The Bridge

The top challenge for provider CEOs: Systemness

by Marcus Hincks

What exactly is systemness?

Although the term may be new to many of you, it’s a term we’re hearing with increasing frequency from the hundreds of health system CEOs and CFOs we support here at The Advisory Board Company.

Many senior provider executives are struggling to build a cohesive and coordinated care delivery model from the disparate inpatient and outpatient assets they have accumulated through years of M&A. At its essence, systemness is about integrating all aspects of a health system’s governance, operations, and workflows—across all technologies, clinicians, and locations—to deliver seamless, cost-effective, high-quality care.

Yet despite mega-mergers and widespread physician employment, industry consolidation has not yielded anything close to this kind of integration or systemness. Payers, employers, and consumers have taken notice—and they’re demanding more, much more, for their health care dollar. The integration challenge—realizing the benefits of true systemness—is exceptionally hard work. This is what’s keeping your provider CXO customers up at night.

Why should suppliers and services firms care?

You should care because the path to integration requires health system leaders to drive initiatives that inevitably impact nearly every aspect of how they will choose and use your products or services. In a recent Advisory Board survey of over 150 health system executives, they told us in no uncertain terms that their organizational success depends on greater integration, and greater integration depends on their ability to do concrete things that reduce variation, improve coordination, and improve the flow of information.

The graphic captures C-suite executive perceptions of the importance and difficulty of various integration-related initiatives. The right left portion of the matrix says it all. The top three priorities for your customers are:

  • Driving clinical standardization
  • Creating system-wide physician alignment 
  • Increasing IT interoperability

To achieve these goals, providers must take a more holistic and coordinated approach to purchasing, and they must carefully choose the products, services, and vendors best positioned to help.

How can suppliers and services firms really help?

First and foremost, you can help your customers by recognizing the importance of systemness to their long-term strategic, financial, and community health goals. And you can help them by working within (instead of around) their often bumpy transitions toward more centralized decision-making and more standardized care delivery. You can help by uncovering hidden cost savings, supporting clinical pathway development, or enhancing real-time information access. And you can help by sharing relevant experiences with other customers who have improved provider-supplier transparency and collaborated creatively with you.

Most of all, you can help by not just understanding but appreciating their challenges, asking thoughtful questions, and keeping an open mind.

Our annual "C-Suite Agenda" webconference on December 17 will provide a broader look at these provider integration challenges and offer several innovative examples of provider-supplier collaboration.

How can the Advisory Board help you help them?

Through our Health Care Industry Committee membership, The Advisory Board Company is committed to bridging the divide between providers and suppliers—offering our suppliers insights, data, and educational resources that can help foster mutual understanding and improved customer relationships. And that’s precisely why we’ve launched this blog, The Bridge.

Despite the overwhelming abundance of health care news and commentary online, we were dissatisfied with the dearth of objective information, insight, and case studies specifically focused on fostering better provider-supplier partnerships. If we do our jobs well, this blog will help fill that void. In the coming weeks, look here for Advisory Board experts to:

  • Discuss our latest thinking about provider-supplier risk sharing arrangements and other innovative partnership models
  • Showcase new data from recent surveys of health system CEOs, supply chain leaders, and VPs of pharmacy
  • Challenge your thinking about physician employment, M&A activity, and consumerism

We look forward to building these bridges with you. Make sure you're subscribed to The Bridge to ensure you’re well prepared to find those win-win opportunities with your provider customers.

Full results from our 2015 CEO survey

Learn six shifting priorities you can expect to see from hospital executives.