At the Helm

The five issues every health care CEO cares about

by Ben Umansky

One of the best parts about my job as a leader of the Health Care Advisory Board’s research team is the chance to interact and learn from the brightest minds at over 3,500 hospitals and health systems.

We’d never be able to distill the collective wisdom of the industry into actionable best practices without the range of perspectives our member base represents. That’s why we conduct an annual survey of health care CEOs. I'd like to share with you some of the most interesting themes from this year’s survey—and give you an inside look into how we’ve shaped our research agenda for 2015.

New perspectives on familiar themes

More than 150 CEOs and other C-suite leaders from large health systems, independent community hospitals, academic medical centers, and other types of organizations responded to our survey. We asked them to rate a variety of research topics on an A-F scale, with "A" grades indicating the themes that are most pressing for their organizations.

Their top five issues were:

  • Engaging physicians in cost and quality improvements
  • Redesigning service portfolios for population health
  • Establishing sustainable acute care cost structures
  • Patient engagement strategies
  • Controlling avoidable utilization

At first glance, the themes that rose to the very top of the survey results don’t seem surprising. We’ve been helping our members with physician alignment and the transition to population health for years, and there’s certainly a long way to go on both fronts.

But a closer look reveals the degree to which our membership is ready to push beyond traditional imperatives.

Consider the most popular topic: “engaging physicians in cost and quality improvements.” In prior years, we’ve seen questions about employment models, compensation structures, referral chains and others dominate the physician alignment space. We asked about some of those topics too (and there’s certainly still interest in them), but there is a growing consensus that the next step in hospital-physician relations is building a relationship that delivers value to the market, not just loyalty to the system.

That convergence of traditional themes and the demands of a new market is evident in the second most popular topic: “redesigning service portfolios for population health.” As more and more organizations build momentum toward a population health-centered identity and find answers to initial questions about the basics of risk-based payment and principles of effective care management, their leaders’ attention is migrating toward a deeper strategic concern: What is the right business and service model for a population health world? That’s a question that may have difficult or even unpleasant answers, but it needs to be answered.

From raw data to meaningful direction

I'm a numbers guy, so I love exploring the results of our survey and cutting the data all sorts of different ways. It was encouraging, if a bit surprising, that the top themes really don’t change no matter what kind of organization is responding.

But even that consistency isn’t enough to determine our research agenda on its own. We need to be sure we’re looking at the right topics, but we also need to be sure we’re approaching them in the right way.

That’s why, in addition to this survey, our team conducts hundreds of phone interviews, face-to-face conversations at our national meetings, presentations at hospitals across the country, and working sessions with executive teams and boards of directors before we make the final call on our agenda.

This year, that comprehensive review revealed a common undercurrent: Progress in the areas at the top of our poll—quality, population health management, patient engagement, and others—requires a strategic emphasis on the individual patient and consumer.

A sneak peek at our 2015 research agenda

At our upcoming CEO Special Sessions—which bear the title "The Consumer-Focused Health System"—we'll explore this idea from several perspectives. We’ll start, as always, with a critical eye on the biggest trends in health care: the rise of individual insurance markets, disruptive consumer-facing innovators, and responses from leading hospitals and health systems.

The second prong of our agenda is a study we’re calling "Toward True Systemness"—how organizations of all shapes and sizes can drive meaningful returns from their internal and external relationships. A truly effective system of care should be able to make tough decisions about revising a service portfolio or pruning overgrown cost structures, with all stakeholders working together toward better, more affordable care.

With that foundation in place, we’ll move into our third presentation, "Winning the New Health Care Consumer," which will cover new ideas for consumer segmentation and share a product strategy that meets the needs and preferences of tomorrow’s market.

While registration is limited to specific C-suite titles at the request of our members, I encourage you to download nine insights that influenced our research this year.

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