Building a Better (Health Care) Mousetrap
I expect many of you saw the news earlier this week about the latest entrant to the health care field. A combination of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway (headed by the revered Warren Buffett) and financial powerhouse JPMorgan Chase is forming a company to deliver health care to its combined one million employees. They hope to foster health care that is simple, affordable and that works the way it’s supposed to.
The announcement made quite a splash, including in the stock markets, mainly because these three companies are known for getting results. And in particular, Amazon is famous for its world-beating ability to disrupt major industries through the use of technology.
This development is just more evidence of a health care industry in flux, with drug store chains purchasing health insurers, insurers buying health systems, hospitals aligning with other hospitals – all of them looking for a competitive edge or just a way to stay relevant in a changing marketplace.
In their quest to, as the saying goes, build a better mousetrap, I wish them all the luck in the world. My sense is they’ll need it.
What’s instructive is that if you look beyond the surface of these activities, several themes emerge about what the “end state” of health care might look like. In this ideal state, health care would be:
• More accessible, more “user-friendly” and more pleasant for consumers;
• Not merely “episodic,” but also preventive and concerned with an individual’s health status;
• Attentive to the whole continuum of care, from wellness to palliative care and hospice, and all the services in between;
• Constantly innovating to find better, simpler, less expensive ways to get the job done; and
• Obsessive about quality.
If we at UMMC measure ourselves against these ideals, clearly we have plenty of work to do. But we are headed in the right direction and, in fact, leading the pack in some respects.
Our focus on patients – making it all about them in each and every facet of their experiences with UMMC – is growing stronger day by day. The development of clinical service lines, improved customer service, even the cleanliness of our facilities . . . I see and hear about progress in all of these areas that contribute to our patients’ positive experience with us, which is monitored by – who else? – our Office of Patient Experience we created last year.
Our interest in wellness and preventive care has taken root. We’ve put a lot of energy into wellness, beginning with our own workforce, and those efforts will continue to grow, with some exciting developments we’ll unveil later this year. Our Department of Preventive Medicine is growing as well, with a new residency program slated to begin this summer. The John D. Bower School of Population Health is another means by which we will extend our focus from individual, acute care to the health status of populations.
We’re not in a position to build or buy the whole continuum of care; very few organizations are. But what we can do is better align ourselves with other providers who offer complementary services to ours. In this way, we can also one day share payments for what we provide to a defined set of patients. Mississippi is still behind the curve in terms of the organization of clinical care networks, but the pace is picking up and we intend for UMMC to be a significant player as formal networks develop.
As an academic medical center, our world is filled with technology and innovation. In recent years, we have stepped up our efforts to do more in this arena, with the development of our Center for Informatics and Analytics; new leadership for our technology transfer office; the construction of our Translational Research Center, including incubator space for private sector start-ups; and our new Health Innovation and Transformation Center. As these activities gain momentum on our own campus, we expect a significant “innovation dividend” to come from our work with collaborators on the Ole Miss campus, at the Mayo Clinic and from other public and private settings. Our telemedicine program is a recognized leader in the field, and with patient home monitoring as part of the equation, it will be a major asset in any future health care scenario.
Finally, clinical quality improvement will continue to be our top priority. If we do not have superior quality, then none of these other areas of strength will matter much. What I’m so encouraged about is not only the improvement we are seeing in our quality measures but the way we are going about it – through the gradual building of our capabilities and the adoption of a quality mindset – so that our improvement is sustainable.
In these main areas of our growth and development, I so much appreciate all the work that is going on at every level of UMMC. We are literally building the future, even as we go about our daily activities of caring for patients, conducting research and educating the next generation of caring health professionals and scientists. Thank you for this work.
I want to conclude by taking a moment to pay tribute to a very special colleague and friend who is retiring today. Jeff Walker has been our general counsel and chief legal officer for the last four years. We managed to lure him away from a distinguished career in private practice to help us navigate the ever-increasing legal and regulatory environment we operate in. Not everybody at the Medical Center has had the good fortune to work with Jeff, but I have relied on his wise counsel – always offered with good humor and humility – almost every day I’ve been in this role. I want to thank Jeff and wish him and his wife, Charlotte, all the best in the years ahead.
And I wish continued success for all of you in our quest to build a better UMMC and A Healthier Mississippi.