The Growth Channel

Pediatric systems are seeking new partners. Who makes the cut?

The other day, I ran across a job posting that epitomized how much the strategic landscape in pediatric acute care has changed. According to the LinkedIn post, a certain top-tier pediatric system in the Northeast is looking for an executive to design and execute “innovative partnership models.”

Why was this job description so telling? Because children’s hospitals around the country are realizing that to succeed in the consumer-driven, value-based health care market, they will need partners—and maybe not the same partners that they’ve had in the past.

Patient preferences changing the equation

Advisory Board surveys have found that access and convenience are the top factors that consumers value in making decisions around choosing a care provider. So, if a child needs a flu shot or a quick visit for an earache, parents are now opting to visit Walgreens for a walk-in instead of waiting for a weekday appointment with the primary care doctor.

Pediatric health systems need to keep pace with the evolution of patient preferences and provider options. For many, this means exploring non-traditional alignment strategies with retailers and other would-be competitors.

When done well, innovative partnerships can open the door for pediatric systems to experience growth on a local, regional, national, or even an international scale, while maintaining sufficient influence over the quality and standard of care delivered. Whether organizations are looking to collaborate with retailers, bundle product lines with an adult health system, or align with another pediatric system or network of providers, though, they need to scrutinize potential partners carefully.

A litmus test for partners

It helps to have experienced partnership executives on the case—like that role I saw advertised the other day. Moreover, since potential allies might not always fit the traditional mold, organizations should recruit partnership executives that are grounded in consumer behavior and have a deep understanding of both conventional and non-conventional approaches to care delivery. In fact, one pediatric system in the Midwest recruited its VP for strategy and growth from consumer products giant Procter & Gamble.

Regardless of the in-house team, however, when we work with consulting clients on potential collaborations, we walk them through four questions to assess the strategic value of partnership:

  • From a care delivery standpoint, does the partner offer supplemental resources—such as services, facilities, technology, and access points—to make it easier for patients to get the best possible care?
  • From a financial standpoint, could the partner deliver certain services at a lower cost and improve margins under value-based payment scenarios?
  • From an outcomes standpoint, will that partner support more holistic and accessible care for children and their families, and drive better outcomes for the population?
  • From a branding standpoint, will the partner enhance the system’s perceived value and expand market share for success under both fee-for-service and value-based payment arrangements?

Bringing a fresh eye to partnerships

Whether vetting new opportunity or evaluating existing relationships, it is critical to look at each one with a fresh perspective. A pediatric system that was previously considered a competitor could turn out to be your greatest ally; a long-time partner that seems “safe” might now just be dead weight.

My team saw this happen on a project recently. We were working with a children’s hospital in the West that suddenly lost its ties to a nearby academic medical center after decades of mutually beneficial collaboration. The severing of this relationship was a devastating blow for the children’s hospital, threatening its very existence.

But this unexpected (and unwanted) change ultimately led to a new strategic vision and more intentional partnerships. The children’s hospital made the decision to align with a new set of partners: a leading national academic medical center and a top-tier regional pediatric organization. This move spread the hospital’s footprint, improved quality performance, and enhanced the brand.

Valuing the pediatric perspective

Regardless of which types of partnerships a children’s health system pursues, though, the system—and the partnership executive, whoever that is—need to put a stake in the ground early on to advocate for the unique needs of pediatric patients. Many potential allies don’t have a formal pediatric strategy, nor do they have the unique competencies needed for pediatric care delivery, and they benefit from guidance and direction from those with expertise in serving the pediatric population.

So I predict we will be seeing more job openings for partnership executives at children’s hospitals. And those executives have a challenging, and critically important, job ahead.

Get to know Alan

A pediatric intensivist-turned-consultant, learn more about Alan’s work leading the Advisory Board’s National Pediatric Initiative, and helping systems of all kinds plan and implement system transformation strategies.