NEW YORK — I’m fairly certain that if you locked these three men in a room for a week, they could devise solutions to nearly all of health care’s problems.
The three are among the hospital field’s top CEO minds — representing both coasts and the Midwest — and they gathered Tuesday afternoon to talk about the importance of partnerships when trying to transform health care. Combined, the leaders of Providence Health & Services, Northwell Health and Advocate Health Care represent nearly 70 hospitals, 1,400 sites of care and 180,000 employees.
Despite any of its previous success, Providence Health & Services is constantly on the lookout for someone from outside health care to help the Seattle-based system think differently about how it does business, CEO Rodney Hochman, M.D., told attendees at the 17th Annual Not-for-Profit Health Care Investor Conference.
“Our philosophy has been that there isn’t anyone that we will not talk to,” says Hochman, who was joined on the panel by Northwell CEO Michael Dowling and Advocate CEO Jim Skogsbergh. “We talk to everyone, even traditional, what I would say, competitors. There are things that we can do together that we don’t have to do alone. I think this era where we have to do all of our accounts receivable, all of that inside of our four walls, is coming to an end.”
Dowling, who leads the health system formerly known as Northshore LIJ, agreed. His New York-based network of hospitals consistently looks to other industries outside of health care for innovative ideas, and has formed upwards of 80 joint ventures with other institutions. Recent partnerships have popped up with a long list of folks, from the New York Mets to a land conservation trust, and an urgent care operator.
Dowling doesn’t believe that hospitals can turn their model upside down by sticking to the same social circles. Often just initiating the conversation with a startup or insurer can spark ideas, even if no deals are inked.
“Once you have that discussion, you walk away thinking wait a second, there is something here,” says Dowling. “But you’ve got to be willing to challenge the status quo and say that I’m willing to disrupt myself. I think that those of us in health care have to see ourselves as disruptors, disrupting ourselves, and doing it in partnership with others.”
The three all revealed some of their tips for negotiating with potential partners. Dowling compares such dealings with payers or providers groups, or whomever, to romantic trysts. Often, suitors will put on their best faces and hide any of their skeletons. Get to know them outside of business settings, he suggests (as an Irishmen, that often has meant getting together in places that are open late into the night, he joked). Usually, it’s a bad sign if the two sides have to keep looking back at the agreement after it’s been signed, panel speakers agreed.
Advocate’s Skogsbergh says it’s crucial that you anticipate any possible cracks in the relationship before it gets started. Or, as Hochman puts it, sign a good pre-nup.
“Another thing that we’ve found to be helpful is talking about in advance that we are going to hit bumps in the road, and frankly anticipating the bumps in the road so that, when they come, it is not with wrong intent,” Skogsbergh says. “That we will make the best of our partnerships when something happens that isn’t quite the way that we had anticipated. So, you’re sort of going through it, recognizing that you’ll cut each other a little bit of slack. I think that’s very, very important.”
On the other side of the transaction within your own hospital or health system, Dowling says you also need to look closely at whom you have working on the front lines of the relationship. First-line or “core leaders,” as Hochman calls them, are critical to ensuring that a deal succeeds. He also believes that all members of the C-suite must be involved in wrapping their heads around what’s being proposed prior to a partnership.
The Seattle CEO advises his peers to “steal shamelessly” if you see a striking idea used in another industry. Hochman frequently picks the brains of leaders at other innovators located in his market, be it Starbucks or Amazon, the latter of which was shocked at the way the hospital field serves its customers at times. And on the reverse side, Dowling urges hospitals to share their own innovations with other businesses that might benefit.
“We do a lot of things well and there’s a lot that we can teach others,” he says. “This is a two-way street and I think we should feel very, very proud of the work we do.”