What’s on the minds of the hospital C-suite?

Last week I attended the AHA Health Forum Leadership Summit in San Francisco. Attended by 1,500 executives from hospitals across the US, the conference included keynotes and breakout sessions on a wide-range of key topics including Meaningful Use, new business models to achieve financial sustainability and key strategies for clinical care coordination.

There were four key themes that came up over and over throughout my discussions with healthcare leadership and during the conference sessions:

  1. Connectivity and Data Exchange

To reduce costs and provide a better continuum of care, health networks and individual hospitals are prioritizing technology decisions based the ability to share patient information between and among facilities. Many hospitals and IDNs cited the selection of Epic as a means to solve this problem. If their surrounding health networks and hospitals are already using Epic, they feel this is the fastest approach to solving this data exchange issue and ensuring that data will be able to be transferred back and forth with minimal custom integration work.

Several hospitals and health networks also commented on the growing trend of trying to reduce the total number of technology vendors and products that they have to manage. Whether due to staff cuts, or the inability to find qualified candidates to fill open IT positions, they simple don’t have the resources to manage the myriad of vendors offering “best-of-breed” solutions and are looking for ways to consolidate vendor management.

There were also requests from smaller hospitals for government mandates around an industry standard for patient data exchange. The ONC recommended that hospitals should encourage their EMR vendors to provide better interoperability between systems. You can probably guess the audience reaction to that recommendation.

  1. Analytics

First – there are significant issues around data collection. Many hospitals reported struggling with consistent clinical data collection. Even if the EMR system has fields for things like weight, blood pressure, etc. in some cases, doctors and nurses are putting data into freeform “notes” boxes instead. The EMR data collection workflows need to be improved, or a new method of data entry, such as speech recognition, needs to be integrated. Hospitals are desperate for a solution, but there are currently no vendors addressing this problem. If there is a solution, the hospitals are not aware of it, at least according the hospitals I spoke with at the conference. (Hey, Nuance…)

For the hospitals that do have good clinical data collection, some said they are not doing anything with it yet. There is no clear functional role within some hospitals to analyze collections of clinical data for health trends. Everyone agreed that this area will have significant growth in the coming years. The ultimate goal is to have point-of-care tools to analyze collective clinical data in real-time at the patient bedside for more informed treatment decisions. A great goal and one that promises to have a significant impact on the quality of patient care.

One final topic in analytics that was a bit surprising was around (the lack of) real-time executive dashboards. These have existed for years in many other industries, and it looks like healthcare is catching up in this area. During one session I attended, it was reported that a growing number of hospitals are now using real-time business intelligence dashboards so that hospital administration can monitor KPIs for safety, care quality and other key metrics in real-time.

  1. Decentralization of clinical care

Clinical care is slowing moving from the hospital to the home. Remote health monitoring for chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and CHF is taking hold. The biggest current barrier is payment – how do the clinicians and hospitals get paid for remote monitoring and who pays for the devices? Once that is figured out (not an easy task), everyone agreed that there will be explosive growth in this area and hospitals and clinics will start to see a significant decrease in patient volume.

This is a topic that has been of personal interest to me since I first heard the term “Body Area Networks” a few of years ago at a technology conference in Boston. If you want to learn more about this trend as well as the growing market for consumer health apps, I highly recommend the media outlet MobiHealthNews for some interesting coverage on these topics.

  1. Sustainable financial models

This was by far the most discussed topic at the conference, not surprisingly given the c-level audience at the event, the recent media attention surrounding the Affordable Care Act, and the fact that Medicare will only be solvent until 2024. There were too many models and variables discussed to cover in a short blog post, but one commonality that emerged with all of the new models was “skin in the game.” Most people at the conference agreed that any of the emerging financial models being considered have to put more of the burden on the consumer, so that they have “skin in the game” and are more accountable for how much they spend on healthcare.

Clayton Christiansen, a thought-leader in business model innovation and professor at Harvard Business School delivered an excellent keynote session on new disruptive models for healthcare. You can find a short interview with him here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0jG38xUJxI

Did you attend the AHA Health Forum Leadership Summit? If so, please share your thoughts with us in the comments section – we’d love to hear from you!