Healthcare through the looking glass; Consolidation, more employed physicians, staff reductions, and smarter use of IT

imageAs a physician it pains me to say this, but the future of healthcare appears to be one of increasing consolidation of facilities, employment of physicians, and strategic staff reductions. It must also necessarily be a future work environment that is much better supported than it is today by technology.

As an industry, healthcare has been slow to transform itself with information communication technologies (ICT) as compared to other segments of the economy. Yes, the industry has made massive investments in information technology over the last few years thanks to an infusion of federal money to “digitize” our medical records. This was a necessary step, but by itself is hardly transformational. It’s what we do next that counts.

In a recent article published by Becker’s Hospital Review, Cleveland Clinic CEO, Dr. Toby Cosgrove, commented on the minority interest and possible full ownership position the Cleveland Clinic has taken with Akron General Health System. He said what is going on in Ohio simply reflects what is gong on across the country. "I think increasing consolidation. I think you'll see some hospital closures. In fact, I'm almost sure you will. I think you're going to see an increasing number of physicians who are employed." 

imageIf you’ve been paying attention, you have likely noted an increasing number of large consolidations of hospitals, clinics and health systems around the country. If you are a practicing physician, you can’t help but notice how many practices, not only primary care physicians but specialists too, have been gobbled up by hospitals and health systems as they ring-fence their networks. If you’ve talked with newly graduating medical residents, you’ll note that nearly all of them are looking for the security, and perhaps more predictable lifestyle, of an employed position. These trends are irrefutable.

In the midst of all this, I’ve also been watching some financially strapped healthcare organizations begin to trim staff. While that might seem paradoxical in a time of increasing demand for healthcare services, it speaks to the cost constraints these organizations face as both private and public payors put the screws on reimbursement and start shifting from volume based payments to payments coupled to value.

So, if you are a leader of a healthcare organization faced with these shifting sands, where do you turn for help? How do you do more with less, or better said, how do you start doing new with less?

I won’t argue that more technology is the only solution, but I will certainly make a case that better, more efficient, more contemporary, and more strategic technology is absolutely essential to the future sustainability of any healthcare organization.

imageHere on HealthBlog, I’ve written hundreds of posts over the years showing how healthcare organizations around the world have improved quality, productivity, costs and satisfaction through prudent investments and wise implementations of information communications technologies. Examples can be found in organizations utilizing robotics, real time location services, unified communications, business and clinical analytics, mobile devices, networked sensors, and cloud optimized applications, platforms and services. My HealthBlog posts, written at least weekly since 2005, are fully searchable by keyword. If you are looking to solve some of the most pressing issues facing healthcare organizations today, I believe you’ll find more than a few pearls in this body of work. For even more information, I also highly recommend my team’s primary channel for all things digital in health and healthcare which can be found on our corporate website.

Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft

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