The rising challenges in health care expose a global truth: Few providers will be able to solve health care's problems alone.
As a research team, we've dedicated studies to understanding what partnership strategy means and where in health care we fall down.
These studies focus on one of the most vexing challenge for providers: "How do we hold a partner accountable to what we agreed upon?" We rarely have formal mechanisms like ownership or contracts to build alignment, and are left to rely on volunteerism and 'soft' accountability levers instead.
But our research has found that successful systems approach the problem a bit differently. Instead of hoping voluntary partners simply come through, these organisations ask themselves: "Is there anything we can extend to partners to make cooperation easier" In other words, they consider how they may "sweeten" the deal for their partners.
This provides us with a crucial insight around partnerships. In health care, we focus a lot on what we lack, but often miss what we can share. Hospitals are ideal partners because they have sizeable administrative, facility, and expert resources that partners could use.
How the UK's Northumbria sweetened the deal
One of the best examples I've seen of this comes from Northumbria in the U.K.
Like many public health systems, ED demand in the U.K. is outstripping hospitals' ability to keep up, and are looking for partners who can help. Primary care is a clear partner, but GPs may not have the size, scale, or resources to follow through.
To find a win-win partnership, Northumbria targeted poly-pharmacy patients who struggle to manage all of their drugs. The hospital engaged primary care partners and asked what it could do to help GPs help these patients. It turned out that GPs were receptive, but they needed a pharmacist to help these patients—they couldn't afford the indemnity insurance themselves. Northumbria had its solution.
The hospital shared its acute pharmacist with three GP practices. In this arrangement, the hospital would continue to cover the insurance cost and the pharmacist would round in the practices and even provide home visit support.
The approach worked.
30% of the original GPs' home visits were covered by the pharmacist—freeing up practice capacity—and those interactions reduced ED demand.
A pharmacist is only one example of many. We've seen hospitals share space, EMR access, or even project management expertise to 'voluntary' partners.
In an environment where cash is scarce and the need for partners is abundant, ask yourself, do I have anything I can share that will make it easier for partners to work more closely with us? Can I sweeten the deal?
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