarely will a solution not have to interact with existing software solutions – and this goes well beyond just the EMR. 

Advice

Have an Integration Plan: A stand-alone solution, which doesn’t tie to one or more of the healthcare institutions key systems of record (SoR) or systems of engagement (SoE) is a useless solution. Your solution should be able to stand alone in the first few weeks, as users begin to use it and get familiar with its capabilities. However, as soon as value is realized (not necessarily achieved), it’s crucial that your solution support either SMART on FHIR, FHIR, HL7v2.x, or all of the above. If you don’t have a believable integration story fully worked out, you’re not ready to launch into the health system market. Go back and do your homework.  

Having a Clinician Is Nice, But Not Enough: The physician, nurse, or other clinician on your team helps credibility but we also understand the incentives associated with selling solutions, and this takes away from the altruism you think we will blindly swallow. And they are rarely businessmen or women who understand both the complexities of solving a problem that isn’t theirs and starting, let alone, running a company. Pair an MD with an MBA? Now we’re talking.

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Perspectives on Working with Healthcare Systems for Digital Start Up Companies | Part 1

Brian Van Winkle
Shahid Shah

By SHAHID SHAH, MSc and BRIAN VAN WINKLE, MBA

Start-ups are an increasingly important “node” within the healthcare ecosystem.  They are challenging status quo concepts that have long been ingrained in the healthcare system, like questioning the value of traditional EMR systems, or shifting the power of information to patients, or breaking down cost and quality transparency barriers. They may be the future of the industry, but startups have a long way to go to truly transform the system. The reasons are many, from an incredibly convoluted and bureaucratic review process and rigid risk-controlling regulations and policies, to the large-scale organizational inertia most of our healthcare systems have.    

And while all of these hurdles can and will be overcome if we work together, there are still several lessons each “node” in the ecosystem can learn to more effectively work with each other.  

This article is directed at the emerging digital solutions trying resiliently to help transform this stubborn industry. It provides some critical lessons in dealing with healthcare systems and is accompanied by reactions from a digital solutions expert with serial digital health entrepreneurship experience. We hope to provide perspective from two people living and breathing, and surviving, from both sides of the equation every day.  

Perspectives and Reactions from the Industry

Healthcare Startups Must Understand how Provider Systems Operate: Most health systems are increasingly becoming rightfully skeptical about new solutions because they feel the solutions don’t understand the environment of their system. To help overcome the challenges of introducing your innovation into a complex business and clinical environment, startups must understand how health systems operate to include how they make decisions, contract and evaluate solutions. 

Advice

(1) Recognize that Decisions are Consensus-driven and Permissions-based: Unlike other industries, where “shadow IT” is rampant and there can be one or two “key decision makers,” in health systems you’re not likely to get very far without figuring out how to build consensus among an array of influencers and then figuring out how to get permissions from a group of key decision makers. You should seek a “Sherpa” that understands enough about your solution to champion the idea of change – which is really what you’re seeking when you’re selling a new solution (the solution is just the means to accomplish the change, it’s the change that’s hard). The first thing to focus on is to identify the group of decision makers and how you convince them that the status quo should be abandoned in favor of any change – then, once you know how to convince them of some change you’ll work with the group to get the right permissions to work on the change management process – which will then influence a purchase of your solution.

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Making Sense of the Health Care Merger Scene   

By JEFF GOLDSMITH

In the past 12 months, there has been a raft of multi-billion-dollar mergers in health care. What do these deals tell us about the emerging health care landscape, and what will they mean for patients/consumers and the incumbent actors in the health system?

Health Systems

There have been a few large health system mergers in the past year, notably the $11 billion multi-market combinations of Aurora Health Care and Advocate Health Care Network in Milwaukee and suburban Chicago, as well as the proposed (but not yet consummated) $28 billion merger of Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health. However, the bigger news may be the several mega-mergers that failed to happen, notably Atrium (Carolinas) and UNC Health Care and Providence St. Joseph Health and Ascension. In the latter case, which would have created a $45 billion colossus the size of HCA, both parties (and Ascension publicly) seemed to disavow their intention to grow further in hospital operations. Ascension has been quietly pruning back their operations in markets where their hospital is isolated, or the market is too small. Providence St. Joseph has been gradually working its way back from a $500 million drop in its net operating income from 2015 to 2016.

Another notable instance of caution flags flying was the combination of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and PinnacleHealth, in central PA, which was completed in 2017.   Moody’s downgraded UPMC’s debt on the grounds of UPMC’s deteriorating core market performance and integration risks with PinnacleHealth. As Moody’s action indicates, investor skepticism about hospital mega-mergers is escalating. Federal regulators remain vigilant about anti-competitive effects, having scotched an earlier Advocate combination with NorthShore University HealthSystem in suburban Chicago. The seemingly inevitable post-Obamacare march to hospital consolidation seems to have slowed markedly.

However, the most noteworthy hospital deal of the last five years was a much smaller one: this spring’s acquisition of $1.7 billion non-profit Mission Health of Asheville, NC, by HCA. This was remarkable in several respects. First, it was the first significant non-profit acquisition by HCA in 15 years (since Kansas City’s Health Midwest in 2003) and HCA’s first holdings in North Carolina.  While Mission’s search for partnerships may have been catalyzed by a fear of being isolated in North Carolina by the Atrium/UNC combination, Mission Health certainly controlled its own destiny in its core market, with a 50% share of western North Carolina. Mission was not only well managed, clinically strong and solidly profitable, but its profits rose from 2016 to 2017, both from operations and in total.

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And the Worst Health Care System in the World Is…

The United States, of course.

Oh, no, wait, it’s Canada.

Actually, I think it could be Germany.

Geez, now I think it might be the UK.

You could go on and on like this.  But you know what?

No matter how good or bad your system is, there are certain universal truths.

Here are four of them that might make you look at global health care a little differently.

First, health care is getting more expensive, all over the world.  A new study by the global consultant, Towers Watson (disclosure: Towers Watson is a Best Doctors client) found that the average medical cost trend around the world will be 10.5% in 2011.  In the advanced economies costs will rise by an average of 9.3%.  While Americans tend to think of rising medical costs as a uniquely American problem (they’ll rise by 9.9% here), it’s just not true.  Canadian costs will rise by 13.3%.  In the UK and Switzerland, they will increase by 9.5%, and in France by 8.4%.

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