Prescription for Change

How hospitals are forging nontraditional partnerships amid Covid-19—and beyond

by Virginia Hite

As the Covid-19 epidemic continues to pose an immense challenge for health care systems, physician executives are thinking outside the box to forge unprecedented levels of cooperation with new-in-kind partners.

Covid-19 guidance from clinicians at the forefront

Last week, Advisory Board's Physician Executive Council hosted a virtual discussion with leading health systems across the country, where physician leaders shared the unprecedented level of cooperation they are embarking on with non-traditional partners. As one CMO noted, historic competitors are now each other's greatest source of support to find solutions to the daily and long-term challenges presented by Covid-19.

5 ways hospitals and health systems are forming non-traditional partnerships amid Covid-19

Here are five ways hospitals and health systems are engaging in unprecedented cooperation today—and expecting to sustain these relationships post-epidemic.

1. Align clinicians around evolving standards of care.

Covid-19 has created a need to share best practices and improve care standards across an entire market. Physician leaders told us they are turning to the other CMOs in their market to discuss the evolving clinical evidence for Covid-19 treatment and share emerging tactics to better manage patient and clinician safety from their respective organizations. One physician executive shared that the purpose of this collaboration is to provide consistent high quality care for Covid-19 patients regardless of the treatment location within their market—a standard she hopes will continue into the future.

2. Partner with state and county officials on public health campaigns.

As facilities begin to "reopen", there is ongoing concern that patients don't feel comfortable returning for necessary in-person care. As such, many health systems are turning to their state and local health departments for help. For example, to combat public apprehension, health system and county leadership in Oregon are working collectively to send a consistent message to the community about the safety of their hospitals and other health care facilities. Together, they are pushing out a shared message—via local government channels and health system PR departments—to reiterate their infection control measures.

3. Broadly share data to improve accuracy.

CMOs recognize the uncertainty in all predictive models for Covid-19 and are looking for ways to validate their data. To bridge the gap in data accuracy, organizations are working with hospital, regional, and state leadership to create more accurate local surge maps and developing their own internal dashboards to track the number of Covid-19 patients admitted, on ventilators, etc. to supplement state and national data. If you haven't already committed to a data strategy for Covid-19—or your organization writ large—now is the time to solidify both internal and external data partnerships in advance of the second surge and beyond.

4. Maintain the state and regional committees created to manage flare ups.

During the surge, many physician leaders met multiple times a week with other health system leaders, state health departments, and local and state legislative bodies to collectively manage the Covid-19 response across their market. While these groups aren't meeting daily like they were during the surge, leaders plan to regularly touch base with these committees moving forward. They're using the time to discuss testing strategy, solutions to common challenges, and how they can better share personal protective equipment and swabbing materials across organizations.

5. Potentially on the horizon: collective health system negotiations with payers.

Covid-19 has permanently shifted the industry toward telemedicine, but there is still a big question about the long-term financial sustainability of virtual care. As we start to see early movement on the longer-term reimbursement potential for telehealth, physician executives emphasized that there is a window of opportunity for regional health systems to collectively advocate and negotiate for more permanent telehealth coverage now.

How to maintain current partnerships after the Covid-19 epidemic

Each of these partnerships are critical to survive the current moment, but leaders emphasized that the real opportunity is to proactively solidify these partnerships now, and maintain them as part of the "new normal" after the Covid-19 epidemic.

To that end, there are two questions every clinical executive should ask themselves today to ensure they capitalize on the current level of health care cooperation. First, what new-in-kind partners are you working closely with, who you didn't have a relationships with three to four months ago? Second, of those new partnerships, who do you want to maintain close ties with post-pandemic to deliver a higher standard of care in your market long-term?

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